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Winging It, Vol. 1

Here in the Midwest, we are currently enmeshed in one of those jungle-style heat waves, the kind where small dogs suddenly burst into flames and priests can be seen swearing openly in the street. And the heat, along with this soul-crushing 182 percent humidity, can make you do some really stupid things sometimes. You know, like sit through Dana Carvey's latest film in its entirety. Or, um, rudely crash into a north Lincoln apartment building and punch a couple of people inside. Or, worst of all, predict that Nebraska will lose seven -- count 'em, seven -- games this season. Like I said, man, stupid things.

Say what you will about this year's edition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but don't say that they aren't working to get better. On several occasions over the summer, I would pass by Memorial Stadium and hear "Eye of the Tiger" by the 1980s rock band Survivor blaring from the loudspeakers, which I took as a good sign. This undoubtedly means that if this were a Sylvester Stallone movie, summer conditioning would be the part of the show where the good guys, shown wearing knee-high sweat socks in a three-minute musical montage, train really, really hard to get stronger, faster and quicker just in time for the main event. Sometimes with Apollo Creed helping them. With that in mind, I'm fairly confident about 2002.

Much like the Huskers, yours truly, the Red Clad Loon, has been working hard to identify key trends, break down recruiting tendencies and analyze vital statistics in anticipation of the upcoming college football season, so as to propose a peck of preseason prognostications for your perusal. And when that method inevitably fails, I go to my surefire backup system -- picking my teeth with a business card and staring at the ceiling until some random words form on the screen.

I'm almost certain that in the world of college football, the following will, or maybe will not, happen this season:

-- Two weeks before the season begins, freshman cornerback Fabian Washington is stopped outside Bradenton, Fla., for going 78 mph in a 35 mph zone. But a skeptical judge throws the ticket out, ruling that there is simply no way a Cornhusker football player could be moving that fast among a bunch of Floridians.

-- In late August, Miami announces that it will stop actively recruiting a highly touted running back who was arrested in July for stealing a PlayStation from an Orlando-area Electronics Boutique. "This is not the type of athlete the University of Miami intends to pursue," Coach Larry Coker says. "I mean, if this young man is not quick or fast enough to get past some lard-ass mall guard, he doesn’t have what it takes to be a Miami Hurricane."

-- Out in Boulder, Gary Barnett responds to Colorado University President Elizabeth Hoffman’s pressure to clean up his football program by pledging to root out all the thugs, drunks and criminals on the CU team. When that’s done, he says, he’ll do the same thing with his players.

-- Nebraska makes Eastern Illinois an 11th-hour add-on to the 2002 schedule, then defends its scheduling practices by citing an NCAA rule that says if you pay full-price for three lousy opponents, you get the fourth one free.

-- In the ongoing effort to help solve the state’s budget deficit, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman unveils the Cornhuskers’ new economic battle cry, "Go Big."

-- With the gubernatorial campaign heating up in August, Gov. Mike Johanns calls a press conference to announce that he fully supports the Cornhuskers’ new uniform style, and that the good people of Nebraska should at least give the Huskers a chance to lose in them first before getting angry about them.

-- Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Stormy Dean names Thunder Collins as his running mate.

-- On Aug. 24, the Rev. Billy Graham quietly passes away in his sleep, thereby making Nebraska’s starting quarterback the only man in America able to bring 70,000 people to their feet in unison and scream, "Oh, Lord!"

-- Nebraska blitzhammers Troy State, 52-13, on Aug. 31. Few notice, other than to speculate what a team with superior speed would have done to the Trojans.

-- The week before the Nebraska-Penn State showdown, scandal erupts in Happy Valley when an FBI memo surfaces showing Joe Paterno had advance warning of, but failed to prevent, the Lincoln assassination.

-- The Huskers come out of the tunnel at Beaver Stadium decked out in the new all-white road uniforms. Back home, a tumult rents the air among NU fans, who angrily claim that according to tradition, THEY are the only ones who are allowed to be plain, lame and all white.

