1. System Poster

    I’ve come up with another, even better theory. It’s called the Saban-Meyers-Swinney theory which posits that no team is capable of winning a four team playoff without one of those three guys as their head coach. So far, I’m batting 1.000.

  2. Brisn

    Scott Frost has already taken Nebraska from a class ranked in the 70’s to as high as 18th in the country. It is interesting to see his approach, which mixes recruiting some elite 4 star athletes and an elite QB recruit with undervalued players from all over who fit his scheme. A lot of undersized receivers with speed to burn will do very well in his offense. Having a system and recruiting to that system remains critical to success for programs without natural recruiting bases or great traditions. Nebraska, Wisconsin, Texas Tech under Leach and Baylor all proved it can be done.


  3. Tysen

    This is a good read. Something else to consider is that QBs & OL are the hardest positions to evaluate (both NCAA & NFL) so I bet it’s more common to see excellent teams with non blue chips at those positions

  4. SimonTemplar

    The option aspects of the Osborne offense by the mid-’90s were pretty different from most option offenses before or since. The Osborne option was not often based on deception, nor on establishing the threat of the dive play between the tackles. Most options were “load” options led by the FB – the Husker QB did not make an initial read of an unblocked defender, instead he did a perfunctory fake to the FB, who was already sprinting to the edge as a lead blocker. Instead of the QB reading the unblocked defender, the FB usually took that defender out. The QB could then make his only read on the edge with the IB trailing him. Most if not all FB dives in the Husker option were called from the sideline, usually with trap blocking. This could be devastating as a change-up play, as Miami found out in ’94. Husker FBs often averaged ridiculous yards per carry due to the effectiveness of such plays. Overall the speed, strength, and efficiency of the mid-’90s Husker attack meant that the deception central to most option offenses was not needed, outside of the occasional change-of-pace trap, etc. play.

    • ianaboyd

      Word, good comment.

      It’s obvious enough watching them that the goal was to get the ball to the QB or the RB, ideally the RB. The FB mostly served as just another way to create angles and blocks for one of those two guys.

  5. Ralph Livingston

    I’ve been following Nebraska football (Closely) for 49 years. This is the best piece on husker football (and the most enlightening for me) I’ve ever read. Your assessment of Grant Wistrom is a tad low… he was considered a 4.5 star player…So, he is a four star player, so you’re absolutely right. Great article… Thanks

    • ianaboyd

      Thanks for reading! Google my name and Scott Frost and you can find some pieces on your new regime.

    • Agreed, Ralph! One area I didn’t see much focus on was how “culture” in the state (besides having walkons) contributed to the success as one of the key variables.

  6. Lukas Benzel

    Good article, but I think trying to bring PEDs into the conversation was unnecessary and unfounded. I think one of the main things people don’t count enough is the drive and dedication of individuals involved. Tom Osborne and his culture, system, development, staffing, and overall genius running of Nebraska is what made them great. I don’t think I’m giving too much credit either. I once heard someone say that the real judge of something is of it can sustain once the individual who created it is gone but that is ludicrous. Never underestimate the individual’s hand in the process. Solich was a decent coach but he didn’t have the “it” factor Osborne had. Look at what’s happened when people like Osborne leave or take over somewhere. Examples like Urban Meyer (look at every school he’s been at), Tom Osborne, and others (very few though) demonstrate this. Recruiting isn’t the answer. It helps but look athenblue chip argument that is not really proven. It’s development with the right players in the right system with a coach that has the drive and knowledge to be elite. There at many more details that could be discussed but great individuals transform and sustain programs. Gene Chizek is proof that good players only make a coach look good so long, but good coaches take average players and make them great.

    • ianaboyd

      The stories about Nebraska’s superior S&C in the 90s are legendary. Some of it was apparently just stuff like being willing to use creatine before anyone was sure of it carried health risks or not. If you ignore the PED and S&C stuff with 90s Nebraska you can’t make an honest attempt to understand how a school loaded with farm boys from a limited talent pool was totally dominant.

      Also, the end of prop 48s that started to be reflected on the Nebraska roster just as Osborne was heading out the door suggests that maybe his program could indeed have kept going without him.

