Best of the Decade: Wins against ranked teams
The Huskers’ 58.1% winning percentage in the 2010s was the third-lowest in program history, but there was still plenty to cheer about. Here we look back on Nebraska’s nine victories over AP-ranked teams (based on gameday or final AP rankings). That was down from 12 in the previous decade.
Gameday Final Date Opponent Score AP rank AP rank NU/Opp NU/Opp 2010/10/23 @Okla. State 51-41 14/17 20/13 2010/10/30 Missouri 31-17 14/7 20/18 2011/10/29 Mich. State 24-3 13/9 24/11 2011/11/12 @Penn State 17-14 19/12 24/NR 2012/10/28 @Northwestern 29-28 NR/NR 25/17 2012/10/27 Michigan 23-9 NR/20 25/24 2014/01/01 ‡Georgia 24-19 NR/23 NR/NR 2015/11/07 Mich. State 39-38 NR/6 NR/6 2016/09/17 Oregon 35-32 NR/22 NR/NR ‡Neutral site
2010 Oklahoma State
Stellar play from quarterback Taylor Martinez and the special teams helped the Huskers win a 51-41 shootout against the No. 17 Cowboys in Stillwater. Alex Henery jump-started Nebraska’s opening touchdown drive with a 27-yard run on a fake punt from the Nebraska 22. In the fourth quarter, the Huskers iced the game with an 81-yard drive that consumed 6:23 and gave Nebraska a 17-point lead with under five minutes left.
Roy Helu Jr. scored on three long touchdown runs and set a school record with 307 rushing yards as the Huskers tamed the seventh-ranked Tigers in Lincoln, 31-17. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez left the game after taking a hit late in the second quarter and didn’t return. He would miss two of the Huskers’ four remaining regular-season games.
2011 Michigan State
The No. 9 Spartans were the team with an NFL-bound senior quarterback, but the Husker defense shut down Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State offense in a 24-3 victory in Lincoln. Rex Burkhead scored all three Nebraska touchdowns and rushed for 130 yards.
2011 Penn State
Just days after the Jerry Sandusky scandal brought down Penn State coach Joe Paterno, the Huskers won a defensive struggle against the No. 12 Nittany Lions in State College, 17-14. Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead rushed for 121 yards, and linebacker Lavonte David helped seal the win by stuffing PSU’s Silas Redd on a fourth-and-1 run in the final two minutes.
Facing a 12-point deficit midway through the final period, the Huskers matched the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history and edged Northwestern in Evanston, 29-28. Taylor Martinez led touchdown drives of 80 and 76 yards in the final 8½ minutes. The Wildcats were unranked at the time but earned a spot on this list with their No. 17 ranking in the final AP poll.
The Blackshirts kept No. 20 Michigan out of the end zone, limiting the Wolverines to three field goals and 188 total yards in a 23-9 win in Lincoln. Michigan dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson left the game with an injury late in the first half. His replacement, Russell Bellomy, was intercepted three times by the Huskers and sacked twice.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Quincy Enunwa on a 99-yard pass play, turning a dicey situation into the deciding score in a 24-19 Gator Bowl win over No. 23 Georgia. Armstrong’s heave, which put the Huskers ahead 24-12 with 4:58 left in the third quarter, came one play after he narrowly averted a safety that would have cut Nebraska’s lead to 17-14.
2015 Michigan State
Behind by 12 points with under two minutes remaining, the Huskers stunned No. 6 Michigan State with two late touchdowns for a 39-38 victory in Lincoln. The game-winner was a 30-yard pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. to Brandon Reilly with 17 seconds left, capping a 91-yard drive. Despite the loss, MSU was selected a month later for the four-team College Football Playoff.
Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s 34-yard touchdown run with 2½ minutes remaining lifted the Huskers to a 35-32 win in Lincoln over No. 22 Oregon. Nebraska trailed by 13 points before going on a 21-0 run in the second and third quarters. The Huskers benefited from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich’s decision to go for two points after every touchdown; only the first attempt worked.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda ...
The Huskers had their chances to add to their total. Nebraska was 5-13 in one-possession games against AP-ranked teams (based on gameday or final AP rankings). Here are the 13 losses:
Gameday Final Date Opponent Score AP rank AP rank NU/Opp NU/Opp 2010/11/20 @Texas A&M 6-9 9/18 10/19 2010/12/04 ‡Oklahoma 20-23 13/10 10/6 2014/10/04 @Mich. State 22-27 19/10 NR/5 2014/11/22 Minnesota 24-28 21/NR NR/25 2014/12/27 ‡Southern Cal 42-45 25/24 NR/20 2015/10/10 Wisconsin 21-23 NR/NR NR/21 2015/10/24 Northwestern 28-30 NR/NR NR/23 2015/11/27 Iowa 20-28 NR/3 NR/9 2016/10/29 @Wisconsin 17-23* 7/11 NR/9 2017/11/04 Northwestern 24-31* NR/NR NR/17 2018/10/13 @Northwestern 31-34* NR/NR NR/21 2018/11/03 @Ohio State 31-36 NR/8 NR/3 2019/11/29 Iowa 24-27 NR/19 NR/? *Overtime ‡Neutral site