Every Tuesday during the fall of 1995, the best team in college football conducted a remarkable 20-play session in which the top players sold out in the name of self-preservation, improvement and chemistry.
With the stadium seats empty, those scrimmages and another eight- or nine-play goal-line drill -- also in full pads -- each Wednesday set the tone for all else at Nebraska in a memorable and historic season.
“I know, at times,” former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said, “a bunch of players said the games were relatively easy compared to practice.”
Nebraska in 1995 outscored opponents by 37.8 points per game, including a 62-24 undressing of No. 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We were so focused on the process,” said Mike Minter, a junior safety for the Huskers 20 years ago, “that it was like we were machines. All of us were machines.”
The parallels to Ohio State in 2015 are striking. No doubt, the Buckeyes could benefit from studying the dynamics of 1995 Nebraska, because Osborne’s most dominant team fortified its legacy not over 12 games; rather, Nebraska won its second straight title in practice, by building a relentless attitude and shaping internal expectations so that none from the coaches or fans or media could rise higher.
“We just thought we worked harder than anybody,” former defensive end Jared Tomich said.
Nebraska did not allow a sack all season. It trailed once in the regular season, for eight minutes to Washington State, averaged 366.5 rushing yards and sent 27 players to the NFL. By all measures, the 1995 Cornhuskers rank among the greatest of great teams -- the only group since Alabama's 1979 squad to finish unbeaten as a repeat national champion.
“It was a rite of passage,” said Clester Johnson, a senior wingback in 1995. “I never went into any game and felt there was even a chance of losing. It had a lot to do with the amount of depth that we had and the closeness that we felt. At that time, we were all like brothers.”
The Buckeyes, from the outside, possess the ingredients of a repeat champion.
Like Nebraska in 1995, Ohio State features a wealth of talent that appears to exceed every foe on its regular-season schedule. The College Football Playoff, of course, presents a stumbling block that teams a generation past did not face.
Coach Urban Meyer, like Osborne in his era, stands atop the profession as an offensive innovator.
Following their championship runs, neither team lost a player early to the NFL in the ensuing offseason.
Nebraska returned quarterback Tommie Frazier as a senior after he missed much of 1994 with blood clots in his right leg.
Enter Braxton Miller.
Minter, the ex-Nebraska star who now coaches at Campbell University, said he took notice of Miller’s recent choice to shift to receiver.
“When I start looking at that,” Minter said, “I think these Ohio State kids get it.”
A quarterback competition dominated the headlines in August 20 years ago at Nebraska. Frazier won a tight race over Brook Berringer, who had filled in admirably in 1994.
“An argument could be made that we would have been very successful with Brook,” Osborne said. “But he said the right thing, did the right thing, bit his lip and paid the price.”
Berringer earned loads of respect from teammates for his attitude. His willingness to sacrifice only bolstered the Huskers’ strength. In fact, Nebraska drew closer, former players said, from adversity -- notably the criticism generated by Osborne’s decision to reinstate suspended I-back Lawrence Phillips.
The Buckeyes already face adversity with the suspension of Joey Bosa and three receivers for the opener. More challenges are sure to surface.
“You’ve only got one football, and not everybody’s going to touch it,” Osborne said. “But I think right down to the scout team guys were people who felt they had a role to play -- and that what they were trying to accomplish was maybe a little bit larger than themselves.”
That’s no lip service, said Ryan Held, a walk-on receiver and QB at Nebraska from 1993 to 1996 and now the coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
“When you put on that helmet,” Held said, “it meant something to everyone, no matter who you were on the team.
“The challenge for Ohio State, when everybody is patting you on the back, you have this comfortability like, 'We’re pretty good.’ You think you’re working as hard as you can. But are you doing everything you can to keep that hunger? We did that in '95.”