From 1962-1997, Husker football flourished under head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. The Huskers had not won a bowl game until a Gotham Bowl victory over Miami in Devaney’s debut season. When Osborne hung up the headset 35 years later, the two coaches had turned the Huskers into a winning program.
Nebraska, which had played in just two bowl games in program history prior to Devaney’s arrival, made the postseason in 34 of the 36 years Devaney and Osborne spent on the sidelines. The two also brought the Huskers five national championships, the last of which came during Osborne’s final season as head coach.
After an 11-2 campaign in 1996, the Huskers began the 1997 season ranked No. 6 in the AP poll. In a 59-14 romp against Akron to begin the season, senior quarterback Scott Frost ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
The following week, UCF and quarterback Daunte Culpepper led 17-14 at halftime before two third quarter touchdowns from freshman running back Correll Buckhalter gave NU all the cushion it needed in a 38-24 win. Frost threw for 120 yards and a touchdown and added another 50 rushing yards in the victory.
Nebraska hit the road on Sept. 20 for a clash against the No. 2 Washington Huskies. Frost rumbled for a pair of rushing touchdowns in the first quarter, setting the tone in a 27-14 win. Frost finished with 97 yards and two scores on 18 carries, while junior running back Ahman Green ran 29 times for 129 yards and a touchdown.
After an off week, the Huskers returned to action at home against No. 17 Kansas State. Green and Frost ran for a touchdown apiece in the first half as NU took a 20-6 lead into the locker room. When Green exploded for three more touchdowns in the third quarter, the rout was on. Green finished with 193 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries as the Huskers rolled 56-26. Frost threw for 94 yards and an interception, but added 98 yards and a score on the ground.
NU won big again the following week at Baylor, as Green ran for four touchdowns in the first half of the 49-21 thrashing. He finished the day with 158 yards and four scores on 20 carries, while Frost added 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Against Texas Tech on Oct. 18, the Huskers started slow on offense, but the defense held the Red Raiders to 127 total yards in a 29-0 shutout. Green powered the offense with 178 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Frost threw for 42 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the Huskers exploded for 400 rushing yards.
The win propelled the Huskers to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the following week, where the Blackshirts pitched another shutout in a 35-0 demolition of Kansas. Green and Frost both ran for over 100 yards; Green tallied 123 yards and a touchdown while Frost ran for 121 yards and two scores.
Rival Oklahoma strolled into Lincoln on Nov. 1 and ran into a buzzsaw as Osborne picked up his 250th career win. The Blackshirts recovered four of seven forced fumbles and held the Sooners to 154 total yards, while the Husker offense cruised to 552 total yards in a 69-7 annihilation.
Frost threw for 107 yards and a touchdown and added another score on the ground, while Green ran for 105 yards on 18 carries. Junior fullback Joel Makovicka ran 10 times for 101 yards and three touchdowns, and Buckhalter added two more scores on nine carries.
A week later, Missouri quarterback Corby Jones threw for three touchdowns and added another on the ground as the Tigers nearly pulled off the upset. On a third down with seven seconds left, junior wingback Shevin Wiggins couldn’t haul in Frost’s pass. As the ball fell to the turf, it bounced off Wiggins’s foot and into the air. Freshman split end Matt Davison dove and caught the ball in the end zone just before it hit the ground.
The Huskers made the extra point to force overtime. From there, Frost scored on a 12-yard run and the defense kept Jones and the Tigers out of the end zone as NU escaped with a 45-38 win.
Frost threw for 175 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but added 141 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries. Green added 189 yards and a touchdown to help the Huskers remain undefeated.
The narrow escape dropped the Huskers to No. 3 in the country ahead of a matchup against Iowa State. The Huskers exploded for 35 points in the first quarter and 28 more in the second, cruising to a 77-14 victory. The offense gashed the Cyclones for 473 rushing yards, while the Blackshirts forced five turnovers.
Frost completed eight of nine passes for 111 yards and a touchdown and added another 88 yards and two scores rushing. Green exploded for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, averaging nearly 14 yards per carry.
On Nov. 28, the Huskers built an early lead and withstood two fourth quarter Colorado touchdowns in a 27-24 win. Green ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns, while Frost added another score on the ground.
The Huskers faced the No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies in the Big 12 title game, where they raced out to a 37-3 halftime lead en route to a 54-15 romp. Frost threw for 201 yards and added 79 yards and two touchdowns rushing, while Green ran for 179 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries.
The win earned the No. 2 Huskers a matchup against No. 3 Tennessee and star quarterback Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl. Undefeated Michigan, which ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches’ polls, narrowly beat No. 8 Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. That left the door ajar for the Huskers, who still had a shot at the title if they looked impressive against the Volunteers.
NU took advantage of Michigan’s poor showing with its Orange Bowl performance, taking a 14-3 lead at halftime before icing the win during a 21-point outburst in the third quarter. The Blackshirts limited Manning to 134 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while the offense rumbled to 409 rushing yards in the 42-17 shellacking.
Green ran 29 times for an Orange Bowl-record 209 yards with two touchdowns. Frost added 60 yards and three scores on the ground.
In the end, the Huskers’ Orange Bowl performance was enough. Michigan remained No. 1 in the AP poll, but NU topped the coaches’ poll as the Huskers and Wolverines split the title in the final season before the implementation of the Bowl Championship Series. The BCS lasted until the 2014 season, the first year of the College Football Playoff.
In 1997, though, no such system existed and the two teams shared the championship. The title marked the Huskers’ fifth and Osborne’s third, sending the coach out on top.