Published Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 10:10 pm / Updated at 2:32 pm
Shatel: Time for a new Husker narrative: a bowl victory — and hope
Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Georgia
When: 11 a.m. Wednesday
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — They can reverse The Curse. And get a leg up on the Tractor Triangle. But that's not why Nebraska needs to beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl.

It's not really about Georgia. Or are the Huskers playing Washington today in the Cap One Bowl? These seasons all run together.

Nobody knows exactly why the Bowl Gods insisted on watching this game again, but I can think of one very good thing to come out of a Nebraska victory.

A chance to take a deep breath. Then exhale.

Everyone associated with Nebraska football — the players, coaches, athletic staff, fans, media cynics, vultures, message board operators, talk show talking heads, grocery store conspiracy theorists and anyone who knows a guy who knows a guy who saw Taylor Martinez kick his locker — needs to chill out.

Or at least get a new narrative.

The current one is worn out. It's been run over by an 18-wheeler and kicked to the curb. It's faded in the sun. The story is so old you can read it on a tablet. The kind made out of stone.

Huskers haven't won a league title since — all together now — 1999. Huskers aren't — come on, louder! — relevant nationally. The program is sliding into a dark hole in space. Save it now, lest it become a fixture at the Music City Bowl.

Fumbles. Turnovers. Punt returns. Hot seats. Bo Pelini's out. He's back. Mack Brown's agent on line two.

Deep breath. Exhale.

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The Huskers can't win a conference championship here. They probably won't jump into the rankings if they win. They'd have beaten an 8-4 Georgia team that finished third in the SEC's Other Division. Winning today won't mean Nebraska's back or in the Car Pool lane in 2014.

But winning a bowl game would be something different. Beating an SEC team would be something good. In this case, different is good.

It would allow everyone to back off from the ledge and give the 2014 season some room to breathe. The Huskers will begin next season with a new starting quarterback for the first time in four years, and with new divisions, maybe they can rekindle a thing called hope.

Remember that?

Bo Pelini and Co. left town here five years ago with bags packed with hope, after patching together a good first season that ended with a quality win over Clemson. There was hope all over the place.

A year later, maybe too much.

After his team beat Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, Pelini stood at the awards stand and proclaimed, “Nebraska's back, and we're here to stay.” Oops. The program hasn't won a bowl game since, and rarely has played well in a meaningful game.

The moral to the story: You don't say your football program is back after you win the Holiday Bowl. Thus began the Holiday Curse or the Pelini Curse or the Shamu Curse, or whatever works for you.

Nebraska football has had more than its share of humble pie, thank you very much. Time to break the curse.

As you watch the endless parade of bowl games every night, it's easy to think of them as meaningless. But there's no denying that winning one brings its own confidence and sense of optimism to the next year. You could feel that around NU after Pelini's first two bowl wins. And when's the last time anyone felt that?

Beating a Georgia team with its own problems and disappointment won't conjure images of Pasadena in 2015. But imagine what it would do if Tommy Armstrong and Ameer Abdullah have big games today and NU wins. Lot of folks would perk up.

Of course, Georgia is thinking and hoping the same thing. The Bulldogs have a ton back next season, too. If their own boy wonder at quarterback, Hutson Mason, does well today, it will be a very Happy New Year in Athens.

Armstrong and Mason. Abdullah and Todd Gurley, Georgia's stud running back. It could be a fun shootout. The brass ring is optimism. Who's gonna grab it?

For the Huskers, it would also be a nice springboard into this thing called the Big Ten West. Kansas State has not replaced Michigan in the Big Ten, but the Wolfies and Michigan State are moving to the Big Ten East. With apologies to Northwestern and Minnesota, I see Nebraska having a fun triangle of games each year with Wisconsin and Iowa.

Draw a line from Madison, Wis., to Iowa City to Lincoln and back. I don't know what kind of triangle that is, but I'm going to call it the Tractor Triangle, until I find a better name. Give me a few minutes.

Whatever you call it, I think it will be fun and heated. And look who's playing in Florida today, all within a three-hour drive: Nebraska (Gator), Iowa (Outback) and Wisconsin (Capital One).

The Tractor Triangle awaits. First, get me out of this Bermuda Triangle.

* * *

Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the Gator Bowl press conference:

Video: UGA coach Mark Richt at the Gator Bowl press conference:

Video: Watch the Husker pep rally in Jacksonville:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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