A loss like Saturday night's was one that wasn't supposed to happen. Not in Year Five of the Bo Pelini Era. In fact, after Nebraska's 33-0 Holiday Bowl win over Mike Stoops' Arizona Wildcats in 2009, Pelini announced to the cheers of Husker fans that Nebraska football was back.
And why would anyone doubt him? After all, Pelini took a Nebraska team ranked 111th in total defense in 2007 and turned it into the #1 ranked scoring defense in the country. Yes, Husker football seemed to be back.
That the Huskers lost on the road to a fired up Ohio State Buckeye team hell bent on avenging last year's "Cornhusker Comeback" should come as no huge surprise to the football world. To be sure, the Huskers' recent track record in big games in hostile environments is not stellar. (See last year's blow-out losses at Michigan and Wisconsin and this year's UCLA game.) So a loss Saturday night wasn't out of the question.
THE WAY But it was the way the Huskers lost. 63-38. Really? The loss is a colossal embarrassment to every Husker football fan and to all those great players who for decades have put their blood, sweat and tears into the Cornhusker football program and the state of Nebraska.
What makes the loss even scarier was Bo Pelini's demeanor in his press conference afterward. Deer in the headlights. He had no answers. And other than "We need to win the rest of the games," he had no solutions. Anyone want to bet the farm on the Huskers going 6-0 the rest of the regular season? For the record, the last Husker team to do so was the 1997 undefeated NC team.
THE MESSAGE Does Pelini need to win out to save his job? No way. But get blown out again the way the Huskers did last weekend and it will be difficult to see him staying. And with two more very mobile quarterbacks (NW's Kain Colter and Michigan's Dennard Robinson) coming up in the next two games, another shelling is not out of the question.
Make no mistake. This loss has sent a message to the fans, players, coaches and to the football world that "It Ain't Working." Is NU headed for irrelevancy?
THAT'LL BE THE DAY If you think that's not possible, did you ever think you'd see the day that a Nebraska football team was not ranked, but Iowa State was? Or that Ohio University (not OSU) would receive more votes in this week's football poll than unranked Nebraska? Are you kidding me? Yes, Hell has frozen over. And Bo Pelini will win the press' Mr. Congeniality Award this year.
What can Bo do? What should he do? Bench players? Burn redshirts? Hand out Blackshirts? Appoint team captains? Fire some assistants?
Does he bench Taylor Martinez? TM isn't why the Huskers lost Saturday, but can you imagine how long Tom Osborne would have kept Martinez as his starting quarterback considering his penchant for fumbles and interceptions?
Is there time for Bo to make changes? History says yes.
HISTORY LESSON Bob Devaney saved his job by naming Osborne as his OC after two 6-4 seasons in '67 and '68. TO switched to the option game in the early '80s after his teams were losing each year to the Sooners. And in the early '90s, TO switched to a 4-3 defense and recruited speed on the defense to compete with the Florida teams. The rest is history.
The question is, will Bo Pelini swallow his pride and set aside his stubbornness to make changes? To be sure, in his fifth season, things are getting worse, not better, for the Nebraska football program.
And no, I'm not advocating Pelini's dismissal -- that would be foolish. But Husker football is the Cash Cow for the entire athletic program. Any threat to its well being needs to be dealt with quickly and forcefully. And new Husker A.D. Shawn Eichorst knows that all too well.
Sure, the sellout streak will continue this season and there will be a lot of people traveling to Chicago next weekend to see the Huskers take on Northwestern, but how long will Husker fans want to shell out thousands to watch their team get embarrassed?
OFF THE RADAR The off week couldn't have come at a better time. Two weeks to make changes. Two weeks to prepare for another mobile quarterback whose team upset NU in Lincoln last year. And if the Huskers win that one, the following week Dennard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines come to Lincoln and are going to be licking their chops. Good teams smell the blood in the water. The next two games may define Bo Pelini's college head coaching career -- at least his NU coaching career.
THE GAME I won't rehash Saturday's debacle, but I will say a thing about Urban Meyer. As most of you know, I don't care if a team runs up the score on Nebraska. It's NU's duty to make stops. But why on earth did Meyer keep Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the game when it was out of reach? Lose Miller on a late game hit and Meyer becomes the dumbest coach in all of football. Why not at least have your QB take a knee and protect your star player? There can be only one answer. Urban was trying to rub it in to a vanquished Husker football team.
Whatever. Just remember, Urban, what goes around comes around. Husker fans looking for a replacement for the much disliked Barry Switzer need look no further. Meyer is worse. Much worse. At least Switzer would never have done that to a Husker team. He had class. Meyer has none. Remember that one, Husker fans. Do not forget this one. Ever.
50 AND COUNTING Meeting Tom Osborne 1977 I was in Lexington, Nebraska in the summer of '77. Tom Osborne was in town that night and would be speaking at the local VFW hall.
I had just moved back from California and missed the last four years of the Devaney Era and the first few years of Osborne's and had never had a chance to hear Osborne speak.
I knew that Osborne had some huge shoes to fill upon the retirement of Bob Devaney. How was Tom going to do? I couldn't wait to see.
Not to worry. Tom was glib, self-deprecating and after a few minutes, like his predecessor, had the audience eating out of his hand. I remember that he told a story about Johnny Rodgers. For those of you who aren't old enough to remember, JR was Nebraska's first Heisman winner. He was an amazing athlete who played wingback and was one of the best kick returners in the history of college football.
"Johnny was never lacking in confidence or ego," Osborne recalled. "One day, I forget which home game it was, but Johnny was injured. And he almost never got hurt. So I rushed onto the field to check on him. Johnny was lying on his back and didn't look too good. So I asked him, 'How're you doing?' and he said "I'm doing okay, but how's the crowd taking it?'"
Of course the audience loved it. Tom Osborne was his own man and was quickly on the way to his own legacy.