National and Big Eight recap – 1982
Penn State, which had failed to win titles in undefeated seasons in prior years, won its first national championship in 1982 with an 11-1 campaign.
Under long time head coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions fell only once during the regular season, losing to No. 4 Alabama 42-21 in September. Recovering from the early stinging defeat, Penn State could not be bested the rest of the season, defeating previously unbeaten Georgia and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl. The Nittany Lions were led by running back Curt Warner and quarterback Todd Blackledge, and emerged from an indepedent schedule with victories over No. 2 Nebraska, No. 13 West Virginia, No. 13 Notre Dame, and No. 5 (and preseason No. 1) Pittsburgh.
While Herchel Walker won the Heisman trophy, the list of players Walker defeated may have been one of the most decorated in college football history. Stanford quarterback John Elway, victimized by a last second touchdown by Cal in one of the most infamous plays in college football history (see below), finished second in the Heisman balloting. Also finishing in the top ten were SMU running back Eric Dickerson, Michigan wide receiver Anthony Carter, Nebraska center Dave Rimington, Nebraska tailback Mike Rozier, and three more quarterbacks: Penn State’s Todd Blackledge; UCLA’s Tom Ramsey; and Tony Eason from Illinois.
In the Big Eight, Nebraska made it two consecutive unbeaten conference seasons, capturing the Big Eight crown for 12th time. The Huskers concluded their season 12-1, with the only blemish being a 27-24 early season loss to eventual national champion Penn State. Nebraska capped its season by beating LSU, 21-20, in the Orange Bowl, finishing 3rd in the final polls behind only Penn State and Georgia. Center Dave Rimington added a Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the nation’s outstanding lineman, to his second Outland Trophy. The national leader in scoring, total offense, and rushing, the Nebraska offense was led by quarterback Turner Gill, running back Mike Rozier, and wideout Irving Fryar.
Oklahoma joined the Huskers in the bowls, losing to Arizona State, 32-21, in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 8-4 and ranked 16th in the polls. Kansas State made its first ever bowl appearance, losing 14-3 to Wisconsin in the Independence bowl. The Wildcats finished the season 6-5-1, missing out on the opportunity to finish a season ranked in the polls for the first time in school history.
Cal/Stanford wild finish: