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Husker-Fall: Where Have all the Good Players Gone?

We’ve all been there at one point or another. We work hard for a promotion at work, study for a degree, or take steps to accomplish a goal. We invest hours, days, weeks, and months in a single minded focus, and then, when we are a stone’s throw from the summit, we abandon the quest and thoughtlessly leave the hard work for nothing, telling ourselves we didn’t care about that goal to begin with. That’s what happened to Nebraska football on Saturday night: a team that had begun to move the attitude of the fanbase from pessimism to optimism once again surpassed their own disappointments.

It wasn’t just a loss; this Nebraska team looked like it was a mid-level program playing a paycheck, body-bag road game ten years ago, before such teams believed they had chances against top teams. It wasn’t like the 70-10 Texas Tech loss or the 76-39 Kansas loss, bad losses by bad teams. It wasn’t like the 63-36 fall from grace at Colorado, where Eric Crouch had a great statistical game while Nebraska’s defense was impotent against Chris Brown and Bobby Purify. This was a good team that had come back on the road showing no character in the battle for a conference title. At points, it appeared as though Nebraska could have allowed 100 points or more.

Failing in games, even big ones, is explainable at times, but not here. Nebraska had two weeks to set the rotation while the opposition banged with Ohio State and Penn State. A healthy and rest Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah weren’t given the chance to help Nebraska get out of the hole they’d dug. As soon as they got down, Nebraska choose to let Martinez throw on every down, the same way they had last year in Madison, the results shockingly more disastrous. Usually, Tim Beck is conservative to a fault.

But the defense is more liable. There is no way any team with an inexperienced quarterback should be able to run on you when you can sell out to stop it. It’s one thing to get shredded by Brett Hudley or Braxton Miller, athletes you have to account for. Making it easy on Curtis Phillips is another story. At least Nebraska was able to limit Hudley and UCLA for most of the second half; Montee Ball and James White were never limited.

Twice, Bo Pelini has had an emotional game that mattered to the heart of fans, this and Texas 2010. In both situations, his team laid inexplicable eggs. Now, many fans are offering to drive Pelini to Arkansae or Auburn, and it’s fair to talk about firing him. You just can’t look inept in such a big spot, when you have these weapons on offense and so much experience on defense. Now Iowa State 2009 and that game’s eight turnovers have a companion piece.

Two years ago, when Nebraska lost the final Big 12 Championship Game to Oklahoma, I did think they’d get a look at a conference title like this for a long time. Well, two years later, they got one and couldn’t pull it off. They may never get as close aswhen officials put a second back on the clock for Texas. Next year, Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller will be eligible for the game, and in retrospect, Nebraska really wishes the Buckeyes had taken their postseason ban last year.

To the other team in red, I’m not even going to acknowledge your championship that you received because Nebraska didn’t show up. You are my programs biggest enemy as of right now, and I want to play you every year until we beat brains in 70-0.

What really summed up last night’s loss is Bo Pelini’s press conference, where the coach spoke in a beleaguered manner and offered up no explanation for the lopsided loss. It as if he want to go to sleep and dream of being at LSU or Oklahoma, or another program whose talent would offset many of the mistakes he made as a coach. Because he makes a lot.

But whether Pelini stays or goes, Husker nation will be left to deal with the continued fallout. While Nebraska columnist rerun their letters of woe today, the other side’s media never talked down their team to begin with, the gamers who kept fitting even when they lost close. After so many close comebacks, Nebraska destroyed the fans’ new found belief that their team could overcome their mistakes. It’s like 2001 all over again-an 11-0 start to the brink of glory, then a giant fall off the cliff.

What is it good for?

What is it good for?

Huskers vs. UCLA: Same Old

Last week was supposed to be the end of it. Last week was supposed to be the first Nebraska team since 1999 that had no issues of self-confidence. While the Golden Eagles weren’t 2004 USC, the Huskers faced some adversity against Southern Miss and answered by being aggressive. Yes, the defense was weak, but Nebraska choose to be the pursuing lion rather than the tortoise who shrinks at the first sign of trouble.

