Welcome to August.
The month filled with optimism and Husker hope. Fans always seem a little more excited during this time of year, when everyone is 0-0 and Nebraska football has something to prove. But it always seems to pick up a notch when there's a new coach in town.
Want proof? Here's a snippet from Tom Shatel's column on Aug. 10, 2004 — the day the Huskers started practice under new coach Bill Callahan, who took over for Frank Solich.
Nebraska football reported for duty on Monday. And it was, well, exciting.
Of course, it's this way every year at this time. August is my favorite month. Juices flow. Adrenalin kicks in. It's like an awakening of the senses.
Baseball's seam heads will tell you opening day is in April. Hoop heads live for October. For me, the beginning of the year, the new cycle, comes in August.
Practice fields come alive. Games start to appear on TV. Tickets arrive in the mail. You debate the depth at left tackle. You can sense the fall chill. The lights at the end of the tunnel are Friday Night lights.
I live for August. The best time of year.
This year? Even better.
Bill Callahan and his staff have yet to coach a game. They haven't beaten Kansas State or Western Illinois. They have yet to lose their first game, which is when you always find out the true measure of a coach and staff.
Doesn't matter. The excitement level for this Nebraska season is off the charts, even for a place where expectations run infinitely.
Or put it this way: I've never heard so many folks excited about what looks like a 7-4 season.
Circumstances demand it. Strange faces occupy the fortress that is Big Red football. There's a new offense, a new way of doing things, a break from life as Nebraska knew it. There's high anxiety across the state.
But, as is usually the case, anxiety breaks from its protective cocoon and blossoms into optimism. Husker fans are jacked. Again. Some are predicting 9-2, like the West Coast offense is in its fifth season and Joe Dailey is a fourth-year Heisman candidate.
Blame it on August. Blame it on the early returns of recruiting, with a handful of top 100-type kids jumping on board. Mostly, blame it on Callahan and his staff, who showed again on Monday why folks are buying stock in a system they know little about.
These men exude a powerful confidence. Not to mention competence.
Nobody knows if the Callahan way will live up to Nebraska tradition. Nobody is saying, yet, that this staff is better than Frank Solich and his lieutenants.
What they are is different. It's refreshing. Exciting.
It's still a little strange to see Callahan sitting in that chair, addressing the news media where Tom Osborne and Solich for years sat like pillars of Husker tradition. But Callahan is easy to warm to. And he keeps you on your toes.
He refers to fall practice as "training camp'' and freshmen as "rookies.'' He actually discussed what the team was going to work on first.
"We'll work on our base blitz pickup today,'' Callahan said. "We've seen some films of Western Illinois. We'll work against America's blitz, the bubble blitz, where you bring both an outside linebacker and an inside linebacker.''
I don't recall a Nebraska coach ever discussing practice or using specific football terminology with us news media quarterbacks before. Maybe we never asked for specifics because we figured it was fruitless. The Nebraska way has always been to not get too deep under the surface. But Coach Cal loves talking football.
If nothing else, the news media will learn more about football this year, which should help us catch up with the fans.
Shatel was wrong about one thing in this story: The Huskers finished 5-6, not 7-4. That's OK, because four years later there was a new coach in town — defensive guru Bo Pelini.
The column leading into the first practices under Pelini took a different tone. Shatel wrote of recovery, of saving the tradition — and yes, finding a way to win nine games a year.
There will be blood.
As Nebraska football practice begins Monday, that is more than a mantra for Bo Pelini's first season. It's the baseline. Win or lose, there must be blood.
Let's face it: This season is not about a number of wins. That sounds funny around a place that used to spit out nine victories a year like a factory. It's just the truth.
When you've lost your identity, and that identity was based on physical play and intimidation, the first step to recovery is to make a fist.
Eight, seven, six wins, whatever. The record and level of bowl destination are not nearly as important as how the destination is reached. The level of expectation for the initial run of the Pelini Era has nothing to do with games won. It's more about how games are played.
When I've been asked for my expectation for 2008, I've half-jokingly said, "There are three things.
"One, put Chase Daniel on his butt. Once. Twice would be nice.
"Two, hold Kansas to 40 points.
"Three, make a bowl game.''
If you think that's facetious, you must have been away at the bathroom all of last season.
Nebraska football lost its manhood the past four years. We don't need to recap the carnage. But if there's a lesson learned from the past era (error), it's how much Husker fans care about their manhood.
They don't expect to win the Big 12 every year. They do expect the players to look coached and like they care.
They may not expect to beat Missouri at home this year. But they expect their side to play well and make sure that the Tigers not only know they were in a game, but limp home if possible.
They don't expect to give up 70 points to any Kansas team, unless Bill Self is coaching it.
They don't expect a linebacker wearing their jersey to half-heartedly push an opposing running back into the end zone. If he does, they expect him to lose his scholarship.
Passion. Effort. Culture. These are the buzzwords that have many Husker fans I know pumped for this season. They say they can handle an 8-4 or 7-5 season if it comes with 12 games of hustle and competence.
They say, too, that if there are 12 games of hustle and passion, the wins will come. There's something to be said for that.
Of course, buzzwords don't win games. Pelini has played his role as the anti-Bill Callahan to the hilt. He's said all the right things, guaranteeing only effort and a team that will compete and care.
Right now, Pelini is all promise and hype. But there's every reason for the Bolievers to have faith. Pelini's track record (at Oklahoma, LSU and, heck, Nebraska in 2003) says that he will go after Daniel and Todd Reesing and that he might be able to take an under-coached roster and make it sing.
Pelini also has the advantage of following Callahan and a system that didn't develop or motivate college football players. With Tom Osborne at his side, Pelini will have a honeymoon of at least one season, and perhaps two seasons, if the Huskers are competitive and look coached. Fans will wait to see if Pelini can recruit as long as it looks like he can teach the fundamentals of tackling.
That's how far this thing has fallen, though Pelini is conceding nothing.
"I've never gone into a game that I didn't expect to win,'' Pelini said on Friday. "But right now, we need to get to where we are competitive in every game. And I don't see anybody on our schedule that we can't compete with.''
It all starts on Monday. And it sounds like the Huskers better strap it on.
The Huskers did strap it on. And, you may have heard this one, they won at least nine games every season under Pelini. But Pelini is gone now and in comes Mike Riley. The "nice guy."