      After all, his teams were largely guided after by Solich (who’s been successful elsewhere since) and Craig Bohl who went on to build the North Dakota State dynasty and is now working to do the same at Wyoming.

      • Mr. Boyd,
        I’d completely agree with what Luke had to say regarding Osborne and the “it” factor. I would agree with your assessment of PEDS as unfounded. You bring up PEDS like a known fact. Where is the backing research that says this? When I ask my graduate students questions about their papers they write, I’ll often ask, “Says who?” If they can’t back it up, then it’s hearsay! Have you spoken with Boyd Epley, former strength coaches or players, or is this just your opinion? How can this be an “honest attempt,” as you say?

        • ianaboyd

          Of course I don’t have anything except rumors, insider stories, and legends regarding PED use. If I didn’t mention it though and it was like “how did this happen? Who can know???” That’d have been dishonest when many people have a strong guess as to part of how it happened. I didn’t write all about the PED thing but I wasn’t going to ignore it as a possible factor without being able to say one way or the other.

          There’s enough out there that to not mention it is silly.

  7. Ron Conrad

    Nice in-depth article, but I agree with Luke Benzel in that the PED portion wasnt necessary & totally bogus & the same old lame excuse used by others who couldn’t compete or explain Nebraska’s success!

  8. Eric

    You had to go all the way back to 1995 to find an exception? Really? In almost every aspect of life, you will find exceptions.

    What you fail to convey is the dominance blue chip recruiting has had over the last 20+ years.

    Without doubt, blue chip recruiting is a SIGNIFICANT factor in winning championships. However, I am confident another exception like Nebraska will take place again over the next 20 years.

    • dan tolliver

      There is no question that from 2003 forward, and arguably from 1998 forward, no team since Nebraska has won a national title without meeting the “blue chip ratio” threshold. The days of winning titles with the best conditioned and hardest driven teams, as Bear Bryant produced in the early to mid 60s, are over. Even he was winning with great talent in the 70s. While I agree blue chip recruiting is a significant factor as you state, I go a step further and claim it to be the deciding factor along with coaching.

      • Cole

        If you read closely enough in this, you’d see one of the most recent Oklahoma teams just about pulled this off. The offense was not a high-ranking “blue-chip” team, but still did significant damage. Going further, the defense was better on the “blue-chip” scale and still got pushed around. One thing that can’t be debated is that any of us posting on this article have not, can not, and will not be able to replicate Osborne’s success. I’m also willing to bet, Dan, that if you were to sit down and talk to Tom, Urban Meyer, and Nick Saban, they’d all have roughly the same things to say about building a team.

        • 904Buscuit

          The Oklahoma team would’ve been an exception to the rule, not the proof there isn’t a rule. And how close to the blue chip ratio was Oklahoma? I’d bet it was just under 50% which is a lot closer than the type of team the author is talking about.

  9. dan tolliver

    No doubt the 1993 through 1997 Nebraska was one of college football’s greatest dynasties, but proclaiming it the greatest ever is absurd. 3 national titles in 5 seasons will never equal or eclipse 5 titles in 9 seasons, and that is what Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have accomplished from 2008 through 2017. Moreover, Saban’s run continues unabated in 2018. So does Nebraska have the greatest 5 year run? Arguably it does. But greatest run or dynasty in NCAA history? Sorry, but that honor belongs to Alabama and Coach Nick Saban.

    As to the author’s theory that teams need not have 50% or more 4 and 5 star athletes on its roster in order to win a national title, it appears history is proving him wrong. I’m certain this “blue chip ratio” is accurate for all national title winners between 2003 USC and 2003 LSU all the way up to 2017 Alabama. Perhaps all that is truly needed is 2, not 4, consecutive classes meeting the blue chip ratio, but the talent must be there. The only exception would be a team close to that ratio yet having a generational talent at QB like Cam Newton, Vince Young, or Deshaun Watson. Otherwise, without the 4 and 5 star athletes on a team, there will be no national championship for that team. That is the way it is and has been for at least 15 years.

