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 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.
“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.”
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:
Or Jacob Hickman:
“We didn't fully buy into what they were trying to sell as a coaching staff yet last year."
“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."
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.
“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.''
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.