As we await the arrival of spring, it's time to turn our focus to football. In the past, the Danno Awards have been given annually to recognize the people and some of the special moments in the world of Nebraska football.
But this year, we are going to honor the best (and worst) of the years 2000 to 2010 (the Decade Plus One) of Husker football. Why the past 11 years? Because 2010 marked the end of Nebraska's association with the Big 12 Conference. And this fall, the Huskers will be playing in the venerable Big 10 Conference.
In this segment, we'll look at the Cornhusker Award and the best of the Offensive moments.
2000-2010 (DECADE PLUS ONE) DANNO AWARD WINNERS
CORNHUSKER OF THE DPO (DECADE PLUS ONE)
UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman (2001-present)
This award is given to the person who has had the greatest positive impact on the world of Husker football. And the DPO winner may be a surprise to some of you, but we think Chancellor Perlman is deserving. It's true, he oversaw the hiring of Steve Pederson (at the time most Husker fans applauded the move) and he was there when Pederson and former Husker head coach, Bill Callahan, received raises and contract extensions just months before both were fired.
But it was Perlman who had the sense to fire AD Steve Pederson and to hire Tom Osborne as Interim AD. In turn, Osborne fired Callahan and most of his staff at the end of the '07 season and replaced him with Bo Pelini. And last year, Chancellor Perlman also publicly voiced his displeasure with Bo Pelini's sideline meltdowns during last year's loss at Texas A&M.
But maybe even more importantly, it was Harvey Perlman who led the way for Nebraska to move to the Big 10 Conference. One wonders what would have happened had Callahan remained the head coach and Perlman not been chancellor. Would Nebraska still have been invited to dance in the Big 10? It's doubtful.
BEST HUSKER OFFENSIVE TEAM
Led by Heisman winner, Eric Crouch, the Huskers managed to win 11 games-the most games during the DPO. That year, despite, getting slammed by the Buffaloes 62-36 in their last regular season game, the 11-1 Huskers-with a huge assist from the computer, limped into the national championship game, losing to Miami 37-14 in the Rose Bowl. But Husker fans still savor that team's 20-10 win over the #2 ranked Sooners in Lincoln, in what became the biggest win of the DPO.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Eric Crouch QB (1998-2001)
Even though he played only two years in the DPO, he left a legacy that will long endure. In 2001, Crouch became the Huskers' third Heisman winner, joining Johnny Rodgers and Mike Rozier. Eric has always represented the University, the football program, the state of Nebraska and Husker fans to the highest level.
Eric Crouch (1998-2001)
Although the DPO saw the end of option football at Nebraska after the '03 season, it's a safe bet that Crouch would have found success running the West Coast and Read Option offenses. On his way to winning the Heisman in 2001, Crouch became the national career rushing leader for TDs by a QB (59) and became only the 13th player in NCAA history to rush for over 1,000 yards and pass for over 1,000 yards in the same season.
BEST TD RUN BY A QUARTERBACK
Eric Crouch at Missouri 2001 ("The Run")
All you have to do is watch this play and just shake your head. This amazing run put Crouch at the top of the Heisman list-a position he never relinquished. Recently, I asked Eric what goes through his mind when he watches replays of "The Run.". "It was all instinct," he said referring to the moves he made to shake defenders. Instinct and talent-what a combination. Congratulations, Eric!
BEST TD CATCH BY A QUARTERBACK
Eric Crouch Oklahoma @Nebraska 2001 (1998-2001)
This was an amazing play, executed to perfection against the biggest rival in the biggest game of the DPO. This was not Crouch's only career TD catch, but it was his greatest.
BEST RUNNING BACK
Roy Helu, Jr. Roy (2007-2010)
In last year's 31-17 win over Missouri in Lincoln, Helu broke the Husker single game rushing record (294) established by Calvin Jones in 1991. Roy broke the record by running for an amazing 307 yards. Helu now stands fourth on the career rushing list (3,434) behind Heisman winner, Mike Rozier (4,780), Ahman Green (3,880) and another Heisman winner, Eric Crouch (3,434). Helu ended his Husker career with a 5.9 yards per carry average. In his record setting single game performance, Roy had TD runs of 66 (first play of the game), 73 and 53 as the Huskers won a critical divisional game over the Tigers.