    Osbourne was a great coach with a great offensive scheme, but suddenly, in the mid 90s when PEDs were beginning to completely change baseball, Nebraska began producing linemen, many of whom were not highly recruited, who simply overpowered every team they played. This did not happen under Devaney for any 5 year period, and it did not happen under Osbourne for 20 of his 25 seasons as head coach of Nebraska. Suddenly, and for 5 or 6 years, his linemen could not be stopped. Then, with his departure, the NE linemen slowly returned to normal and the teams declined.

    Though Nebraska faithful swear there is no proof of PEDs, that does not mean there were none, especially given the lack of vigilant testing procedures in the 1990s. True also is the fact that NE had a superior strength and conditioning program. But Michelangelo could not sculpt a marble Pieta from a block of sandstone. As Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant sagely observed “You can’t make chicken salad with chicken sh-t,” and you must have great talent to create great teams. Producing linemen who dominate all teams, yet are taken primarily from the tiny state of Nebraska, requires a large degree of gullibility or naivete to not suspect PEDs. With today’s testing for PEDs, you will never again see such linemen at NE. You never saw them before or since, and it has been over 20 years since Osbourne left NE. Moreover, the coach who unquestionably and routinely signs the best 5 star linemen in the nation–Nick Saban–cannot reproduce such overpowering linemen. No coach and no team can. There has to be a reason beyond a better S&C program.

    I do expect Frost to succeed at Nebraska. He is a very good and potentially great coach. But until be starts routinely signing classes ranked in the top 10 in recruiting, Nebraska will never again achieve anything close to the level of dominance it enjoyed 20 years ago.

    • ianaboyd

      I appreciate the thoughtful response!

      I hear a lot of these same rebuttals to the argument.

      1) The Bama dynasty is better!
      Yeah maybe, Alabama hasn’t been quite as dominant as Nebraska was during that stretch but they may end up getting them on longevity. That was a fairly long stretch though and Nebraska was also very good on either side of it. This doesn’t really hurt the argument if there’s another dynasty that was comparable.

      2) History says your wrong!
      This just doesn’t make any sense. We’re talking about literal history here, in which Nebraska showed that you can win titles without recruiting at a bluechip level. The argument has to be, “things have changed since the 90s that now make that impossible!”

      3) They used PEDs!
      Yeah probably, but now you’re just explaining why Nebraska had breakthrough success in the 90s without following everyone’s favorite modern formula. That doesn’t mean that another formula can’t exist. There could very easily be another S&C, training, practice, philosophical, or tactical breakthrough that gives another team that isn’t a blue-chip program a leg up.

      Also notable, the breakthrough of the 90s Nebraska teams wasn’t the offense although it was particularly good during that period, it was that they could play great defense as well.

      I can make a dozen arguments why stocking your team with elite recruits doesn’t yield as big of an advantage as everyone thinks, Ohio State is sort of making it for me even now, but Nebraska does show that it’s entirely possible for a team to build not only a great football team but a historic one using a different model. This is conclusive.

    • avroair .

      Simple answer Nebraska benefitted from lower academic rwquirements. Guys were waived into Nebraska that couldn’t get into CA schools etc. Recruiting advantage and these players deemed ‘academic casualties’ were talented but ranked lower cause other schools didn’t pursue then.

      • ianaboyd

        If you look at the argument it’s clear that doesn’t account for it all. Team was built largely from Nebraskan players.

    • Kevin

      To explain the success of the Nebraska program during that time to be the result of PED usage is lazy and uninformed at best. Idiotic.

      Creatine was the new in thing in sports nutrition at that time.

      Nebraska had numerous All Americans on the defensive and offensive lines prior to this 5 year stretch, including 4 Outland trophies and 2 Lombardis won on the offensive line alone in Rimington, Steinkuhler, and Shields.

      Post 93-97, Suh captured almost every award except the Heisman and Maxwell, even with regular PED testing.

      There are many reasons for this period of dominance, PED usage is a fools errand.

