1989 had marked a shift in the power structure of the old Big Eight. Colorado replaced Oklahoma as the foil for Nebraska in a conference that always seemed to be top-heavy with two really good teams. The Buffaloes beat the Cornhuskers in ’89 and went to the Orange Bowl ranked #1 before a loss to Notre Dame ended their title hopes. The 1990 Colorado-Nebraska battle was another November matchup between teams looking to win their league and keep national championship dreams alive.
In a normal year, Colorado’s national hopes would have already been gone. They tied Tennessee and lost a one-point game to Illinois in September. The Buffs won a controversial game at Missouri in October thanks to an officiating blunder that gave Colorado five downs to score the game-winning touchdown. But 1990 was no ordinary year in college football and the Buffs were undefeated within the Big Eight when they came to Lincoln on November 3.
Nebraska was undefeated and ranked #3. Virginia and Notre Dame held the top two spots in the polls. The Big Eight champ was contractually bound to the Orange Bowl, while the ACC champ was bound to the Citrus (today’s Capital One Bowl), but the Cornhuskers had every reason to believe that if they could win out, a title shot on New Year’s Day would be theirs.
On a windy and rainy day in Memorial Stadium, Nebraska seemed in control for three quarters. Colorado had an early mishap when their great running back, Eric Bienemy, fumbled on the Cornhusker 3-yard line. The Cornhuskers led 12-0 late in the third quarter. Bienemy had been held to 62 yards. Not a bad showing with a quarter-plus to play, but not when the run-heavy Buffalo offense needed to win a game like this.
Then the stunning turnabout came. A Nebraska team that always prided itself on physical play was simply whipped in the trenches by the Buffs. Bienemy added 75 more rushing yards to his total. He scored four touchdowns in the final quarter alone. Colorado won 27-12.
The pain for Nebraska got worse when Virginia was upset by Georgia Tech that same day. Colorado, ranked #9 coming into this game, vaulted to #4 and put themselves back in the national title mix.
Nebraska ended the season on a down note. They lost at Oklahoma and then went to the Citrus Bowl and were hammered by Georgia Tech.
As for Colorado? They returned to the Orange Bowl and got a rematch with Notre Dame. This time, the Buffs won and they shared the national title with the Yellow Jackets.