Looking back at this season of Husker football (and the wild one it has been), I’ve noticed a change in my overall approach to talking about the team I’ve bled Big Red for all my life. My outlook has been much more conservative. That feels like the right word. Not overly critical, but not too quick to say that the Huskers were Big 10 Champion shoe-ins after beating Wisconsin; Taylor Martinez wasn’t a Heisman candidate after Southern Miss; and that Bo had finally found his perfect coaching staff.
While the rest of Husker Nation may be developing at its own pace, I’ve learned a lot of patience as a fan, especially in the Pelini era. My fear is that not just in Nebraska but also in the country as a whole, too many people have bought into the “business” end of college football. If coaches can’t win a title of some kind after 4 years, well then they should pack their bags. How hard can it be to recruit and develop a championship class in 4 years? Nebraskans are very wise in football, but in this day and age, I think that’s where the knowledge ceiling starts.
My lesson in learning patience always comes from history. The old “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is still relevant and true in 2012, even if the world has sped up about 100-fold since then. The same can be said about football, especially Nebraska football. Yes, the argument can be made about “Saban did it in Alabama” or “Chizik did it in Auburn”. Husker fans must accept the fact that the South and West coast is much easier to recruit than the Midwest. Recruiting goes far beyond just facilities and reputations in the mind of an 18-year-old athlete. Even then, success isn’t guaranteed. Alabama has been consistent and Saban is a great coach. Chizik, however, has been in the hot seat even with a championship ring because he’s had little-to-nothing to show ever since.
Where am I going with this? In the latter part of the Osborne era, Nebraska grew complacent. The Huskers were expected into blow out any opponent that crossed their path. That success also extended into the early parts of the Solich regime. However, in the second half, the success faded (even after Solich took the Huskers to the National title) and Nebraska came to be nervous when the big ranked foes came up on the schedule. Then, of course, the Dark Ages (2004-2007) of Big Red football came and nobody really wants to hear about that.
Finally, in comes Bo Pelini, and a big breath of fresh air. 2008 immediately brought a turn-around in intensity. 2009 was one second short of a BCS bid. 2010 and 2011 had their moments, but the growing pains were evident. Now, as Husker Nation sits in the final stretches of 2012, the patience has become thinner and tension is mounting as the conference title is becoming more realistic.
True, the constant need to reach for heart medication every Saturday can take its toll, but at the same time as a fan I’m absolutely loving it. I hope all Husker fans are to be completely honest.
I found myself sitting at a restaurant a few days back and overheard some fellow fans saying that all these comebacks are ridiculous and the Huskers just aren’t improving under Bo. I respect everyone’s entitled opinion, but in my eyes, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, the comebacks are sometimes too much to take and being down by double digits in the 4th quarter can certainly backfire.
The great thing is that they haven’t backfired. Think back to 2010 and 2011. Even go back to 2009, the season that I know that a lot of fans hold as Pelini’s measuring stick. Despite how good the defense was, the Huskers couldn’t close the big game. The Holiday Bowl was not worthy of either of those defenses, but the defense isn’t the whole team.
Now look in 2012. It may be ugly most of the time, but guess what? This team is finding a way to close out the games that weren’t closed before. While this 2012 squad doesn’t have the shine of the 2009 crew, this may be Pelini’s best season to date. It’s easy to show success when you take over a program that was in the hole. There was nowhere to go but up. The true measuring stick is how well that can be maintained. The pieces may very well be coming together for Bo Pelini. I only ask that Husker Nation gives him that shot. Osborne and Devaney didn’t build Rome in a day either.
Looking ahead: Patience is a virtue. Penn State comes to Lincoln today and there are no distractions this time. This is going to be the tough, hard hitting game that it should have been last year. Michigan was big, Michigan State was bigger, and a win today will be even bigger yet. The true test will be if the Huskers can keep the emotions of the crazy season under control. Indy is getting so close, but it can be taken away with one bad afternoon.
On a final note: Many football fans have superstitions, and while generally I wasn’t one of them, this roller coaster of a season has bred a few for me. I’m curious if I’m the only one. For example, I own many Husker T-shirts, some of which read “BLACKSHIRTS”. The only times I wore those shirts were during the UCLA and Ohio State games. No joke. Needless to say, those will not see daylight until mid-January. I also have gotten into choosing a lucky hat for the game.
Which one will it be today? I can’t say until game time. I wouldn’t want to jinx it.
By Tyler Wanek
Follow us on Twitter @Husker Corner
Become our friend on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/HuskerCorner