Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers and the No. 1 College Football Team Ever?

Lake CruiseAnalyst ISeptember 5, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  A Oklahoma Sooners cheerleader during the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Like The Sporting News and the supreme player Johnny Rodgers claim, are the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers truly the best college football team in the last 125 years?

Hearing the news about the special issue, my first reaction was thinking the magazine’s edition came at a very opportune time because of two important factors:

1. America’s economy is horrendous and getting worse; the dollar is on the verge of collapse as a worldwide currency.

2. NU’s 1971 team celebrated their 40th anniversary last weekend.

I don’t blame The Sporting News for releasing their honorable special edition the way they did last week; it was brilliant timing and could help the company's economy. Informing him of the honor, Rodgers was given a special note while speaking to a gathering of former players, coaches and officials.

I have a feeling the team, coaches and fans will scoop up almost every copy they can get their hands on.

I'll hand it to him. Who can forget Rodgers’ contributions to Big Red? He can’t, and I can’t blame him. If I won two national championships, a Heisman Trophy and still looked like I could play after 40 years, then I’d show off.

While being interviewed and showed off by former I-back Ahman Green during the first quarter with the score 7-0 against Tennessee-Chattanooga, the great Johnny Rodgers rolled his lucky seven.

The former jersey No. 20 showed off his 1970 national champions hat. He then talked about the magazine honoring the 1971 team, but he was too humble to show his hand and mention he was on the cover.

I’ll hand it to the 1971-72 edition of Big Red. It was a squad that produced 25 NFL players, according to Outland Trophy winner Larry Jacobson. And those players, he calculates, spent a combined 140 years in the NFL—an average of five years.

Neither the number of players drafted from that team, nor the amount of years they played in the league could be verified by me at the time of this writing. If I happen to get information that verifies Jacobson’s claims, then I’ll let you, my dear readers, know.

In an article posted at, Jacobson and other members of the 1971 team are quoted saying some interesting things. Here is Third-Team All-America offensive tackle Carl Johnson’s quote:

 "I strongly believe we were the best ever. When the preseason rankings came out, we were No. 1. Everybody was gunning for us.”

He also claimed the 1971 Huskers played against the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 ranked teams that season. Those two statements aren't entirely true, but they're almost on point.

The No. 1 Huskers played Oklahoma and Alabama while the latter two were ranked No. 2. The only other ranked Nebraska opponent was (9) Colorado. The Buffaloes finished at No. 3 and Alabama No. 4.

Entering the season, Notre Dame was was the AP No.1., and Nebraska was No. 2. While the Cornhuskers had more first place votes, NDU had more points overall. 

This is the order of the final poll: 1.Nebraska, 2.Oklahoma, 3.Colorado, 4.Alabama, 5.Penn State. A former Husker great, Johnson's statements are a bit green.

During the interview with Green, Johnson's former teammate (Rodgers) mentioned legendary coach turned politician and athletics director, Tom Osborne. He said with Osborne’s offensive schemes and current coach Bo Pelini’s defensive schemes, the Huskers are heading for good times, if the special teams are locked down.

“Our future is so bright,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to wear shades.”

He also praised the Big Ten as the most prestigious conference in the country. Established in 1896, the Big Ten is often cited as the oldest Division I (now FBS) sports conference.

Rodgers also likes the Big Ten Network—something the Big 12 doesn’t have. Citing Iowa, Michigan and the Ohio State University, he did say the fit is perfect for Nebraska.

His 1971-2 Huskers finished with a perfect record, 13-0, and it is true that their lowest margin of victory, except for the Game of the Century (Oklahoma), was by 24 points.

While memories fade and sometimes points get exaggerated, there is no doubt the 1971 team was formidable. But, No. 1 in the last 125 years? I think The Sporting News was a bit too complimentary due to the 40th anniversary of that team.

It seems the 2005 Texas Longhorns featuring Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Selvin Young, etc. are already more decorated in the NFL.

Johnson disagrees with me (quote linked above): "We were the 'Greatest College Football Team' at least three times from various football writers and/or coaches polls in the 29 years prior to 2000. In 1999, we were voted the Team of the Century.

"I think we have a pretty good case! The way I see it, we had Coach Devaney's spunk, Coach Osborne's dedication and commitment and Coach (Monte) Kiffin's nastiness."

What do you think? Comment with spunk, nastiness or niceties, and/or contact Lake Cruise at