Coach Jones returned to add another chapter to the up and down story of his Nebraska head coaching career. After a promising conference championship first year, a record-setting second year of losses and disappointments, and then a strong return last year which included wins over Minnesota and Pittsburgh in the same year for the first time ever, sights were set on once again taking aim at the conference title and returning to the top of the league.
Abel, George #47 G Alfson, Warren #22 G Behm, Forrest #33 T Blue, Wayne #39 HB Bradley, Dale #42 HB Bryant, William #29 G Bunker, Willard #46 E Burruss, Robert #49 C Francis, Vike #38 FB Greenlief, Francis #18 G Hazen, Jack #32 E Herndon, Clarence #34 T Hopp, Harry #37 FB Kahler, Robert #35 HB Kahler, Royal #54 T Kathol, Gerald #12 E Kelly, Howard #56 C Knight, George #21 QB Leik, Francis #52 T Ludwick, Robert #30 E
Luther, Walter #27 HB Meier, Fred #20 C Metheny, Fred #36 QB Muskin, Leonard #53 T Myers, Lynn #48 G Petsch, Roy #13 QB Preston, Fred #50 E Prochaska, Ray #31 E Rohn, Henry #15 FB Rohrig, Herman #25 HB Rubottom, Don #10 HB Schleich, Victor #57 T Schwartzkopf, Ed #17 G Simmons, Kenneth #19 HB Thompson, Marvin #44 E Thompson, Theos #26 HB Vincent, Jack #23 HB VonGoetz, Herbert #48 G Whitehead, Ralph #16 T Zikmund, Allen #59 HB
The Cornhuskers faced the ultimate test to start their season, going up against the #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. The Gophers already had played one game to tune up. The scoreless draw was broken open when Minnesota put one touchdown in before the half. It wasn't until the third quarter that Nebraska scored a touchdown to tie it up, but the Gophers quickly responded to keep their lead. When the Cornhuskers answered later in the third on a long reverse play, the tying score was called back on an offsides penalty and Nebraska was unable to put the ball over again as they fell to 4-16-2 in the series.
Indiana arrived in Lincoln to open Nebraska's home schedule, and quickly found themselves scrambling to keep up as the Cornhuskers jumped out to a 13-0 lead by halftime. The Hoosiers did manage one third quarter score, but were unable to come up with enough to get the win. Indiana remained winless against Nebraska all time, at 0-3-2.
Nebraska absolutely unloaded on Kansas in Lawrence, seemingly running into the end zone at will and rolling up 53 points. It was the most points scored and tied the record largest margin of victory since Grinnell fell to Nebraska 58-0 in 1927. Kansas managed to avoid the shutout only by the grace of a Cornhusker kicker slipping in the end zone to give up a safety. Nebraska was now 35-9-3 in the series, and had kept Kansas winless in 24 straight tries. Nebraska appeared at #18 in the AP Poll.
Nebraska took back the Missouri-Nebraska Bell with their defeat of defending Big 6 champion Missouri in Lincoln. If not for a successful play in the last sixty seconds of the game, the Tigers would have been forced to suffer the additional indignity of a shutout. As it was, they still had to live with their 8-23-3 record against Nebraska all-time. The win boosted Nebraska to #12 in the AP Poll.
The Cornhuskers dealt another hand of disappointment to the Sooners, overcoming their own weak line play in the first half. It wasn't until 20 seconds remaining in the 2nd quarter that Nebraska found the scoreboard. After the break, both teams again pushed each other back and forth with nothing to show for their troubles until the fourth when the Cornhuskers used a big play to put the game out of reach and shut out Oklahoma in Norman. Nebraska was now 14-3-3 against the Sooners to date, but the win was not enough to move Nebraska up from their #12 AP Poll ranking.
On a wet field, Nebraska struggled slightly at first, giving up a fumble to stall the first potential scoring drive. Undaunted, the Cornhuskers came back with two touchdowns in a row, though the Hawkeyes answered with a score of their own before the break. No further points would be tallied in the second half, and the win was Nebraska's fourth straight over Iowa as they improved to 19-7-3 all time and gained one spot in the AP Poll.
Pittsburgh was not at all accustomed to playing Nebraska from the perspective of avenging a loss, but after having their 12-game streak over the Cornhuskers broken the previous year, sights were set on putting Nebraska back in their place as they were brought to Pitt Stadium. The Cornhuskers scored first in a bid to prove that 1939 was no fluke, but the Panthers answered right back soon after. As Nebraska had failed to convert, Pittsburgh now held a 7-6 lead and fought to a standoff until halftime. Before the end of the third quarter, though, the Cornhuskers managed to punch in a field goal to go ahead, and successfully held off the Panthers for the rest of the game. It was the first time Nebraska had defeated Pittsburgh twice in a row in all 15 tries, and the victory moved the Cornhuskers up to #8 in the AP Poll, though they still lagged in the series at 3-9-3.
Perhaps Nebraska was feeling overconfident after their win in Pittsburgh, but whatever the reason was, Iowa State promptly had the Cornhuskers on their heels early on. After an initial Cyclone touchdown broke the ice, Iowa State blocked and recovered a Nebraska punt, successfully converting it into a second touchdown to lead the Cornhuskers 12-0 by halftime. Words in the locker room at the break probably had much to do with the storm that emerged in the second half, as Nebraska blasted the line and racked up 21 unanswered points to take the game back from the Cyclones and improve to 29-5-1 against Iowa State to date. This was Nebraska's 100th conference victory, dating back to the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association which preceded the Big 6. The AP Poll was not impressed by the somewhat weak victory, and kept Nebraska at #8.
Nebraska scored without serious challenge in each of the first three quarters while also keeping the Wildcats off the board despite all efforts by Kansas State to try to avoid the shutout that was due to be dealt. With the win, Nebraska completed the Big 6 conference slate with all wins and took home the conference championship banner again after a two-year drought. It was the fifth straight Nebraska win over Kansas State as the Cornhuskers moved up to #7 in the AP Poll and continued to own the series, which was now advanced to 21-2-2.
Nebraska, undefeated all season save for the loss to #1 Minnesota, was invited to the program's first ever postseason game to play #2 Stanford in the Rose Bowl. So momentous was the occasion that classes were canceled as celebrations spilled out across the campus after the announcement. In Pasadena, after the formalities and parades were completed, the football teams set to the business of deciding the Rose Bowl title for the 1940 season. The Cornhuskers struck first and momentarily set Stanford back, but it did not take the Indians very long to answer. In the second quarter, Nebraska again punched in some points, but this time Stanford's answer left the Cornhuskers a point short after due to a missed Nebraska place kick. Stanford's defensive adjustments stymied Nebraska afterwards, and when Nebraska was pinned on their own 1 in the third quarter, the Cornhuskers opted to punt out of danger. Fate stepped in and handed Stanford a punt return for touchdown on that play, and with no more points scored on the day, the game was decided. This was the only time Nebraska ever met Stanford.
After the season
Nebraska achieved two key accomplishments over the previous season, outdoing the high mark of 1939's same-season defeats of Minnesota and Pittsburgh, by regaining the championship of the Big 6 and also by participating in the Nebraska football program's first ever bowl game at the storied Rose Bowl. Since coach Jones was unbeaten on the Big 6 slate, his conference record moved up to 14-4-2 (.750), as his Nebraska career record rose to 24-9-4 (.703). He helped improve the program's overall record to 294-98-31 (.732) and the Big 6 record to 101-15-11 (.839). The future at Nebraska seemed to be bright indeed, but the shadows of the growing war in Europe were beginning to grow and darken the world.