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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports</div>Russillo seemed to vacillate on his pick, feeling he couldn't pick a program who didn't have any history (Mississippi State). While he said he hated to do so, his main reasons were that Nebraska thought they would dominate the Big 10 when they entered the conference, and that Nebraska, like Ohio State, sneers at the SEC's success as the product of cheating and over-signing recruits. While I don't see Russillo's e-mails and tweets, I would dispute both arguments, to a point.
Despite the conference's struggles, Nebraska fans didn't think the Big 10 was a cake-walk. The move had more to do with politics and cultural fit than football itself. This was the Big 10, after all. If a league this exclusive invites you, you say yes. (Remember, this is pre-Maryland-and-Rutgers Big 10.) But there were hopes that the program would not look as outclassed as it did against Texas and Oklahoma, and in four of Nebraska's five Big 10 losses, they have been whipped thoroughly. And yes, expecting to win the Big 10 in year one was a great expectation that proved too high.
To the SEC argument, well, there was a lot of tweeting at national personalities through two and a half quarters of the Capital One Bowl this year, as CBS' Tim Brando noted during the game's third quarter. The SEC's dominance is so one sided, a Big 10 team is going to take any moral victory it can get. But I don't hear Nebraska fans criticizing the SEC because they know they can't win that fight. The talent gap is that obvious.
Are there delusional Nebraska fans? Yes, and to Russillo's point, the most delusional Nebraska fan could be the most delusional fan in college football, if said fan is still basing his annual expectations off of Big 8/Big 12 competition and the Nebraska teams that finished in the top 10 year-in and year-out. My editor at the time told me last year that an article on what expectations for Nebraska football should be will always get a lot of fan response, meaning Nebraska fans struggle with what they are in spite of Pelini's success. But, as many national analysts admit (even Ed Cunningham), Nebraska fans are among the smartest in college football. They know what the team in front of them is, even if they don't say so. And Nebraska fans often don't say much.
The Big 10 Title Game this past year demonstrates not only that Nebraska fans are not horrendously delusional, but that they are very humble. Going into said game, Nebraska fans were not talking junk whatsoever. They had reasons to puff up their chests, having beaten Wisconsin in September and having controlled the second half of said game. Taylor Martinez was supposed to be the huge quarterback edge for the hot program, taking down the reigning champs who were already fat on back-to-back Rose Bowls. Bucky and crew didn't have any real competition in the “Leaders” Division or an experienced quarterback. But Husker fans did not boast, just like many fans did not make a huge show after one second was put back on the clock in the 2009 Big 12 Title game. (On the Monday after that game, Jim Rome noted on his national radio show that most of his Nebraska e-mails were not crying foul about the final play against Texas, a team that Nebraska routinely asserted bent conference rules in their direction.)
And after the drubbing, no mention of firing Bo Pelini was made. If Nebraska fans really were delusional, many would have been chanting “Fire Pelini!” even if it was nothing more than a vocal minority. Make no mistake -- the lack of effort in that contest, viewed in a vacuum, fits the bill for a fire-able loss. Arkansas State made a better effort against Nebraska last September than Nebraska made against Wisconsin that night, as the Huskers' defense constantly rolled over for a marginally better Badger team running a base offense with some new wrinkles. Dismissing Pelini was barely discussed at all; in fact, many articles this spring have praised him and said he's growing into his role as head coach (after five full years on the job, it's about time). It is as if the shame of Steve Pederson firing a 9-3 coach is so fresh in Husker fans' minds, they don't dare critique a reasonably successful coach.
It is shame, Mr. Russillo, that is a greater emotion in the hearts and minds of Husker fans than delusion. Shame that they put as a much in as Ohio State, Texas, or any top SEC team, and still get blown out in big games.