ESPN lists “The 10 games that explain the downfall of Nebraska football”

How did we get here? How did Nebraska Football get to this point? How did a program with five National Champions and 46 conference championships has fall so far? It’s been a decade since Nebraska even played for a conference title and over two decades since they won one. ESPN’s Bill Connelly did some of the heavy lifting and has listed the ten games that he believes best explain the downfall of Nebraska Football.

Connelly believes that the program has been unable to build an effective plan for its future and has been unable to build a modern program as a result.

Nebraska has attempted many resets and fresh starts since the retirement of the legendary Tom Osborne. But it has lacked a cogent plan, it has been torn between the distinct style of its past winners and the modern style of the day, and it has lots of former players hovering around and pointing out everything it is doing wrong at all times.

Here are the ten games that show how and why the fall of Nebraska football has taken place.


Nov. 23, 2001: Colorado 62, Nebraska 36

If one game can destroy an aura, this game did it. Without Crouch, the Huskers went just 7-7 in 2002, losing three games by at least 22 points (including a 36-14 decision at once-lowly Iowa State), forcing changes within the program and putting Solich on the hot seat.

Oct. 11, 2003: Missouri 41, Nebraska 24

Missouri quarterback Brad Smith scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the Tigers quickly forced a Jammal Lord fumble and took the lead on a fake field goal. Smith scored twice more — he finished the game with three rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown and 180 passing yards — and the Tigers pulled away with a 27-point fourth quarter.

Nov. 3, 2007: Kansas 76, Nebraska 39

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After a tight loss at Texas came the ultimate ignominy. It wasn’t just that they lost by 39 points to Kansas — the Jayhawks were awesome that year, and Nebraska was getting used to getting blown out. But they gave up 76 points. The defense couldn’t make any stops, and the offense couldn’t stop turning the ball over. Even more humiliating: It could have been worse. KU’s last touchdown came with 11 minutes left, and head coach Mark Mangino called off the dogs.

Oct. 24, 2009: Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7

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The Cyclones gained just 239 yards and went 5-for-18 on third downs but won with a 52-yard field goal and their one good offensive play, a 47-yard touchdown pass late in the first half.

Oct. 1, 2011: Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17

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Nebraska held a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, but the Badgers knocked them out with a 34-0 run. Russell Wilson threw for 255 yards, Montee Ball rushed for 151, and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez threw three picks. Nebraska was the biggest, baddest, most physical team in the country during Osborne’s heyday, and now they couldn’t hang with the most physical team in what would become the Big Ten West.

Nov. 29, 2013: Iowa 38, Nebraska 17

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Nebraska allowed only 281 yards but lost three turnovers and went just 3-for-14 on third down. Iowa scored five times on drives that started in NU territory; up 14-10 midway through the third quarter, the Hawkeyes ended the game on a 24-7 run.

Sept. 5, 2015: BYU 33, Nebraska 28

Riley didn’t have Pelini’s all-or-nothing, “wins or blowout losses” issues. Instead, the Huskers constantly faltered in close games early on, losing seven games by 10 or fewer points in his very first season. In Riley’s debut, BYU backup quarterback Tanner Mangum filled in for injured starter Taysom Hill and lofted a 42-yard Hail Mary that sent Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall running merrily around Memorial Stadium.

Sept. 15, 2018: Troy 24, Nebraska 19

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Troy gained only 253 yards but jumped out to a 17-0 lead with help from a punt return score — the first of many costly special teams miscues during Frost’s time — and held on for dear life. It was 24-19 with about two minutes left when Will Sunderland picked off Andrew Bunch to clinch the Huskers loss. 

Sept. 25, 2021: Michigan State 23, Nebraska 20

Against Michigan State, it took both. Nebraska had charged ahead 20-13 late in East Lansing, but MSU’s Jayden Reed returned a punt 62 yards for the tying touchdown with 3:47 left. The Huskers got two chances to win the game in regulation but gained just 31 yards on seven plays. The game went to OT, where Adrian Martinez was picked off on a short third-and-3 pass; MSU won the game with a short field goal.

Aug. 27, 2022: Northwestern 31, Nebraska 28

Nebraska Football
Nebraska Football

(Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

When you cannot escape the past, it’s impossible to effectively plan for the future. It’s pretty easy to describe how Nebraska got here, but if your former star quarterback, with his nearly perfectly crafted résumé, can’t get all the arrows pointed in the right direction and win big, it’s hard to know which direction to turn next.

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Story originally appeared on Cornhuskers Wire