clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Best Nebraska Football Team to Not Win a National Championship - 2020

Time for a little bit of a history lesson

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Our most recent Corn Nation series: The Best Team To Not Win a National Championship continues to keep us occupied as we hide away. In case you have missed them we have already published the following articles:

The 1999 Nebraska Football Team by BriannaC

1983: The Scoring Explosion by ranchbabe

1982: McCloskey’s Corner at Penn State by Jon Johnston

The 1987 Nebraska Football Team by Jon Johnston

Which brings us to the latest installment of the series.

The 2020 Nebraska football team.

Yep. Here we go.

All of the anticipation and expectations for the tenure of Scott Frost were finally realized during Frost’s third year at Nebraska. It was one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Not that we need to remind ourselves but the opponents for Nebraska’s final five games of the season went like the following:

  • At #1 Ohio State
  • #8 Penn State in Memorial Stadium
  • At #13 Iowa
  • At #23 Wisconsin
  • #18 Minnesota in Memorial Stadium

The difficulty of the regular season schedule may have set up Nebraska for the end. It also is why the 2020 Nebraska football team is the best Nebraska football team to not win a national championship.

2020 Season Highlights

Offense: 43.23 points per game. 3.44 per possession.

Defense: 25.15 points given up per game. Gave up .188 points per play

Leading Passer: Adrian Martinez, 3,378 passing yards,

Leading Rusher: Dedrick Mills, 1,206 total rushing yards, 5.79 yards per rush

Leading Receiver: Omar Manning, 1,491 total receiving yards, 18.7 yards per reception

The Awards

Heisman Finalist: Wan’Dale Robinson

1st Team All-American: Omar Manning, Brenden Jaimes, Wan’Dale Robinson,

2nd Team All-American: Cam Taylor-Britt

Honorable Mention All-American: Matt Farniok, Adrian Martinez, Deontai Williams,

Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year: Wan’Dale Robinson

All-Big 10 First Team:Omar Manning, Brenden Jaimes, Wan’Dale Robinson, Cam Taylor-Britt, Deontai Williams

All-Big 10 Second Team: Adrian Martinez

All-Big 10 Honorable Mention: Eteva Mauga-Clements, Matt Farniok, Ty Robinson, Cam Jurgens

Season Recap

Game 1 - Purdue at Home
Nebraska 42 - Purdue 28.

Going into the game many were wondering how the Nebraska defense would fair against a healthy and motivated Rondale Moore. Moore had his 2019 season cut extremely short. The key going into the game was how Nebraska would slow down the Purdue offense.

However, what we did not expect was that the story of the game would be the Nebraska offense. In particular, it was the coming out party for Omar Manning. The 6’4” juco product showed exactly what Scott Frost meant by not having coached a guy like that in his career. Manning finished the game with 148 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 catches.

Adrian Martinez also had himself a day. The junior quarterback threw for over 300 yards and ran for 72.

The game was not as close as the final score indicated as Moore capped the game off with a 77 yard touchdown pass in the last two minutes of the game.

The Bob Diaco led Purdue defense showed great promise though it was not ready for the Nebraska offense.

Game 2 - Central Michigan at Home
Nebraska 58 - Central Michigan 14.

Against a relatively smaller defensive line the Nebraska offense kept it on the ground. Dedrick Mills and Rhamir Johnson combined for 245 rushing yards and four touchdowns. This would be the game they earned the ever so clever and original nickname “thunder and lightning.”

The Nebraska defense was opportunistic with 4 forced turnovers. The play of the game was by Deontai Williams. Central Michigan junior wide Kalil Pimpleton caught a screen pass that appeared to be set up for a big gain. Deontai Williams instead blew up the play and forced a fumble that was picked up Collin Miller and returned for a touchdown.

Game 3 - South Dakota State at Home
Nebraska 31 - South Dakota State 28

The “why in the heck did we schedule these guys” game. It should never have happened.

It took a five minute drive which resulted in a Wan’Dale Robinson touchdown for Nebraska to get out of the game with a win.

Well not exactly. It actually took a holding penalty and a false start by South Dakota State which took them out of field goal range to give Nebraska the win.

We all knew it was going to go like this. It was going to be a tough hard game. This game did not bode too well for the rest of the season.

Again, why did Nebraska schedule them?

