Thirty Years Later, 1984 Again?
Few teams in Husker history have been as celebrated as the 1983 squad. That was the team that came a 2-point conversion away from a national championship, featured the Heisman, Outland, and Lombardi trophy winners as well as the top pick in the NFL draft and a second-team All-American quarterback. That team lost a lot to graduation (particularly on offense) yet was ranked #1 in the country by the final game of the 1984 season. That team might be the model for the 2014 Nebraska team.
The Cornhuskers enter this season with legitimate questions at quarterback. The same was true in 1984. That year, Craig Sundberg and Travis Turner shared the load at quarterback, with neither being particularly distinguished though collectively they were effective enough to deliver a 10-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory. The running back tandem of Doug DuBose and Jeff Smith carried the load offensively, combining for more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage. The offensive line was outstanding for that group with an All-American center in Mark Traynowicz and an all-conference guard (Harry Grimminger) and tackle (Mark Behning).
It was the defense that was particularly outstanding. They held opponents to an average of less than 10 points per game. Up until the bowl game, they held the opposition to just 203 yards per game with 2 yards per rush and 5 yards per pass attempt. Defensive end Scott Strausburger was an all-conference player along with safety Bret Clark and punter Scott Livingston.
Neither Sundberg nor Turner put up impressive passing numbers. Sundberg's bad day at Syracuse may have cost NU the game and the #1 ranking in the nonconference finale. Turner had a very costly fumble early in the game against OU after the Huskers had regained the top ranking by the end of the regular season. But along the way NU beat a pair of top ten teams including UCLA and Oklahoma State and then capped the season with a win over twelfth-ranked LSU in the Sugar Bowl with a big day by Sundberg.
If there's hope for a good season in 2014 without an outstanding quarterback, it might come from 1984. The defense would need to play extremely well as would the running backs. Field position will matter. That's also what you'd probably say about Michigan State at this point a year ago. They parlayed that formula into a Rose Bowl victory. A lot needs to go well for Nebraska for that to work out. But it's not entirely unprecedented either.