Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nebraska Football Is Not Back

One of the things Husker fans have been criticized for (and rightfully so) is making premature claims that "Nebraska is back". Excessive jubilation over a 10 win season and top 15 defense in 2003 was counteracted by three losses where the score got out of hand late. A 2006 Big XII North Championship was followed by the 2007 meltdown, exposing the Pederson regime and their stalwart supporters for the frauds that they were.

So after a nice bounceback season in 2008 with nine wins, having the same conference record as Big XII North champion Missouri (note the distinction there), and a New Years Day victory over Clemson, it's tempting to make that claim again.

Don't do it Husker fan.

Listen to the words of Bo Pelini yesterday at the Big XII Conference media days in Dallas:
“I know one thing: Our players don’t feel like Nebraska is back because our expectations are very high for what we want to be and where we’re headed,” Pelini said. “I tell them all the time it’s my job to keep them grounded. I think they start to feel the momentum from last year. That’s a good thing. … But they also know there’s a lot of work in front of us to get where we want to be.”
I suppose if nine wins is all Nebraska football means, then I suppose you could say "Nebraska is back." But to me, the gold standard of Nebraska football is that 60-3 mark over five years. That's a record that will likely never be ever seen again, but to suggest that four losses in a year is somehow close enough to three losses in five years is, well, asinine.

Frankly, I don't think there is a need for a Husker fan to ever make the case that Nebraska is back. We'll know when Nebraska football is "back" because everybody else will be saying it for us. That's when Nebraska is in the mix for conference championships and BCS bowl bids on an ongoing basis.

That doesn't mean that Husker fans shouldn't be optimistic, or feel that the program is on an upward trajectory. That's the nature of fans. But show a little balance and discretion. It's a long way back from the clusterfool of the prior regime.

Listen to some of the quotes from players, such as Roy Helu:
“We didn't fully buy into what they were trying to sell as a coaching staff yet last year."
Or Jacob Hickman:
“You're kind of seeing more of a player identity, which the coaches really wanted to try to foster. Better chemistry among the team, and kind of taking hold of the team by the players."
Ndamukong Suh:
“I think our team made a big growth in taking ownership within our own self. Once we can do that as a unit, without having our coaches be on our back all the time, our team will be that much more grown and that much better.''
Certainly I underestimated the depth of the Huskers problems last year. I had heard the stories of the aftermath, but I felt confident that by the fall, all would be fine. But it wasn't fine at the start of the season, though by the end of the season, there were stretches where it was. But never a consistent performance throughout the game. So I'm going to avoid making that mistake this fall.

Nebraska still has plenty of questions going into the fall: question marks abound at quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, and in the secondary. It's not as if there isn't potential there. Zac Lee, by all reports, has the arm and the legs to be a star. Marcus Mendoza, Antonio Bell, and Brandon Kinnie have the speed to give the Huskers a deep threat they haven't had in years. Lots of new guys on the defense who redshirted last year. But here's the trick: they've not done a darn thing on the field; the talk is all based on practice reports. So count me as intrigued, but not sold yet.

To paraphrase the Who: I won't get fooled again.


Count Istvan said...

I know this opens a whole can of worms and it does no good to travel down this road but I will anyway.

How do you think Nebraska football would have been different if cooler heads would have prevailed in 2003? I don't know that we would be much more than a 9-4 team going into 2009 but I do not believe we would have not had to go through the pain of 2004 or 2007 either.

Maybe it's best that things happened the way they did. Maybe Nebraska needed what they went through to take the next step back back to being an A level football team. Maybe with the old regime we would have been a good but not great team year in year out. Now in 2009 Nebraska is again on the doorstep of being a very good team again.

I agree they aren't there yet and it may be they won't get there for awhile if at all and we will ahve to endure yet under yet another coaching change. We don't know. But I feel better than I have felt about Nebraska since the 2001 season.

I think another nice but hardly world shattering 9-4 season is on the horizon. Then in 2010 we'll know a lot more. With an experienced team and a schedule that looks as if it was put together by Bill Snyder. If Nebraska is still not a player by then it's time to start to worry... a little.

Husker Mike said...

It's an entertaining argument, and there is no right answer. My speculative opinion is that NU would have won the Big XII North in 2004 and 2005, as those were a couple of really down years for the north division. After that, it starts getting really fuzzy because you are speculating on who a Frank Solich would have recruited. I'm currently of the opinion that the overall talent level at NU might have been better in 2004 than in 2008, but others could argue the reverse legitimatey.

Would NU be at the OU/UT level in the Big XII today? I don't know, and it's pure speculation. I do reject the idea that there was no way Solich could get a team to that level; the 2001 team was mostly Solich recruits. David Sokol recently gave his thoughts as to the premature dismissal of Solich, suggesting that the "can't recruit" opinion was the result of some assistant coaches who weren't putting in the effort they needed to.

That's my opinion, for whatever it's worth.

AJ said...

You remind me of Kevin Bacon in Animal House...standing in the middle of the street with people flying by...telling everybody to remain calm.

Good luck with that.

PS - the whole "co champs" thing is pretty cute, I must admit

The Voice of Reason said...

We would be no better off than we are now. I firmly believe that. Right now we are in the upper half of the north (but not dominate) and we are in the midst of rebuilding the defense. If Solich had remained, we be in the upper half of the north (but not dominate) having to rebuild the offense.

Based on what I saw in 2003 and at Ohio since he has gotten there, the offense would have eventually been his demise here. The Solich offenses at NU got progressively worse as they became distant in time from the Osborne era. He squandered the talent of Newcombe to ensure that Crouch never felt like running home to cry on Petito's shoulder.

I know there is this sentiment among some of the fan base to completely rewrite history and pretend Solich was nails as Nebraska's head coach. He wasn't. He is a great assistant. The job he has now is probably more appropriate to his skills as a head coach than Nebraska was.

Let's not forget that he let some things slip under his watch. He had a defensive coordinator with huge personal problems drive the blackshirts off the rails. The S&C program was becoming a joke. Maybe he did have some older assistants that did not want to get out on the road and recruit anymore. But he let this happen on his watch. Its like he was passed out behind the wheel pointed the wrong way or something.

Callahan had many (many) faults as head coach at Nebraska. Too many to list. What he did do -- and something that I hope those that seek to castigate his name by calling him a fraud realize -- is that he rebuilt, from the ground up, an offensive system here that is versatile and can be recruited for.

Now the program has good head coach, defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator. Are we back? Hell no, but our trajectory is headed that way more so than it has at any time since Osborne retired.