Steve Greenberg of the Sporting News visited Lincoln and found a sense of optimism and confidence coming out of the Nebraska football program. It's spring, and of course, confidence is almost always high. We hear these storylines every spring. But then we get some of the specific quotes.
Take Cameron Meredith: ""There’s a lot of confidence, but it’s not just confidence. It’s the reasons we have to be confident."
Or Taylor Martinez: "If we don’t go to the national championship game, I’ll be disappointed. I think we’re all dreaming that big. We definitely can be that good."
Whoa. Back the truck up. Did Martinez REALLY say that? Uh, Bo...did you hear what your quarterback just said?
"Actually, I’m OK with it—absolutely," Pelini said. "I want them to have expectations to be the best."
Last season was the epitome of the glass half-full, glass half-empty syndrome. Nine wins has traditionally been a sign of a good season. But those four losses left fans scratching their heads...or maybe more accurately, scratching their eyeballs out.Nebraska held a 14-13 lead at Wisconsin just before halftime when the deadly combination of offensive turnovers and bad defense struck the Huskers. Two quick touchdowns gave the Badgers a 27-14 halftime lead. First play of the second half? Another turnover, leading to another Wisconsin touchdown...and bang, it's 34-14.
Michigan broke out to a 17-10 halftime lead, but then fumbled two kickoffs in the second half. Suddenly the Wolverines are up 31-10, and once again, the game is seemingly out of reach.
Nebraska leads South Carolina 13-9 in the second quarter, but twice turns the ball over while in scoring position. Even two field goals by the reliable Brett Maher would have given Nebraska a two-score lead. Two touchdowns might have been insurmountable for the Gamecocks. Instead, South Carolina converts a 51 yard Hail Mary as the half ends to take the lead at 16-13.
Would have, could have. Should have. Those hiccups make it seem like Nebraska wasn't that far off from being a national contender...but since those hiccups seem to happen every season with Bo Pelini, you can't just expect those things to naturally disappear. Pelini is trying some different approaches, and leaders are emerging on the team. They say they are taking ownership of the situation:
"From Season 1 to Season 4, it’s night and day how different and how much better we are," said linebacker Will Compton, who’ll be a fifth-year senior in the fall. "But the record’s the same. We shouldn’t be putting out that record still."
The team is saying all the right things, but talk is cheap. Actions speak louder. But actions are impossible for outsiders to evaluate in March. Or April. Frankly, we really won't know until September.
The schedule sets up for the Huskers this season. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State have to travel to Lincoln. The Huskers have to travel to Michigan State, who'll be breaking in a new quarterback and three new receivers. Oh, and a visit to Ohio State, who will be breaking in a new head coach in Urban Meyer. While it takes a lot of optimism to think the Huskers can win the Big Ten, it doesn't necessary require insanity.
What it does require is substance behind those quotes. If Martinez, Meredith, and Compton back up those quotes in the fall, nobody will mind. Husker fans would love to travel to nationally meaningful games in December and January. But if Nebraska repeatedly slips on the banana peel again this fall, fans will moan about "here we go again" and mock these quotes.