Game 4 - Cincinnati at Home
Nebraska 38 - Cincinnati 28

The “Luke Fickell” Game.

In a battle of two undefeated teams it was not the players that decided the outcome it ended up being the coaches. Luckily for Nebraska I am not talking about Scott Frost.

While we need to remember that hindsight is 20/20, these are some of the coaching decisions which did not go in the Bearcats favor during their game against Nebraska.

  • Attempted onside kick coming out of halftime - recovered by Nebraska.
  • Fake punt attempt at Cincinnati’s own 32 yard-line.
  • Going for it on fourth down on the following offensive drive from Cincinnati’s own 33 yard-line.
  • Some defensive game-plan that appeared to have forgotten about Adrian Martinez.

Martinez ended up finishing the game with over 400 yards of total offense and either threw or ran for all five touchdowns scored by Nebraska. Nebraska itself accounting for 589 yards of total offense.

If it were not for a couple of turnovers by Kade Warner and Jamie Nance then it likely would not have been much of a game. Especially, when you couple that with some of the coaching decisions from the Cincinnati head coach.

Game 5 - At Northwestern
Nebraska 55 - Northwestern 10

Northwestern has been a thorn in the side of the Nebraska Cornhuskers since the the Huskers entered the Big Ten Conference. After a tough loss in 2019 it appeared that the coaches and players were motivated to see Northwestern.

It would end up being the Wan’Dale Robinson coming out party. That is, if he actually still needed one. Robinson finished the game with 14 catches and over 220 yards. You can add 4 rushes for 40 and it was quite the game for the sophomore.

Northwestern’s starting quarterback Hunter Johnson was seen laying on the ground at Ryan Field for much of the game. Caleb Tannor had his best game as a Cornhusker after he recorded two sacks and an additional 2.5 tackles for loss in this game. Keem Green and Ty Robinson also were in the backfield a lot as each ended the game with 1.5 sacks.

Cam Taylor-Britt and DiCaprio Bootle both got their first interceptions of the season against Northwestern. Eteva Mauga-Clements forced a fumble and finished the game with a team high 13 tackles.

It was a complete game by Nebraska. The defense finally received their Blackshirts the following week.

Game 6 - Illinois at home.
#25 Nebraska 56 - Illinois 31

By far the best team Lovie Smith has had during his time as the head coach of Illinois. They ended up winning eight games in 2020 but Nebraska was not one of them.

Wan’Dale Robinson had himself another day. The sophomore started making national headlines as he accounted for four touchdowns and nearly 300 yards of total offense. Omar Manning had 129 yard receiving on 6 catches.

The offensive line had the best game of the season so far as Martinez was clean in the pocket the entire night.

For much of the first half Illinois had tremendous success running the ball. Some halftime adjustments by the staff really slowed down the Illinois running attack and allowed Nebraska to pull away.

Cam Taylor-Britt grabbed his 2nd and 3rd interception of the season.

Game 7 - At Rutgers
Nebraska ___ - Rutgers ___

This game did not happen as the New York City/New Jersey region of the country was still recovering at the time this game was scheduled to play. Rutgers did not play a game in 2020. They plan on resuming in 2021 as things appear to be progressing extremely favorably at this time.

Game 8 - At #1 Ohio State
#21 Nebraska 41 - #1 Ohio State 55

The game was closer than the final score indicated. It was a battle between Wan’Dale Robinson/Adrian Martinez and Justin Fields. Scott Frost’s offense did everything it could to try and keep up with the Ohio State but they simply couldn’t do it. The Blackshirt defense ended up having their worst day of the season as Ohio State marched up and down the field on the Nebraska defense.

Nebraska fans were just hoping for one turnover. Just one to give Nebraska a chance. It never happened.

The game ended on a pick-six thrown by Martinez which put the game out of reach.

Game 9 - #8 Penn State at Home
#23 Nebraska 40 - #8 Penn State 38

Sean Clifford connected with Journey Brown for a touchdown to tie the game at 37 with only 40 seconds to go. The extra point, which was almost nearly blocked by Ben Stille, put Penn State up by one.

The subsequent kickoff resulted in a touchback. With only one timeout remaining Adrian Martinez approached the line of scrimmage with an opportunity to keep the historic season going. However, it ended up being the moment of the season for Wan’Dale Robinson.