    • Cole

      Please explain, then, how an inferior Clemson team, by your standards of recruting, boat-raced Alabama. There’s no questioning that success on the field is going to come easier and more frequently with higher ranked recruits. However, culture is what wins championships. The author hit an excellent point by saying Nebraska simply recruited in-state kids that willingly filled sacrificial roles to complement the one or two “blue-chip” recruits needed to run critical positions. Circling back to my first sentence, Alabama has an inferior culture to Clemson. That 2018 championship game made it clear that Alabama has a roster stocked with talent that’s just there for 3 years until they can enter the Draft. I’d say this coincides well with Saban’s comments against leaving a program early for the NFL. Nebraska, like Clemson today, largely recruited players dedicated to their role and the program.

      • ianaboyd

        Good notes. I’d add that Clemson is ahead of Alabama now because they are embracing HUNH spread tactics and Alabama is trying to just dip their toes in the water as a means to boost their run game.

  10. Bert

    Good stuff, Ian. Not much to quibble with, and I’d agree with you that the ’95 Nebraska team quite likely was the greatest ever, at least in the modern era (post WWII, for simplicity’s sake).

    One group that was highly comparable (as I’m sure a few others might be) is the ’71 Huskers team, before your time, but virtually just as powerful.

    It destroyed a great unbeaten ‘Bama team coached by The Bear, 38-6, to claim the national title.

    Similar to the ’95 team, the ’71 group was a greater version to the prior year’s national title team.

  11. Oltimer

    Very insightful article I would agree with most all of it. I would also like to point out that the way Osborn had his team running practice also contributed to this success as well. He had multiple teams practicing at the same time which gave the players lots of reps vs the second third and lower depth squads standing on the sidelines just watching and waiting to get in there this was and still is a valuable coaching process for getting younger players to be ready when called upon in a game situation

    • ianaboyd

      Oh yeah, that’s a favored trick amongst many coaches today as well but only if they have enough depth to pull it off.

  12. Creatine is not PED my cousin mike Rucker went there in the 90s. And if you was not a top talent. Ab or running back. You lifted. For 2 years got bigger faster strong. New them system in your sleep! And we was so ready and wanted to play so bad. From just practicing for 2 years. They just tore it up

  13. Michael Strasser

    My old high school coach used to call it the “University of Steroid at Lincoln.” They were the first program to embrace hardcore S&C training, and they used every means at their disposal. The old Big 8 was awash in PED use. Bosworth got popped for steroids right before the ’87 Orange Bowl because the NCAA knew they could get him any time they wanted.

  14. Big Daddy

    Overall I liked the article, but you COMPLETELY are missing the boat on the biggest factor. Tom Osborne. The dude’s worst season was 9 wins (less games played back then as well). He coached 25 years btw. You act like Nebraska sprang out of the ashes. We were the most consistent team for 25 years! We brokethrough because we had a talented roster that fit the scheme. Frazier, Green and Phillips cannot be duplicated often. You also don’t give any credit to the best defense year after year. So underrated of a defense. Go watch that 96′ NC vs Florida. Our defense was on a different planet. The 97′ team at one point had 10/11 starters on offense from Nebraska. Osborne is the GOAT no questions asked.

  15. […] Bill Snyder didn’t put much of an emphasis on high school recruiting. He regularly filled out his rosters with JUCO transfers from within the state, either as scholarship additions or preferred walk-ons, and he took other transfers as well. The Snyder K-State rosters regularly included a large number of 21+ year old athletes. When he did recruit high schoolers, he often went extra hard into the home grown development model, handing out grey shirts and deferring enrollment for some of their local additions so that they’d be 23-24 when they were redshirt seniors. That was a favorite tactic of Tom Osborne as well in building out those precise Nebraska machines back in the day. […]

  16. Michael

    Odessa Permian had been a powerhouse since the late 60’s. All of the elementary and junior high football teams tied to Permian’s district ran their plays. When the kids go to high school they already knew what to do. Permian was also good at scouting area talent and having players brought in by the alumni who got their families homes in the district and job promotions. This helped to ensure Permian had some elite talent when it wasn’t nearby. Also, everyone wore the same exact uniform in practice and in games. It was a very structured and regimented system where the players and their families were all in 100 %, 100% of the time.

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