It was business as usual for the 1992 Nebraska football team. Since Tom Osborne had taken over as head coach in 1974, the program had reached 13 major bowl games and were a consistent national contender. They also hadn’t won a national championship. Both patterns continued in ‘92.
A powerful running game was what defined Cornhusker football under Osborne and the 1992 team continued the tradition. Derek Brown and Calvin Jones each ran for over 1,000 yards in a regular season that was only 11 games, with no conference championship games. On the flip side, to show how thorough the commitment to the running game was, Jones’ 14 catches tied for most on the team with wide receiver Trumane Bell.
Nebraska had All-American talent on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The best was Will Shields, a first-team All-America choice at guard and eventual NFL Hall of Famer with the Kansas City Chiefs. Defensive lineman John Parrella got honorable mention in the All-American voting and Travis Hall made 2nd-team AA at the linebacker spot.
The quarterback job was in the hands of a freshman. Tommie Frazier would only attempt one hundred passes for the season and complete just 44 of them. But he stayed away from mistakes—only one pick—averaged over seven yards per attempt, ran for 400 yards and began a career that would eventually make him a Husker legend.
Expectations weren’t high, as least by Nebraska standards. They were ranked #11 in the preseason and the events of early September validated that. After tuning up with easy wins over mediocre Utah and Middle Tennessee State, the Cornhuskers paid a visit to Seattle to play defending national co-champion Washington, currently ranked #2. The gap between Nebraska and the national elite was in display, as they lost 29-14 and fell to 15th in the rankings.
A nice 45-24 win over a respectable Arizona State team closed out the non-conference schedule and set the stage for Big Eight play. The Big Eight was the organizational forerunner of the Big 12 that would come into existence four years later. The Cornhuskers were traditionally among the conference’s best. The historic rival was Oklahoma and in recent years, Colorado had provided the stiffest challenges.
Nebraska blasted a subpar Oklahoma State team 55-zip to start league play. The Cornhuskers paid a visit to lowly Missouri and while the defense was spotty, it was still good enough to win 34-24. The biggest games were now at hand—consecutive home dates, each nationally televised, against Colorado and surprising Kansas.
What resulted was dominance. Parrella got three sacks against Colorado and led a defense that limited the Buffs to eight yards on the ground. Nebraska pounded out 373 rushing yards. One week later, they pummeled the Jayhawks with 351 yards on the ground, as Brown and Jones each cleared the 100-yard mark. Nebraska did not turn the ball over in either game and the final scores were 52-7 and 49-7. They were ranked seventh in the polls when the dust settled.
The reward for the Big Eight title was an Orange Bowl bid and the Cornhuskers had that all but sealed. They played like a team with little to play for a 19-10 upset loss at lowly Iowa State that took them out of the Top 10. Nebraska licked its wounds for two weeks and then came out on Black Friday at Oklahoma.
The Huskers started slowly—only some good red-zone defense and a 50-yard interception return by linebacker Ed Stewart kept them ahead 10-9 at the half. But with Jones rushing for 137 yards, the second half was all Nebraska and the final was 33-9. They closed the season two weeks later with a visit to Tokyo to play Kansas State and won 38-24.
It was time for the Orange Bowl and third-ranked Florida State, another chance to see how the Cornhuskers measured up against the nation’s best. The results was almost identical to what happened in September. The loss was 27-14, the game was never really in doubt and Nebraska was beaten up in the trenches. They closed the season ranked #14.
The 1992 Nebraska season still set the stage for Osborne’s glory years, mainly by getting Frazier into the lineup, where he would stay for the next three years. In 1993, the Cornhuskers came within one play of a national championship. In 1994, they finally broke through and won Osborne his first ring. And in 1995 they repeated, producing one of college football’s all-time great champions.