MIAMI GARDENS — Dynasty is a word that has been thrown around in the aftermath of an Alabama Crimson Tide beat down of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Tide ran over, around, and through a Notre Dame defense that had very little answers to a fantastic game-plan by Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Alabama became just the second team in college football history to win three national titles in four years.
But were they the best?
The Nebraska Cornhuskers under Tom Osborne also won three national championships in a four year span. Nebraska won in 1994, 1995, and split the 1997 title with the Michigan Wolverines, which Husker fans still contest they deserved to win that outright.
Both teams are considered dynasties, having dominated the college football landscape over a four year period (with Alabama a chance to continue theirs for a good while longer still). But to determine the best, one has to dig into the past and present, to truly find that out.
Let’s start with overall record during the period.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers accumulated a 49-2 record over the four year span, with both losses coming during the 1996 season (Texas Longhorns, and at the time, #17 Arizona State Sun Devils) and they would finish 6th in both the USA Today Coaches and the Assosciated Press Poll.
The Alabama Crimson Tide accrued a 49-5 record over the past four season, but never finished a season undefeated. The Tide would finish the 2010 season without a championship, finishing 11th in the Coaches Poll and 10th in the AP Poll.
On the surface, Nebraska seems to have the edge. Before you scream something along the lines of “But the SEC is better now than the Big 8/XII was then” let’s take a look at how the conferences turned out and the schedules each team faced.
In 1994, Nebraska faced only four ranked teams (rankings at time of playing), which were #24 West Virginia Mountaineers, #16 Kansas State Wildcats, #2 Colorado Buffaloes, and the #3 Miami Hurricanes. The Huskers closest game was a 13-3 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the final regular season game. The Huskers came from behind to beat Miami 24-17 in the national title game.
The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers are considered by many to be the best team in the history of college football. The ’95 Huskers dominated everyone they played, with their closest game a 35-21 victory over the Washington State Cougars. The Huskers would go on to beat four teams who finished in the top 10 at the end of the year, with none of those games even being close. Lee Corso said the Huskers had no chance because “This game is on grass. Advantage Florida”. Nebraska man-handled the Florida Gators 62-24. The Big 8 finished with four, ten win teams that year.
The 1997 Cornhuskers are the most controversial of the championships because they split the title that year with the Michigan Wolverines. Husker fans claim they deserve the title outright while Wolverines fans think that they were the best that year.
Regardless, the Huskers once again steam-rolled the competition, but needed a miracle “kick” to force overtime against the Missouri Tigers, which they would win in overtime. The Huskers then took care of business against a Peyton Manning lead Tennessee Volunteers 42-17, giving the Heisman runner-up a nightmare time all night long.
Now let’s see how Alabama held up in their three year run.
The 2009 Crimson Tide was the only team during their three year run to go undefeated, defeating six ranked teams at the time of play. Alabama defeated Texas in the national title game 37-21 after Colt McCoy was knocked out early in the game. Regardless, Alabama won most of their games pretty easily, though had a few scares against the Auburn Tigres and South Carolina Gamecocks.
In 2011, the Alabama defeated four ranked FBS teams (and one FCS) en route to their second national championship in two years. After losing 9-6 to the LSU Tigers during the regular season, the Tide needed an Oklahoma State Cowboys loss (at the hands of the Iowa State Cyclones) to move back into the top two of the BCS, resulting in a re-match versus the Tigers which they would win 21-0.
The 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide once again needed help to make the BCS Championship, which came in the form over a Stanford Cardinal victory over the Oregon Ducks. The Tide needed help thanks to Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies defeating the Tide in Alabama. The Crimson Tide needed a last second touchdown to beat LSU that year, and a defensive stop to beat the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Conference Championship that year.
Looking purely at statistics, the Huskers were undefeated in all three of their championship years; Alabama had only one undefeated season. The Huskers were 49-2 over their four seasons; Alabama was 49-5. Nebraska won all three conference championships during their title run. Alabama only won two of the three years, not even participating in the conference championship game in 2011.
In 1994 and 1995, Nebraska played and beat everybody in their conference (Big 8). In 1997, the Huskers defeated two of the top three teams in the opposing conference. The 2009 Crimson Tide played two of the three best teams, beating both, though the Eastern Division was considerably weaker. The 2011 Crimson Tide did not play the two best teams in the Eastern Division, instead playing three of the four worst teams (of six). The 2012 Crimson Tide played two of the three worst, and also the best team (SEC Championship Game versus Georgia) in route to winning.
The following are records of opposing teams during the respective season:
1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers: 78-71-3 (13 games)
1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers: 75-62-1 (12 games)
1997 Nebraska Cornhuskers: 77-74 (13 games)
2009 Alabama Crimson Tide: 107-72 (also includes 6-5 FCS Tennessee Chattanooga) (14 games)
2012 Alabama Crimson Tide: 102-66 (9 Penn State victories that were vacated are included here, includes 11-3 FCS Georgia Southern) (13 games)
2012 Alabama Crimson Tide: 96-79 (includes 1-10 FCS Western Carolina) (14 games)
Looking over schedules, the Huskers may have had it a bit easier, though Alabama’s numbers are skewed due to playing a lower level team every year. The Crimson Tide also benefited from an extra game (or two) depending on the year.
The debate is close as to which dynasty is actually better. Just looking at records of opposing teams, one would say Alabama is better, with that benefit of the extra game (or two). When looking at national championships, some will say Nebraska didn’t win or didn’t deserve the 1997 National Championship (though many wanted Nebraska to play Michigan, and the Huskers would have been a 7.5 favorite for that game).
However, looking at conference championships, the Huskers won theirs all three years, while the Crimson Tide did not play in theirs in 2011. For me, you have to win your conference to even play in the National Championship Game. Nebraska is also helped by the fact the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers are considered the best team in the history of college football.
The Huskers also went undefeated in the three championship years. Alabama only had one undefeated year. The Huskers team was also better during their non-championship year.
Which dynasty do you think is better? Comment below!