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June 24, 2009


I'm leaving Colorado this week on pretty good terms with my neighbors.

They saw me wearing my Nebraska sweatshirt as I worked in the yard, and noticed my Nebraska t-shirt when I went to the gym. They took note of the white concrete marker with the large red �N� in my front yard. Some commented on it, usually in friendly terms. No threatening notes tacked to the door or anything like that.

But after nearly two years living in Boulder County, I don't think I converted any Colorado fans to rooting for the Big Red. In fact, I'm not sure if I even convinced any Buff lovers that the Cornhuskers are on the way up. I get the feeling that a lot of them know it's probably true, but there's really nothing to force them to admit it yet.

Not yet.

Colorado fans – and the rest of the college football world – can always pull out the question that's hard for the Big Red faithful to answer: �Who have you beaten lately?�

As recently as New Year's Day, the Huskers beat a Clemson team that was rated in the preseason Top 10, but by that time, the Tigers fired their head coach and had fallen a long way since their heady start to the 2008 season. It's something for the Huskers to build on, but nothing to brag about.

Not since Eric Crouch caught that unforgettable flash pass from Mike Stuntz and sprinted through the Oklahoma secondary to Heisman glory has a Nebraska team defeated anyone in the Top 19 – let alone the Top 10. In fact, as I perused Phil Steele's preseason college football magazine this month, I noticed an astounding statistic. Since Frank Solich and the Huskers beat Bob Stoops and the Sooners 20-10 in Lincoln back in October 2001, 63 of the 65 BCS teams have defeated a team that was currently rated in the Top 19.

The two that have not? Duke and Nebraska.

It's good to be compared with Duke around March Madness time � but in football? It's time for the Huskers to get that monkey off their backs.

Vanderbilt has beaten a Top 19 opponent in football during the past seven years. So have Mississippi State, Indiana, Minnesota, Virginia, Washington State and Syracuse. But not Nebraska. No wonder my neighbors didn't take me seriously when I talked about Big Red football.

That has to change – this fall. But it won't be easy. Winning at Blacksburg will be tough against a Virginia Tech team that will throw a battle-tested, turnover-producing defense against an inexperienced Husker quarterback. Oklahoma should be highly-rated when it visits Lincoln on Nov. 7. Who else will be a Top 19 team? Possibly Texas Tech, which visits Lincoln on Oct. 17, or maybe Kansas, which could be battling for a Big 12 North title when the Huskers travel to Lawrence on Nov. 14.

Probably not Colorado – but the Buffs may be in position to deny Nebraska a trip to the Big 12 title game when the Huskers travel to Folsom Field on the day after Thanksgiving. A lot of Colorado fans are excited about the Buffs' experienced offensive line and their prospects for a beefed-up running game. Frankly, many of the radio talk show hosts in Colorado have no respect for the Nebraska defense and think the Buffs have about the same amount of talent as the Huskers.

Does Nebraska deserve any respect going into the upcoming season?

I would be one of the first to say that Nebraska deserves some national respect, at least for its great college football heritage. The Huskers are No. 4 in all-time victories. Nebraska was the only team to defeat Knute Rockne and Notre Dame back when the Irish had the �Four Horsemen.� It ended Oklahoma's 74-game conference win streak, had two of the best college coaches of all time, was the best team in college football during the 1990s, beat Miami on its own home field for the national championship, went 60-3 in a five-year span and has three Heisman winners and five national titles.

There are a lot of victories to be proud in Nebraska football history. Just not much recently, unless you're excited about a last-minute, come-from-behind 28-27 win at No. 24-rated Texas A&M in 2006, or the 32-28 win over No. 20 Michigan in the 2005 Alamo Bowl, which were probably the highlights of the Bill Callahan era.

The last time Nebraska went into a game rated in the Top 25 was Oct. 6, 2007. That was the night the Huskers laid down and died in a 41-6 embarrassment at Columbia, Mo. – in front of a national TV audience.

There have been too many impressions like that over the past few years. Granted, most of them were under Callahan's watch, but ESPN-televised blowout losses to Missouri and Oklahoma last year under Bo Pelini added to the negative impression Nebraska has made on national observers lately.

Even though NU won six of its last seven games last season, it has not earned much national respect lately, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Huskers narrowly miss the preseason Top 25 polls when they're unveiled in August. (Frankly, I don't think any polls should be released until October, but that's another column for another day.)

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and placekicker Alex Henery may be Nebraska's only preseason All-Big 12 selections. Nobody's really that high on the Huskers, and only Nebraska can change that fact.

Why should anyone be overly impressed with Nebraska right now? There's no reason. The Huskers won't get national praise until they prove they deserve it, and that's the way it should be. Near-misses, like the overtime loss at Texas Tech last fall, won't cut it. Close wins over below-average teams, like the 40-31 victory over a 5-7 CU team last fall, don't impress anyone, least of all my old neighbors.

The program that produced arguably the two best college football teams of all time in 1995 and 1971 has to learn all over again how to win big games.


Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive