INDIANAPOLIS — You know the damnedest thing?
We thought they'd win. Almost everyone. That's the difference between this Big Ten championship and debacles of the past decade.
We woke up Saturday morning thinking this was the day — finally — Nebraska would bury the ghosts and dance on their grave. This was the day Nebraska would throw that 500-pound gorilla off its back and set its eyes on bigger dreams.
Instead, the 2012 season unfolded like a bad game of Chutes and Ladders. Struggle to the top, roll the wrong number and slide all the way down.
That's a lot of metaphors for four paragraphs. Bo Pelini volunteered another.
“Shock doesn't even begin to explain it,” Pelini said. “It was like a leaking boat. ... I've never been part of a game like that. At the end of the day, it falls on me. It falls directly on my shoulders.”
How does Bo's program come back? What's the source of hope? There are no good answers. Nebraska got humiliated again on a big stage, this time against a 7-5 team playing its third quarterback.
Gone are the Huskers' chances at a Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl and a Top-10 finish. Ruined is any hope that college football will take NU seriously anytime soon. Tarnished is that brilliant streak of comebacks.
Tom Osborne will not spend New Year's Day at the Rose Bowl. Rex Burkhead and a classy, hard-nosed senior class will not get their championship. And it's hard to know what it means.
Had the Huskers lost by a field goal or a touchdown, maybe you could've argued their good fortune had simply run out. But 70 points? By the fourth quarter, the only thing missing was Beau Davis.
“We just won six straight,” Pelini said. “We went 10-2 in the regular season. ... It's not indicative of the foundation of this program.”
Pelini doesn't deserve to be run out of town — not even close — but he doesn't deserve every benefit of the doubt, either.
Two months after NU rallied to beat Wisconsin and Pelini said this — “Contrary to what you guys think, I haven't forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run” — Nebraska gave up 539 rushing yards, 10.8 per carry.
As the Blackshirts missed tackles, the offense turned the ball over. Tim Marlowe said it reminded him of the “old us.”
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“Letting one mistake lead to more,” the senior wideout said.
Asked about the first-quarter mistakes, Bo said, “I don't know. It seems like that was 10 years ago.”
Actually, Saturday night was reminiscent of a game 11 years ago — Colorado. 62-36. That's the last time Nebraska was embarrassed so thoroughly on a stage this big. And you know the damage that day inflicted on the program.
The Huskers' proud fan base experienced the five stages of grief Saturday night — and that was just before halftime. Now fans have a month to chew on this. The seniors, unfortunately, have longer.
After the clock expired and Wisconsin gathered at midfield to celebrate, safety P.J. Smith walked gingerly to the Husker locker room, still wearing his scuffed helmet with the iconic red “N.” He entered the tunnel, then reconsidered his path. He wasn't ready.
He turned back to the field and stared for almost a minute. Finally, he shook his head.
There were no words. Not even metaphors.
Contact the writer:
402-649-1461, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/dirkchatelain