The Big Red Roller Coaster — call it the “Bo-Merang” — dropped me off in Nebraska City earlier this week.
I was there to speak to the Rotary Club of Nebraska City, at the Avenue Grill, on Central Avenue, in the heart of downtown Nebraska City. Main Street, Nebraska.
Inside, a room full of good Nebraska fans loaded up on chicken, baked potatoes and green beans. For dessert, a heap of Husker questions.
In the wake of the loss at UCLA, there were some predictable topics. Defensive line. Recruiting. Taylor Martinez. Rex Burkhead. Then, this:
“How much longer does Bo have?''
Two games. Second week. Coach in trouble?
No, no he's not. But this question seemed to fit right into the culture that is Nebraska football today.
It's become a drama play that changes scripts by the week. The roller coaster.
Last week, Taylor Martinez was brilliant and the leaks looked fixed.
This week, broken again. Martinez had flashbacks. What in the world happened to recruiting on defense?
Four days later, more drama. Another promising player — defensive tackle Chase Rome — left the program.
Kids like Rome leave programs with regularity, especially in the overcrowded talent rooms like Alabama or USC, and nobody says boo. But at a program like Nebraska trying to stockpile blue chips, these things tend to touch off alarms.
The UCLA game did that trick, too. But should we have been surprised? Many experts in the state picked NU to go 9-3 or 8-4. Nobody picked the Huskers to go undefeated. Or have a stout defense.
Losses still move the needle around here — that's a good thing — but the eye-opener in L.A. was seeing that some things weren't fixed. And it has some folks wondering, “Will they ever get fixed?”
If there was a lesson from the left coast, it was this: If you're following Nebraska football, you're riding the roller coaster. Strap in.
You want to write this team off after two weeks? Pencil in four or five losses? Here comes a win at Ohio State. Just because.
You want to say Martinez has it figured out (as some of us did) or that the collective program has turned a corner? Fine. Watch out for the truck coming around that corner.
In the fifth year of Pelini, what we've learned is that it may be good, it may not be good, but it's going to include turbulence.
What happens in the first half may not necessarily be what you get in the second.
Looking strong against Missouri and Michigan State? But here come Northwestern, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
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On any given week, Pelini might say he's proud of his team's performance. Or embarrassed.
It's the media's fault. For years, some of us jokingly complained that Nebraska football was too boring. Win 48-0 and Tom Osborne would answer a couple of questions and say, “Is that about it?”
Now there is no shortage of drama to write about, talk about.
It's been that way for a while. The past decade of Husker football has been a sidewinder that flips you upside down. Pelini was hired to bulldoze the Bill Callahan roller coaster. He's done that, averaging 9.5 wins and four losses in four seasons.
But it hasn't been smooth or consistent. This year was supposed to be different. Pelini promised last winter that he was turning over every stone to rid NU of the roller coaster effect.
It's still there, and you really can't blame the media or chat boards for fueling the roller coaster. The program has to be mentally tougher. It's not there yet.
The roller coaster wears you out. There seem to be a couple of factions today in Nebraska — those losing faith in Pelini and those hanging on.
“I think most people think he's good for the program,” said Leroy Frana, my host at the Nebraska City Rotary. “If we hadn't been through the Callahan years, we'd probably be impatient. People understand there's a process we need to go through. The troops are a little thin. Recruiting is not what it's supposed to be.”
The thing about the roller coaster, today is a new day. For Arkansas State's hyped offense, Pelini may switch to a 3-4 scheme, get more speed like linebacker Zaire Anderson out there, put Eric Martin in a spot where he can have a single mission to wreak havoc.
But at some point, you realize that Pelini and his defense must do what they're comfortable with, there are no quick fixes and a kid like Anderson, a juco transfer, will have a learning curve.
And then there will be a time when Rex Burkhead bounces back onto the field and inspires a victory by his mere presence.
There are 10 games left and anything can happen, including the Huskers bucking up and giving a consistent performance every week. But do you trust that?
Whatever happens, it won't be dull.
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