Nebraska, Northwestern Shine
The Associated Press
In College Football
December 20, 1995
Nebraska started the year on top and ended it the same way. In between, the Cornhuskers had a bumpy ride.
It also was a rocky year for Alabama and Miami, both hit with NCAA probation and bowl bans that left them home for the holidays.
However, it was smooth sailing for traditional Big Ten doormat Northwestern, which stunned everyone by going 10-1 and earning its first Rose Bowl berth in 47 years.
While top-ranked Nebraska went 11-0 and reached its third straight title game, against No. 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, the defending champions were plagued by legal problems that stained their squeaky clean image.
Coach Tom Osborne’s decision to reinstate star running back Lawrence Phillips after he served a six-game suspension for hitting his former girlfriend was criticized by those who felt Phillips got off too lightly.
Phillips, sentenced to a year of probation, was one of several Nebraska players who had brushes with the law.
Tailbacks Damon Benning and James Sims also were arrested after arguments with former girlfriends, receiver Riley Washington was charged with attempted second-degree murder and cornerback Tyrone Williams faced weapons charges for allegedly firing shots into an occupied car.
The off-the-field problems didn’t hurt Nebraska on the field. The Huskers beat their opponents by an average of 39 points and led the nation in scoring with 52 points per game.
Their leader was quarterback Tommie Frazier, runner-up to Ohio State tailback Eddie George for the Heisman Trophy. The Heisman race was expected to be one of the closest ever, but George beat Frazier and third-place Danny Wuerffel of Florida by a comfortable margin.
Wuerffel set an NCAA record for passing efficiency and led Florida to a 12-0 record. George, the fifth Ohio State player to win the Heisman, led the nation with 24 touchdowns and rushed for a school-record 1,826 yards.
Ohio State was Rose Bowl-bound until it lost its regular-season finale to archrival Michigan, 31-23, an upset that sent Northwestern to Pasadena to play Southern Cal.
The No. 3 Wildcats had an improbable season that included wins over Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State and just one loss — a two-point setback to Miami of Ohio, which overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit and kicked a field goal on the final play after Northwestern botched a punt.
Two other longtime losers, Kansas State and Kansas, also had superb seasons. They both went 9-2 and got bowl bids.
Notre Dame had a strange but successful season. The Irish started 3-2 and had to deal with coach Lou Holtz’s spinal surgery, but they recovered to win their last six games and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
Virginia handed Florida State its first loss ever in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Cavaliers were the hard-luck team of 1995, losing to Michigan and Texas on the final play.
The saddest ending was the swan song of the 81-year-old Southwest Conference, a once-proud league that was killed by cheating, bickering and the big-money lure of new superconferences. Texas won the last league title by beating Texas A&M 16-6 on the final weekend. Both schools will play in the Big 12 Conference next year along with two other former SWC members, Texas Tech and Baylor.
Critics spent a lot of time finding faults in the new bowl alliance, but it served its main purpose by matching the top two teams in the Fiesta Bowl. The Nebraska-Florida game couldn’t have happened under the old conference tie-in system, which would have sent Big Eight champion Nebraska to the Orange Bowl and Southeastern Conference winner Florida to the Sugar Bowl.
As usual, there were a rash of firings near the end of the season. The most notable casualty was Georgia’s Ray Goff, who guided the Bulldogs to a 6-5 record and Peach Bowl berth despite losing several key players to injuries.
Terry Donahue, who won more Pac-10 games than any other coach, left UCLA voluntarily after 20 years to become a CBS commentator. Donahue’s last game as Bruins’ coach will be the Aloha Bowl against Kansas on Christmas Day.
Howard Schnellenberger, who promised to return Oklahoma to glory, resigned after a rough first season in Norman. The Sooners finished 5-5-1 and lost their last three games by a combined score of 98-10.
Miami and Alabama, two of the nation’s most successful programs, had big problems with the NCAA.
The Hurricanes were hit with three years’ probation, a one-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions as the result of a financial aid scandal, play-for-pay scheme and other violations.
The Crimson Tide originally got three years’ probation, a one-year postseason ban and scholarship cuts because one former player had improper dealings with an agent and another received improper bank loans. But the third year of probation was lifted and some of the scholarships were restored after the school appealed.
George swept the player-of-the-year awards, capturing the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp. Other award winners were Wuerffel (O’Brien), Frazier (Unitas), Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy (Butkus), UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (Outland), Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace (Lombardi), Colorado State defensive back Greg Myers (Thorpe), Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn (Biletnikoff), Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald (Bednarik) and Texas Christian kicker Michael Reeder (Groza).
North Alabama won its third straight NCAA Division II championship by defeating Pittsburg State 27-7. Montana took the I-AA title and Wisconsin-La Crosse won the Division III championship. Central State of Ohio won the NAIA Division I crown, while Findlay of Ohio and Central Washington shared the Division II title after tying in the championship game.
© 1995 The Associated Press
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