The tortoise didn’t emerge until two UCLA defenders took out Martinez and his running back on the zone read late in the second quarter and was in full shell-shock when Kyler Reed dropped a catchable pass on third down on Nebraska’s first full drive in the third quarter. It showed again when, after Ameer Abdullah’s 36 yard run at the start of the fourth quarter put Nebraska in field goal range,

Over the past twenty hours, I’ve been trying to reconcile the Husker team I saw a week ago with the one that played last night. Two most obvious reasons for Nebraska’s performance are they underestimated a team who no one was quite sure how good they would be under their new no-college-experience coach, and there’s a huge dichotomy between Nebraska’s home and road confidence, a common factor in college football. Was I wrong in my assessment? I was rather eager, and granted, when I watched Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State lean on their lead backs while Nebraska won easily by sharing the load among skill players, I was really to be opportunistic, and certainly, in the Big 10, Nebraska’s going to have a shot spreading linebacker-rich Big 10 teams out and tempo-ing it up.

Just look at how Nebraska’s defense did yesterday against a high-tempo team.

Be grateful for one thing, Husker fans: yesterday could have been the worst your defense will play all year. The Big 10 doesn’t have a reputation of lighting up the scoreboard, and with the way teams like to ground and pound, it’s likely that a Big 10 team won’t get the number of possessions needed to embarrass Nebraska the way UCLA did.

That leaves the issue of mental toughness, and just how tough this team is. I tweeted at Dirk Chatelain after his story that Bo Pelini’s all out blitz on the 3rd and 3 that yielded UCLA’s go ahead touchdown was a sign of a low inner-scoreboard, that he had no confidence in his players to sit back and make plays. The ultimate sign of maturity should be overcoming the kind of adversity that Nebraska faced on Saturday, winning a game that you could have been down by two touchdowns or more in the second half. But maybe that was the price that Bo Pelini’s paying for getting more aggressive, is that, at some points, you run the risk of loosing your confidence and getting humbled even worse than you already were.

What if Nebraska could play them every year?

Given the realignment  that college football has gone through and the rivalries that have gotten left behind by it, I began to think to myself, what is it college football should look like in an ideal universe? I thought that, in an ideal universe, every school would have a set of about six or seven teams that they played every year, the situation in most major conferences, as well as with Notre Dame. Then there would be about another three or four teams that you would play two out of every four to six years. And you should have at least a couple of once-in-twenty years, or lifetime opponents.

To experiment with this, I took the team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and devised a such a schedule for them. Here are the six teams I think Nebraska should play every year.

Oklahoma-the classic game-yes, it has lost its luster from 1960-1980’s, but this was one of the most influential games of a generation. Let’s get this every year.

Colorado-Over my life and memory, Colorado was the opponent, other than Texas, that generated the most passion on the Nebraska side. While Colorado doesn’t have the passion for football that Nebraska does, when both schools are good, it’s a culture clash between the hippie Buffs and the conservative Cornhuskers.

Iowa-It is debatable how Iowa should be on this list, given that they haven’t met regularly since the 1940’s. But Iowa is only school that really has a strong following in Nebraska (almost a cult following in Omaha); Colorado is the only other fanbase who Nebraska fans intermingle with regularly.

Kansas-Notre Dame plays Purdue every year. Up until Nebraska joined the Big 10, Nebraska-Kansas was one of the longest rivalries in college football. It should go on.

UCLA-if Nebraska is going to be a national university, it needs to play a west coast opponent every year for its substantial California-Arizona fan base. Arizona State would also be a great fit in this spot, but nothing would match a bi-yearly date in the Rose Bowl.

Penn State-this rivalry, while not in plum recruiting territory, is more about the shared rural, family-first culture of both Penn State and Nebraska. They’re also the two teams who’ve kept virtually the same uniforms the past fifty years.

So there’s your six yearly opponents. Later, I’ll introduce some of the regular rotating rivals that I’d love to see Nebraska play

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