-- Seizing upon a trend, cable network C-SPAN launches "The Osbornes," a reality series that gives viewers an inside, all-access look into Rep. Tom Osborne’s daily life. Surprisingly, the first episode must bleep out a host of filthy words uttered by the congressman, a majority of which come immediately before and after he reads the latest column by Debbie Schlussel.

-- A week before Iowa State hosts Nebraska, the Cyclones sneak past Troy State on the strength of a late score by Seneca Wallace. During the post-game wrap-up, John Saunders and Terry Bowden openly wonder how in the world the Cornhuskers will be able to handle the Cyclones’ superior speed.

-- Late in Virginia Tech’s Sept. 28 victory against Western Michigan, reserve quarterback Marcus Vick trots into the game. On his first play from scrimmage, Vick backpedals as if to throw, but is stumped by the Broncos’ zone coverage. So he tucks the football away, runs into the back of an offensive lineman, then staggers forward for a two-yard gain. Immediately, speculation begins over when the young super-phenomenon will declare for the NFL draft.

-- In a brief conversation after Nebraska’s 41-38 shootout victory over Iowa State, Frank Solich learns that since August 2000, his defensive coordinator has believed the defense’s primary objective is "to defeat the dark forces of Darth Sidious and the evil Trade Federation."

-- Believed dead by some, Osama bin Laden defiantly releases a grainy videotape from a cavernous lair, threatening more attacks on the United States unless margin of victory is returned to the Bowl Championship Series equations.

-- In the ongoing war against the State of Florida’s budget deficit, legislators approve a plan to tax professionals. Several hours later, they amend the bill to exempt members of the Florida State football team.

-- Thrown off-guard by an opponent without the word "State" in its name, Nebraska fumbles around for three quarters before finally prevailing over Missouri, 35-21, on Oct. 12.

-- Gary Barnett is lauded by the national media after he wins his 70th career game, 30-19 over Baylor on Oct. 19. With just three more wins in a row, ABC’s Brent Musburger fawningly notes, Barnett will finally get to .500 for his career.

-- Tennessee, already reeling from a scandal involving its 1998 national championship team, is suspended from play after the Vols’ nose tackle suspiciously records 42 tackles vs. Alabama on Oct. 26. School officials take urine samples and discover the senior general-studies major is, in fact, a giant silver-backed gorilla.

-- Upon hearing the news of the suspension, seven players abruptly leave Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Georgia for "undisclosed reasons."

-- The Nebraska Alumni Association sends an urgent letter to its members that unless they each send in $1,500 immediately, the association will no longer be able to offer 89th-row tickets to the McNeese State game for $10 over face value.

-- With elections approaching as his team prepares for Nebraska, Chris Simms does his civic duty and sends in his absentee ballot. The Texas Election Commission returns it two days later, however, with a typewritten message politely pointing out that in order to have your vote registered, you need to fill the ballot out.

-- On Oct. 26, Utah State quarterback Jose Fuentes scores with four seconds left to push the Aggies past Louisiana-Monroe, 23-21. Nebraska fans see the Aggie win as indisputable evidence that Nebraska’s non-conference schedule is far tougher than Kansas State’s.

-- Despite glaring speed deficiencies, Nebraska stuns Texas, the Ivan Drago of college football, 35-28 on Nov. 2. The UT loss ends the Longhorns’ chances at the national championship. Mack Brown begins looking around at what school he can begin rebuilding next.

-- As Notre Dame and Navy struggle to a 0-0 tie through three quarters on Nov. 9, thousands of callers flood NBC's phone lines, begging the network to please start showing "Heidi."

-- On Nov. 16, a massive snowstorm smacks Manhattan, Kan., just before kickoff of the Nebraska-Kansas State game. Rendered virtually invisible in their all-white road unies, Nebraska’s players run over, through and around the Wildcats en route to a 41-0 win. Sales of the replica road jerseys suddenly spike.