BEST BLOCKING RUNNING BACK
Cory "Pork Chop" Ross (2002-2005)
At 5'6" and 195 pounds, how could a player that size even play RB at a program like Nebraska's? And at his size, how could he be expected to block blitzing linebackers in the West Coast Offense? I don't know, but he did. In fact, he was the Nebraska Offensive MVP in '04 and '05. He also received the Tom Novak Award his senior year at Nebraska.
Judd Davies (2000-2003)
This is a very hard pick, not because there haven't been good athletes at the position over the past 11 years, but because the offenses that have been run since Judd played at Nebraska have all but eliminated the FB position. We're going with Davies who, like Heisman winner Eric Crouch, came out of Millard North High to become a Husker. And for two of those years, they played in the same backfield. In fact, Judd was part of Husker history when he helped tie an NCAA record for the number of players (4) on the same team to rush for at least 100 yards in a single game. At Baylor in 2001, Thunder Collins (who is currently in prison for murder) rushed for 165 yards, Dahrran Diedrick had 137, Eric Crouch had 132 and Davies had 119 yards. Despite injuries, Davies managed to rush for a total of 703 career yards and had a 5.3 yards per carry average.
Nate Swift (2005-2008)
Maybe Nate wasn't the most gifted Husker receiver, but he maximized the talent he did have and developed into an excellent go-to player, superb route runner and a good punt returner.
(There is a really good youtube highlight video of Swift, but there are just a few too many "F" bombs in the rap music (?) version, so it wasn't included in this column.)
BEST TIGHT END
Matt Herian (2002-2006)
Matt (The Pride of Pierce, Nebraska) Herian was on his way to becoming one of the best tight ends in school history, but a bad leg injury against Missouri kept him from reaching his potential. Nevertheless, Matt gets the nod. He ended his Husker career with an average of 19.1 yards per catch and 1,243 total career reception yards.
BEST OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Dominic Raiola (1998-2000)
Although he played only one year of the DPO, Dominic was good enough to win the Rimington Trophy his senior year. No other Husker offensive lineman since then has achieved such high recognition.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY
Black 41 Flash Reverse (Oklahoma @Nebraska 2001)
It is only fitting and proper that the best offensive play was made by the best offensive player in the DPO.
BIGGEST HUSKER WIN
2001 Sooners @Nebraska 20-10
Any win over a Bob Stoops' Sooner team is a great win, but when these two teams met in Lincoln in 2001, both teams were undefeated and ranked in the Top Five in the nation (Huskers #3, the Sooners #2).
BEST TOUCHDOWN RECEPTION BY A RECEIVER
Mo Purify at Texas A&M 2006 (2006-2007)
The Huskers scored with just 20 seconds remaining to beat the Aggies 28-27 and in doing so, clinched the Big 12 North title that year. Purify's catch was a culmination of "The Drive" that started at the Huskers' 24 yard line.
BEST TOUCHDOWN TD RECEPTION BY A RUNNING BACK
Brandon Jackson 2006 vs Texas (49 yards) (2004-2006)
Watch Jackson as he waits for his blockers to do their work. Husker FB, Dane Todd takes out two potential tacklers with his block that clears the path for Jackson.
BEST TOUCHDOWN PASS THROWN BY A RUNNING BACK
Marlon Lucky to Nate Swift Texas (25 yards) @Nebraska 2006 (Lucky-2005-2008)
There have been a several TD passes thrown by running backs in the DPO, but this one blew the roof off Memorial Stadium on that miserable, cold, dark, snowy day in Lincoln Nebraska.
BEST WINNING DRIVE
76 yards @Texas A&M 2006 ("The Drive")
DE Zach Potter started the drive when he blocked an A&M field goal attempt with about two minutes to go in the game with the Aggies leading 27-21. "The Drive" began at the Huskers' 24 yard line with 1:57 left in the game. Out of time outs, Husker QB Zac Taylor engineered the winning 76 yard drive, but needed the help of unheralded receivers like Todd Peterson and Dan Erickson to take the Huskers to pay dirt. Nebraska marched down the field, converting a critical 4th and 3 situation with 1:13 to go. The Huskers won it with :20 to go in the game when Husker QB Zac Taylor hit Mo Purify with a 9 yard fade route for the winning TD. I still get chills watching "The Drive."
In Part III, we'll look at defense, special teams and other highs and lows of the last 11 years of Husker football.