Nebraska football: 10 most memorable Cornhuskers season openers
Nebraska football kicks off its 129th season on Saturday against Akron (8 p.m. ET, Fox TV) in Lincoln.
The game against the Zips is already guaranteed to make Cornhusker history, with Adrian Martinez set to become the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for the Big Red. Fans in Lincoln will hope that this game will otherwise be routine.
In recent years, Nebraska has avoided facing big-time opponents in its openers. Yes, the Cornhuskers set a Big Ten total offense record with 784 yards to start its 2014 season, but that came against Florida Atlantic.
If Akron pulls off an upset, it might well join this list next year — for all the wrong reasons, as far as Nebraska fans would be concerned. As it is, here is our chronological selection of the 10 most memorable season openers in program history:
Oct. 7, 1911: Nebraska 117, Kearney State 0
The Cornhuskers started the 1911 season the way they ended the previous campaign — with a rout of ridiculous proportions. Nebraska defeated Haskell 119-0 to end the 1910 season. NU came so close to breaking that record in the 1911 opener, and it’s still the second-biggest margin of victory in program history. Understandably, Kearney State never scheduled Nebraska again.
Oct. 3, 1925: Nebraska 14, Illinois 0
There are two reasons this game makes the list. First, this was the first time that Illinois had been shut out with superstar Red Grange in the backfield (Michigan beat Illinois 3-0 later that season). Second, this was the first of six consecutive season-opening shutouts for the Cornhuskers defense, a streak that ended in 1931.
Oct. 5, 1940: Minnesota 13, Nebraska 7
The visiting Cornhuskers came close to beating the Golden Gophers, who were then a national power. The Cornhuskers would have tied it with a long touchdown in the third quarter on a reverse but a penalty nullified the touchdown. Minnesota went on to finish 8-0 and was crowned AP national champion. Nebraska won its next eight to earn its first Rose Bowl bid.
Sept. 22, 1962: Nebraska 53, South Dakota 0
This one isn’t memorable for the lopsided score against an overmatched opponent, but rather for launching a new era in Nebraska football. The Cornhuskers had just three winning seasons from 1941-61. This win marked Bob Devaney’s debut as Nebraska coach and they finished the season 9-2, beginning four decades of dominance.
Sept. 18, 1965: Nebraska 34, TCU 14
Hard to believe now, but it took nearly 30 years for Nebraska to spend its first week at No. 1 in the AP poll (voting began in 1936). The Cornhuskers were at the top for the first time in the 1965 preseason voting and celebrated by topping the Horned Frogs as Bob Churchich twice hit Freeman White for touchdown passes.
Sept. 9, 1972: UCLA 20, Nebraska 17
The Cornhuskers, in what turned out to be their final year under Devaney, had their 23-game winning streak and 33-game unbeaten run snapped by the Bruins. Quarterback Mark Harmon — yes, that one — led UCLA, which had finished 2-7-1 the season before, to the upset, which was capped by Efren Herrera’s winning field goal with 22 seconds left.
Sept. 2, 1978: Alabama 20, Nebraska 3
For the first time, Nebraska opened in a matchup of two preseason top-10 teams. The Cornhuskers were ranked 10th coming in but No. 1 Alabama was too strong in Birmingham. Coach Tom Osborne’s charges led 3-0 after the first quarter but the Crimson Tide stifled Big Red from there and Bear Bryant’s team went on to win the national championship.
Aug. 29, 1983: Nebraska 44, Penn State 6
This was one of the most hyped openers in modern times, with two national powers meeting at the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. But being relatively close to home did the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions no favors. One of the most dominant teams ever at Nebraska — or anywhere else — began its extraordinary campaign by allowing only garbage time points near the end, showing why the Cornhuskers were the preseason No. 1.
Sept. 6, 1986: Nebraska 34, Florida State 17
The Cornhuskers, ranked No. 8 to start the season, trailed 14-10 at halftime but rallied against the No. 11 Seminoles to avenge a loss to FSU in 1985. But what made this game really noteworthy was that — as hard as this seems to believe now — it was the first night game in Memorial Stadium history.
Sept. 5, 2015: BYU 33, Nebraska 28
New coach Mike Riley made his Cornhuskers debut in a memorable way, just not in a good way. The Cougars came into Lincoln and took a 24-14 halftime lead. Nebraska rallied and led until Tanner Mangum, who entered in the fourth quarter as a sub, found Mitch Matthews for a 42-yard touchdown pass with no time left to stun Big Red Nation.