Time for Huskers to start earning their way into the Top 10
Is this the way you get back into college footballs Top 10? Not really.
Nebraska is rated No. 9 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. The Associated Press poll has not yet been released, but it wouldnt be a surprise to see NU check in somewhere from 11th to 15th in that one.
That coaches poll is worth a second look, but not much more at this point.
Being rated No. 9 not quite as awkward as being the No. 1 team in preseason. Thats a lot like being named teachers pet before school even starts in the fall – except in a case like this year, when Alabama is the returning national champion, or in 1995, when Nebraska was in the same position.
Nebraskas rating at the start of 2010 fall camp has some significance; its a reward for a 2009 Big 12 North title and a dominating performance in the Holiday Bowl, and it acknowledges a strong returning corps of players. It also gives NU the inside track for a high rating if all goes well, much as a start in the third row at Daytona gives a stock car racer a better chance at winning.
But its time for Nebraska to earn a Top 10 rating. You do that by beating Top 15-rated teams, something the Cornhuskers have not done for a long time. Its time for Nebraska players and coaches to keep their mouths shut, and prove themselves on the field.
We saw evidence of that at the Big 12 Media Days in July. Thats very likely what well get this fall.
Not since Eric Crouch lined up behind center has Nebraska been a regular in the AP Top 10. In 2003, the Huskers made their last appearance there – just before Bo Pelini absorbed his first loss as a Husker defensive coordinator, 41-24, at Columbia, Mo.
There are a lot of skeptics around the nation who are not impressed with Nebraska, and they have no compelling reason to be. The Huskers have a lot of work to do on offense before anyone will get very excited about them. Nebraska fans have been waiting a long time for national respect, and they will have to be patient for several more weeks.
We all know the standard Husker naysayer line – the defense cant possibly be as good after losing Ndamukong Suh, and the offense, so feeble for much of last season, hasnt shown anybody anything yet. Both are fair statements to make at this point, but remember that nobody outside the state of Nebraska was impressed with the Husker defense in fall camp a year ago.
One of the biggest stories in college football last year was the revival of the Blackshirts. This fall, it will be the quarterback race in Lincoln, and how well the winner runs Shawn Watsons offense.
Nebraska football is coming off its worst decade since the 1950s. To young fans who cant remember anything before the BCS era, it seems like Nebraskas never been a national powerhouse. Theres no denying that NU has been mediocre since 2001; some national sportswriters have called the Huskers irrelevant ever since they lost to Miami in that BCS title game in Pasadena. If you watch long enough, youll still see that line of thought show up in the fan chatter on almost any national blog or bulletin board.
In fact, youll recall that a lot of these folks were saying Nebraska would never return to the Top 10 because it couldnt recruit against the likes of Texas and Oklahoma. Now theyre saying that 2009 was an aberration, with a freakishly good defensive lineman pulling his teammates to a 10-win season. In fact, most of them think the Huskers will fall flat on their face in October, and are just waiting to say, I told you so.
Could happen, but I dont think so. Young people, this is the season Nebraska will re-establish itself among the college football elite. Old-timers, get ready to feel young again.
Theres no denying that the Husker football program was in a tailspin at the end of the 2007 season, but Tom Osborne took over the athletic department just in time to hire a coach who could pull Nebraska out of its Pederson- and Callahan-induced nosedive.
Pelini ended the descent in his first season by installing his brand of physical and mental toughness in his players. By the end of his second season, he had built a strong, fast defense – one that the nation soon will see has enough depth to overcome the loss of Ndamukong Suh.
A Top 10 rating will feel a lot better after the season than before. Let the proving begin.