When it comes to electrifying players in Nebraska football history, Eric Crouch may be at the top of the list. The Heisman Trophy winner from Omaha could do things with his legs that not many before or after him could. He was the elite of the elite in college football, especially during his senior season in 2001.
Early on during his tenure at Nebraska, Crouch experienced turbulence. There were rumors circulating that he was unhappy being behind Bobby Newcombe on the depth chart following his redshirt freshman season.
Supposedly, then-head coach Frank Solich went to Omaha to talk him into keeping a scarlet jersey on.
Whether true or not, the fact remains that Crouch staying on and taking over the quarterback position was big time for Nebraska football.
After earning the starting job part way through the 1998 season, he’d had a meager season statistically. Considering what would come, his 48.5 passing percentage and four touchdowns through the air to go along with 459 yards and five touchdowns on the ground were massively disappointing.
The resulting 9-4 record also left a bad taste in Husker Nation’s mouth, especially since Nebraska was fresh off a national championship season.
1999 was a better year, but the hated Texas Longhorns knocked off the Big Red in the regular season which ruined a chance at a perfect year. Many have argued that may have been Solich’s best team. Beyond the blemish against Bevo’s bunch, Nebraska rolled.
They even got revenge on Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. Crouch’s Cornhuskers topped off the season with a double-digit victory over Tennessee in the Huskers’ last BCS bowl game.
Crouch’s junior season brought high hopes with a team returning a lot of offensive contributors. No. 7 quarterbacked the team to a seven-game win streak before falling on the road to then-No. 3 Oklahoma. Another loss came two weeks later, this time to No. 16 Kansas State.
However, Crouch still managed to set Nebraska school records for most touchdown passes in a game and 20 rushing touchdowns in a season.
His senior year was one of the strangest in the annals of Husker football history.
There were the highest of highs: being ranked No. 1 in the polls, the school’s first Heisman winner since 1983 and a classic game against Oklahoma. There were the lowest of lows: 62-36 and the national championship game against Miami which only underscored every fault of the BCS system.
Crouch’s 2001 stats were nothing short of phenomenal. He became player No. 13 in NCAA history to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards (1,115 and 1,510, respectfully). He also set career records with a mind-boggling 59 rushing touchdowns.
As the cherry on top of his statistical sundae, he owns the Nebraska career record for total offensive yards with 7,915.
The highlight reel play of his career, in this writer’s opinion, was not his famous catch against Oklahoma. Rather, it was one of the best individual efforts I’ve seen when he took off downfield for 95 yards against Missouri. It still stands as the longest run in Husker history.
For a team known predominantly for running the ball, that play may be the best individual display of it.
How about the awards? 2001 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, first-team All-American, Walter Camp Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award winner, Sporting News National Offensive Player of the Year, ABC/Chevrolet National Player of the Year.
Oh, and of course, a not-so-little thing called the Heisman Trophy denoting him as the most outstanding player in college football.
Eric Crouch stands out among the greats in Nebraska history because he was a guy who could make plays when they needed to happen. He was, without a doubt, electrifying. Perhaps the most electrifying man in all of Nebraska football’s storied history.
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