Nebraska and the long road back

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Ohio State fans are still trying to reconcile the devastating loss to Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship Game. What could go wrong, did go wrong.

It has been a long time, but there was a time when Florida fans felt the same, thanks to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, Nebraska destroyed Florida 62-24 to help Tom Osborne claim his second consecutive national championship.

Before the BCS era began in 1998, the Nebraska Cornhuskers could lay claim to being the team of the 1990s. The 1993 Nebraska Cornhuskers were undefeated, until losing 18-16 to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl. The 1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers were undefeated, rallying to defeat the Miami Hurricanes in the 1995 Orange Bowl, 24-17 for Tom Osborne's first national championship. Tom Osborne's Nebraska squad won a share of another national championship in 1997 by defeating Tennessee and some quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning, 42-17.

Think about that for a moment. 4 national championship game appearances. 3 national championships, two of them consecutively. A record of 36-1 from the 1993 season through the 1995 season.

Upon the conclusion of the 1997 season, Coach Tom Osborne retired, turning the reins over to his longtime assistant, Frank Solich. Solich kept Nebraska competitive, even coaching Nebraska to a top ranking during the 2001 season, until a fateful trip to Boulder that resulted in a devastating 62-24 loss to Colorado. Despite Nebraska not winning its conference, Nebraska was tabbed by the BCS for the national championship game versus the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 Rose Bowl, where the Cornhuskers were routed 37-14.

Frank Solich never recovered from those losses. Nebraska staggered to a 7-7 record in the 2002 season, and Solich was fired from Nebraska following a disappointing 10-3 season in 2003.

No, you did not misread that. Fired after a 10-3 season.

Cue up the 1988 power ballad from Cinderella ~ "Don't know what you got till it's gone. Don't know what it is I did so wrong..."

Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson, the man responsible for the firing of Frank Solich, ushered in former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan for the 2004 season. Callahan, intent on implementing a NFL West Coast offensive scheme, snapped an NCAA record of 35 consecutive bowl seasons and 42 consecutive winning seasons by going 5-6. Nebraska would rally to play in bowl games after the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but the dominance was gone. The bottom completely fell out during the 2007 season, culminating in the firing of both Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan.

How would Nebraska fans characterize this time period from 2004-2007? Perhaps this scene from Billy Madison encapsulates it.

Tom Osborne came riding to the rescue of this beleaguered program in late 2007, taking over the reins as Nebraska's athletic director. Osborne needed a coach who not only understood the heritage and traditions of Nebraska football, but would also actively embrace them.

Enter Bo Pelini for the 2008 season.

Pelini had served under Frank Solich during the 2003 season as Nebraska's defensive coordinator, guiding the team to its bowl victory over Michigan State following Solich's firing by Steve Pederson. Pelini was fresh off a stint as defensive coordinator on LSU's 2007 national championship team.

Bo Pelini has done his able best at reconstructing the image of Nebraska football during his tenure, emphasizing the physical style of football on both sides of the ball that became synonymous during Nebraska's glory days. While Nebraska has not contended for the national championship during this time period, Nebraska has been a consistent winning program, something that could not be said from 2004 through 2007.

The long road back for Nebraska will take another step this Saturday evening as the Cornhuskers travel to Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1956. Can Bo Pelini win this crucial game versus his alma mater? Tune in Saturday night at 8pm EST to find out.

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