Nebraska started the drive in an empty set. From left to right it was Omar Manning, Chris Hickman, Wan’Dale Robinson, Jack Stoll and Zavier Betts,

Penn State had seen this concept several times throughout the game. Nebraska had success on the outside screen to Omar Manning throughout the game. Wan’Dale spent a lot of time in the off-season on his blocking on the perimeter and was one of the best blockers on the team. At the snap of the ball it was the same wide receiver screen motion but Wan’Dale didn’t go for the block. He slipped right by the receiver and was up the seam.

Penn State’s safety, Jaquon Brisker, was in the right position on the play but Wan’Dale was the one who made the play. Both Brisker and Robinson went up for the ball but Wan’Dale came down with it and he stayed on his feet. Brisker did not. Wan’Dale was on his way up the sideline with green grass in front of him. He made two more guys miss before being tackled. It was a 57 yard gain.

The game ended with a walk-off 23 yard field goal from Chase Contreraz. The win over #8 ranked Penn State put Nebraska on the national stage for the first time in nearly a decade. They only had to finish the season out.

Game 10 - At #13 Iowa
#15 Nebraska 42 - #13 Iowa 17

The first time Nebraska and Iowa have not met on black Friday since Nebraska entered the Big Ten did not go so well for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Iowa offense led by Spencer Petras had difficulty getting things going against the Blackshirts. Nick Henrich and Jackson Hannah were big in this game as Iowa was one of the top rushing offenses in the country. The same could be said for Ben Stille, Jordan Riley and Keem Green as they did a great job stuffing the run.

The Nebraska offense also had success against a stout Iowa defensive squad. After all the fireworks the week before, this game was a beat-them-up-and-bruise-them type of game. Most of the bruises were given by Nebraska.

Game 11 - At #23 Wisconsin
#13 Nebraska 48 - #23 Wisconsin 13

Momentum can be a powerful thing. The exciting win over Penn State apparently catapulted the confidence and swagger of the Scott Frost led Cornhuskers. While Wisconsin was little bit down in 2020 it was still a big game as Nebraska and Minnesota were neck and neck for the division title.

Wan’Dale Robinson continued his excessive level of production as he was being considered a legitimate Heisman candidate. Omar Manning was looking like a 2022 NFL First Round draft pick. The Blackshirt defense, lead by Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams, has been turning other teams. The turnovers have allowed the Nebraska offense to start gapping opponents. That is what happened against Wisconsin.

Game 12 - #18 Minnesota at home
#8 Nebraska 21 - # 18 Minnesota 13

Billed as the biggest game in Memorial Stadium in nearly 10 years, the matchup between the 18th ranked Minnesota Gophers and the 8th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers started off with a bang.

The Gopher’s first possession ended on a pick-six after JoJo Domann jumped an out-route and returned it for a touchdown. The primetime crowd exploded as Nebraska started the game up by seven before Adrian Martinez even touched the ball. Many Nebraska fans have said that this was the play when they started believing the impossible. Could Nebraska actually make some national noise in 2020?

A subsequent 3-and-out by Minnesota was exactly what Scott Frost wanted as he went for the jugular. With trips set up to the wide side Omar Manning caught a ten hard hook. Then he tossed it back to Wan’Dale Robinson. The good ole hook’n ladder. Wan’Dale made it to the three yard line. Dedrick Mills scored on the next play and Nebraska started the game up by two touchdowns.

The first half ended with a score of 14 - 0.

Nebraska’s started the second-half with punt and now it was Minnesota’s turn to throw a punch. The eight minute 78 yard touchdown drive was exactly what MInnesota needed. It took most of the energy out of Memorial Stadium. As Nebraska’s offense sputtered to a near stop Minnesota was able to tack on two field goals to bring the game to a mere one point advantage for Nebraska.

At the six minute mark in the fourth quarter Nebraska scored from 12 yards out. The touchdown pass from Adrian Martinez to Travis Vokolek put Nebraska up by eight but there was a lot of time left for Minnesota.

On the Gopher’s last drive of the game the pass was tipped by Garrett Nelson and intercepted by Cam Taylor-Britt. It was Taylor-Britt’s 6th interception of the season and it was the one that sealed the division for Nebraska.

Nebraska was set up for a rematch with Ohio State.

Game 13 - Big 10 Championship Against #1 Ohio State
#5 Nebraska 55 - #1 Ohio State 52

Lots of yards. Lots of points. Not much defense. Until the end.

