That must have been some first practice. Nebraska’s already 1-0.
The Huskers’ first victory of the 2010 season actually came on Friday. It arrived in the form of the USA Today coaches’ poll. The Big Red starts out the season at No. 9.
And therein lies the biggest victory for the program in eight years.
The last time NU began a campaign inside the Top 10 was 2002, at No. 8. The Huskers were coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Colorado and Miami but still had their reputation somewhat intact. The “slide’’ had not yet happened. But trips to Penn State and Iowa State were coming up. Within a month, Nebraska would drop out of the rankings and, well, you know the rest.
That 2002 season was the 10th straight August that Nebraska had opened in the top 10, starting in 1993. Nobody, not even in Lincoln, could have guessed then that the Huskers would begin a three-year run in the national title game. But the perception in August 1993 was that Nebraska had something going on. And much of that perception had to do with a chap named Tommie Frazier.
Perception is still half the deal in college football. It means nothing. It means everything. It doesn’t win games, but it can put you in position to move up and ride the rail to a special season if you are high enough early enough.
Is Nebraska a top 10 team? Who knows? It’s really beside the point. The Huskers will get the chance to back it up, starting Sept. 18, next to the grey poupon-wielding tailgate parties on the boats of Lake Washington.
The point here is, the Huskers have suddenly re-emerged as a Top 10 club. After several years of not being taken seriously in national circles, Nebraska has the brand back. And how.
The Huskers are picked as a national title sleeper by Kirk Herbstreit and others. Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel labeled NU as the trendy pick that will fall short. Whatever. How long has NU been anyone’s trendy pick?
It’s no small feat for a program that, just a handful of games ago, had lost back-to-back home games to Texas Tech and Iowa State and spent the last six regular-season games out of the rankings. So how did they get here?
Credit the 13-12 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game, which was as good as a win for NU’s national rep. Mostly, there’s head coach Bo Pelini. The coaches and national media are Bolievers. There’s every reason to think that Nebraska will be in the Top 10 when the Associated Press poll comes out in two weeks. They obviously think that Pelini has the magic touch.
We’ll know more about that this season.
So much optimism. So many questions. Pelini has said he may not be set on a quarterback until October. And while receiver Brandon Kinnie on Saturday led the parade of Huskers pumping up Zac Lee, the senior quarterback still has so much to prove. NU needs a stable, consistent man under center to have any grand 2010 dreams.
Can this offensive line dominate? Stay healthy? Who is Jared Crick: Batman or Robin? Is there any way you can lose a game-wrecker like Ndamukong Suh and not have some drop-off? Is the system really that good? Systems don’t win championships; great players do. But did the system and coaching elevate Suh to a higher level? Who will be this year’s Suh?
Here’s what you have to like: the depth. It’s everywhere. And the attitude. The Huskers reported on Saturday with a confidence and swagger we haven’t seen in years. That’s experience in the system. And that’s Pelini rubbing off. As Will Compton said, the hype “is just people talking. But we like it.’’
They look and act like a Top 10 team, and that’s just like old times, too. Now, time to find out if perception is reality.
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