As a lifelong fan of Nebraska Football (Since 1983) I too am left wondering what is going on with the wait of Nebraska to return to being a national power. After the "big" holiday bowl win over Arizona when Coach Pelini exclaimed "We're back and were here to stay!," I thought that the statement was a little premature for a second-year coach after a mediocre season, at least by Nebraska standards, which I admit have probably been a little inflated since our unmatched run in the mid 90's. I think as fans we owe it to ourselves to remember that it is not easy to be a head coach at a major player in the national scene. We can look for someone to blame and it's easy to point to the head coach.
There is too much emphasis being placed on recruiting "talent" to come play for our beloved Huskers. The thing that has always made Nebraska a hard place to recruit to and will always have a hand in the recruiting game is the location of our University. The hotbed of talent has been Texas/California/Florida in the last couple of decades and why would a recruit want to go from the temperate climates where they can play outside year-round (save for the black-flag-too-hot-to-be-outside-days) to a place like Nebraska, where the weather is not nearly as nice, to put it lightly. The answer there is simple, and it comes in two parts.
One- they wouldn't. The top talent in the country doesn't choose Nebraska. It is hard to recruit players to come to Nebraska. Especially when the Huskers are not in the top 10 year after year.
Two- They come to Nebraska because it's Nebraska, a one-time national power that really is on the cusp of returning to prominence. Nebraska carries with it a sense of entitlement that it has earned over years and years of being one of the best teams in the country. Not only have they done that. they have done it without being in the spotlight for the wrong reasons and without attracting the attention of the NCAA for major violations that seem to plague the rest of the "Elite" teams in the country.
Since 1960 NOT A SINGLE TEAM IN THE COUNTRY has won more than Nebraska. They have earned the right to be among the nations top teams and they will remain there. It would take a serious downslide (like what almost happened after the four-year Idiot experiment to prevent "mediocracy" in the first decade of this Millenium) to lose that spot at the top too. The reason that Nebraska has gotten to that top spot has never been because we were able to recruit the best players in the country. We will never recruit the best players in the country. The way Nebraska gets All-Americans is through the development of the players we do recruit. The strentgh and conditioning program at Nebraska is the best in the country, and it has been since it was first established by Boyd Epley under Devaney. The two of them realized what they could do with average talent and lots of hard work and the rest of the country followed suit, modeling their S&C programs after what Nebraska had done. The way that Nebraska will return to the top and get back into BCS games will be to develop the players that we do get. When Pelini first arrived at Nebraska the coaching staff took an average player (Suh) and turned him into a monster on the field. They will continue to do that as long as they remember that is what makes Nebraska among the elite. This is what made Nebraska into a national power in the first place. I have heard in my years as a football player (not for UNL) and repeated in my years since as a coach that "I would rather have an athelete that may not posess the most talent but plays his heart out each and every time than have the most talented player in the world that doesn't give it his all." Talent may get you attention and "15 minutes of fame", but hard work will get you where you want to go and keep you there, even if it takes longer than you expect. We don't need 5-star talent on the team, we need 5-star efforts from each and everyone on the team on the practice fields, on the game field, and in the classroom. Pelini has done an excellent job with his players in keeping them out of the headlines for violations and instead has been making headlines for his players accomplishments in the classroom. Remember, these players are students first, and football players second. The GPA of the team has been the highest under his watch, and the players seem to be the most cohesive as a Nebraska team than any other team I can remember. They support each other, have each other's backs, and they support their coaches. We should too.
Pelini is not the "problem" with this team. If there is any place to put the blame, it should rest more squarely on the shoulders of youth and inexperience (not just of the players but also the coaches). To expect the players that we have to win each and every time they go onto the field is not completely unjustified as we have enough talent to win all the time, however they are still learning. The upperclassmen that we are playing do not have the number of starts that Nebraska teams of Lore are accustomed to having. They are still getting there. Pelini and co. know what they are doing by playing the younger players and getting them real relevant game-time experience and they will develop into the type of players that we all want. Most fans may not realize it, but the program took a serious step backwards after Frank (who actually was doing an excellent job, despite what people think) and before Bo arrived. It was almost one that couldn't be recovered from. Our entire staff changed, our entire playing philosophy changed, and the type players that we used to recruit were no longer the priority of the staff we had at the time. We have corrected those issues with T.O. at the top of the Athletic Department again. Bo Pelini is bringing "his" players into the program and they will become what the fans want them to be. He is the right guy for this job and will remain at the head of this program and will continue to weather the crticism that goes his direction. He may not be a media darling, but that's okay with me. His attitude is the type that takes each of our losses personally and he accepts the blame for losses. This is not a reason to blame him for the losses and accuse him of not being "The Right Guy."
Our fan base is anxious and agitated and getting impatient for a BCS game to be on our schedule again. Understandable, and not unrealistic. This year looked like it could be the year that it happened. However, changing conferences is also very tough. There were eleven teams on our schedule this year that this coaching staff had never looked at before. The style of play in the B1G is very different from the teams that we used to play in the Big XII. The players that we recruited to play were recruited to play in schemes that we used against the teams in the Big XII and against that style of play week in and week out. Granted, the best teams in the country can play with the players that they have against any scheme and style of play and still win each and every game. That is what makes them the best. We are close, but not quite there. Our youth will get experience and become the Leaders among the Legends. (Okay that was bad, but it is true.) Our coaches will also get experience and Tim Beck will learn how to call a game correctly offensively against the teams we play now that we are in the B1G. The switch to the conference fit better with the old-style of play that we grew accustomed to under Coach Osborne. We will return to a smash-mouth, dominating, "60-minutes of unnecessary roughness" (to steal a phrase from MSU DC Pat Narduzzi), style of play in the B1G if not for any other reason than necessity. This kind of thing will take time, and the great thing about having the Athletic Director we have, is the fact that he knows this... FROM EXPERIENCE.
Turning the corner will happen, and it will happen with Pelini at the helm. The critics will grow quiet, as they always do when things go well. Another 9-3 season may be upon us, but it is more likely that we will finish 10-2 this year and be on our way to the Capital One bowl. It will be a dissappointment to the players and coaches because they likely will fall short of their goals of winning a conference/national championship. Remember, there are no less than 8 other teams in our conference that had those same goals at the beginning of the season too. With the media having such a huge impact on the fans perception of their teams, the fans of many programs sit in the same shoes as those of Nebraska. As fast as information travels these days, it seems as if the patience of fans travels just as quickly. I read an interesting stat the other day that said that the average tenure of a head coach at any FBS school these days is less than six years. I found that astonishing. How could any coach really leave his mark on a program in that short of time? Especially at a major BCS school like Nebraska. I can understand a short tenure at a smaller school because if you are successful, bigger programs that may be struggling can come calling looking for you to be their next big star of a coach. Examples: Brian Kelly going from Central Michigan to Cincinnatti to Notre Dame. In his second year as coach there are already people questioning his ability. Really? The guy is good, he knows what he is doing, and he will get ND on track. However if it doesn't happen in the first four years is it really realistic to say that he will never be the guy for the job and start thinking about finding someone else? The answer there is no. The same thing applies to what is going on in Lincoln and the rest of Husker Nation. Be patient, let our coach do what he is paid to do.... Coach. He doesn't worry about what we as fans think and he is quick to let us know that. I for one respect him for the job he has done to correct the mess that he inherited.