Both Nebraska and Ohio State tailed up over 600 yards of total offense. There was a combined two punts in the entire game. Wan’Dale Robinson and Justin Fields were both consensus Heisman Trophy finalists-to-be and they did not disappoint.

Wan’Dale accounted for over 238 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. After the injuries to Rhamir Johnson and Marvin Scott, Frost asked Wan’Dale to take on more of the running back role. It was a weight Wan’Dale was able to carry.

With two minutes left in the game Dedrick Mills scored from 19 yards out on an inside shovel pass from Adrian Martinez. Nebraska was up by three and Ohio State had two time outs left in their pocket. Nebraska had not stopped Justin Fields all day.

The drive started about exactly how every other Ohio State drive started that night. A couple chunk plays. After a nine yard scramble on first down Ohio State had it at the Nebraska 38 yard line. It was second and one.

Then DiCaprio Bootle made the play of his college career. He was send on a cornerback blitz and Justin Fields never saw him coming. Bootle had his first strip sack of the season and Deontre Thomas was there to scoop it up.

Thomas was running the other way as Ohio State’s Demario McCall tried tracking him down from behind. If you were looking you could see Scott Frost screaming for Thomas to go down. Running back coach Ryan Held was yelling for Thomas to hold on to the ball with two hands. Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti was seen jumping and giving Thomas the “keep going” signal. Everybody was going crazy.

Thomas had the touchdown in sights but McCall caught up to him at the 9 yard line and went for the strip.

It failed. But he did get Thomas down at the 3 yard line.

The Nebraska sideline was going bonkers. Coach Frost settled the offense down. All the Huskers had to do was snap the ball three times and they win.




Nebraska won their first conference championship since 1999. It was against the number one team in the country.

Game 14 - Semifinals of College Football Playoff Against Clemson
Nebraska 35 - Clemson 37

In a little bit of an upset Nebraska ended up sneaking into the College Football Playoff over Oregon. Two Big Ten schools got into the College Football Playoff as Ohio State matched up with Alabama on the other side of the bracket. The match up against new number one Clemson was going to be difficult for Nebraska to overcome and it did not start out well for the Huskers.

At halftime Nebraska looked at the scoreboard and was down 20 to Clemson. The score was 27 - 7. “Nebraska football twitter” was all over the place. Some complained that “of course Nebraska is being embarrassed on the big stage again.” Others were happy just to be in the game. Of course, there was a minority that were questioning the state of the football program.

That quickly changed when Nebraska started a comeback for the ages in the second half. Adrian Martinez and the Blackshirts combined to score three unanswered touchdowns by the end of the third quarter to bring the score to 28-27.

Omar Manning had the best game of his career as a Husker as he had over 200 yards receiving and two touchdowns against one of the best secondaries in the country by the end of the third quarter.

Trevor Lawrence did not go gentle into that good night. Clemson responded with a touchdown which put them up 34-28. Nebraska had a couple drives stall. So did Clemson. The majority of the fourth quarter was a game of field position.

Then Alante Brown flipped that script. On 4th and two from Nebraska’s 40 yard line Clemson decided to try and pin the Huskers deep. There was 1:45 left on the clock. They punted the ball to Alante Brown.

Brown caught it on the 10 yard line and made the first two would-be tacklers missk. Brown found a seam and was on his way down the sideline. He would have been alone if it wasn’t for Cam Taylor-Britt out ahead of him as a lead blocker.

With the assist of Taylor-Britt, Alante Brown went almost completely untouched for 90 yard punt return for touchdown. The magical season continues.

Except Clemson was going to get the ball back down 2 with 1:20 left on the clock. That was all they needed as they ended the game with a walk-off field goal for the win.

The 2020 Nebraska football season ended with heartbreak.

Game 15 - National Championship Game Result
Clemson 48 - Alabama 21

This is in no way a representation of what I think would happen if Nebraska played in 2020.

At this time, and I hope I am wrong, I am going with the mindset that the 2020 season is actually not going to happen. I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

So as Corn Nation was publishing a series of Best Team to Not Win a Championship I thought “What would have to happen for the 2020 Nebraska football team to make the list?” So I wrote it.

It was fun. Don’t take it too seriously. Hopefully you had fun reading it too.