-- In what is hailed as a precedent-setting ruling, the Nebraska Supreme Court determines, by a 5-4 margin, that Husker fans should either stand the whole game or sit the whole game, but enough is enough with all this up-and-down-every-other-play crap.

-- The night before Nebraska plays Colorado, Frank Solich accuses Gary Barnett of electronically eavesdropping on a private Husker coaches’ meeting. Sources say that Solich became suspicious when, as the NU coaches’ conversation turned toward last year’s Rose Bowl bid, a flower arrangement in the middle of the table began to swear.

-- Despite not having enough speed, the Cornhuskers drum Colorado, 42-16. CU fans, who laughed at NU supporters’ attempts to put Colorado’s 2001 win into perspective, take solace in the fact that the last seven Husker-Buff games have been decided by just 15 points.

-- The loss sends Colorado to 6-6 on the year, prompting the Buffaloes to nobly pass on a number of bowl invitations. This comes to no surprise to CU students, most of whom have lots of experience in passing the bowl around.

-- Unbeaten Florida State loses its final game of the season, 42-30, to No. 14 Florida, and tumbles to No. 4 in the BCS rankings. Pressing a hidden button on his watch, Bobby Bowden sends a signal to Charlie Ward, Matt Friar, Kez McCorvey and the rest of the ’93 Seminoles to beg voters for another chance.

-- After taking some drugstore "study aids" to help keep him awake during an all-nighter before his big chemistry final, Philip Bland falls asleep during the test and flunks the course. Experts immediately blame his lack of success on not having enough speed.

-- In Houston, slow-footed Nebraska rallies to overcome lightning-quick and No. 2 Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game after Sooner QB Jason White, looking to redeem himself for last year’s loss in Lincoln, falls through a trap door on the 31-yard-line and is never heard from again.

-- Big 12 trophy in hand, Nebraska returns to Lincoln and begins packing for Tempe as the nation’s slowest, yet only unbeaten team. Florida State, which finished with a loss on Nov. 30, backs into the title game on the strength of Virginia Tech knocking out Miami, the Huskers knocking out OU and Florida knocking out LSU on Dec. 7. Around the nation, not an eyebrow is raised.

-- After inexcusably awarding the award to someone from Nebraska of all places, Hypesman voters promptly return the trophy to its rightful owner, the player in the Big Ten with the most on-screen graphics devoted to him throughout the season by ABC. Probably someone from Michigan again.

-- Continuing the wave of postseason games that are named after cities, a group of Nebraska-based sponsors announce the creation of the Craig Bowl, to be played Dec. 31 in tiny Craig, Neb. Town board members say a flurry of activity will precede the playing of the bowl game, including a parade, a street dance and the coronation of the game’s princess, to be known as Miss Tackle.

-- In the Independence Bowl, Kansas hangs on to defeat Mississippi State, 19-17, as the Bulldogs’ last-second field goal attempt is sucked into Mark Mangino’s gravitational pull.

-- LeDonJuanDeMarcoMarquis "Buster" White, a blue-chip high school linebacker from Florida coveted by all the big schools, ends weeks of speculation in mid-December by verbally committing to Nebraska. Within minutes of the news, recruiting services drop his ranking from five stars to one, speculating that White may lack the speed he needs to compete at a high level.

-- On Jan. 1, snobby Pac-10 and Big Ten bluebloods return to the Rose Bowl after a one-year absence. At the same time, Rose Bowl officials express relief that they can now go back to promoting a quaint little game in which the game’s winner can lift high the Rose Bowl trophy, boldly signifying that they are the No. 14 team in all the land.

-- Behind rugged defensive play and a power running game fueled by an inspired Husker offensive line, Nebraska outslugs Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the school’s sixth national championship.

-- In the Tempe afterglow, all of the time-honored championship traditions unfold -- Nebraska dons newly-minted "National Champions" hats and point their fingers to the Arizona sky, Frank Solich lifts high the Sears Trophy’s crystal football, and sportswriters everywhere begin to rave and gush about the Cornhuskers’ superior speed.

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