A Husker football commences this Saturday, when new memories are made, legacies are drawn, and YouTube highlights painted for a new generation. But in this time of prelude, Husker fans should revisit the pain that ended the season prior. Do not misunderstand me: I am loathe to bring up the 70-31 no-show versus you-know-who. Rather, I only mean to consider if the devastating loss has revealed systemic issues in the Nebraska program, like a certain loss to end the regular season eleven years ago.
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I am of course speaking of Colorado 2001, a devastation that defined a decade of disappointments and giving up at the first signs of trouble. The circumstances and immediate fallout of both losses contain similarities and differences. Both of those teams had played remarkably easy, home-based schedules, and coasted into their respective cliff dives. While Frank Solich was just starting to live up to Post-Tom Osborne expectations, Bo Pelini has had the advantage of following the anathematized Steve Pederson-Bill Callahan regime and being the fan base's golden boy. While the 2001 team end up getting shellacked in their bowl game, the 2012 team did enough in theirs to show they were still accepting coaching. Leading into the 2002 season, doom and gloom permeated Husker program facing a tougher schedule without Eric Crouch to mask so many flaws and talent deficiencies. But the 2013 teams appears certain of reaching Pelini's benchmark of nine wins against a soft schedule, as the high powered, comeback-kings on offense return, and 2012's trainwreck defense gets a reboot. The relative optimism for this season is surprising, in light of the video evidence.
But for those who can't stomach the highlights (I can't blame you), let me clarify history: the 2012 Big 10 Title Game loss was far worse than 2001 Colorado. 62-36 happened in front of a hostile road crowd, against an opponent who had it in for Nebraska after five years of Husker close escapes. After falling behind 35-3, Nebraska actually clawed their way back to get the score to 42-30 in the third quarter, not an easy feat with Nebraska's run-first offense. In the Big 10 Title Game, there was not one point in the game where it looked like Nebraska was even trying to limit the damage or make the score respectable, i.e., Melvin Gordon's 60-yards of tackle-snapping, followed by no-coverage on Sam Arnenson's touchdown catch when it would have been just as convenient for the Badgers to run out the clock. And even after that lay down, it shouldn't have been hard for Kenny Bell and Company to get big pass plays to narrow the gap. But they didn't, so the question remains, is Nebraska poised to fall further off the cliff this year?
Here's what should be read into that loss: Nebraska had to pay for the luck in those double-digit comebacks last year, just like they had to pay for the luck of three easy road games going into the black-and-gold Buffaloes' den in 2001. Remember how Pelini was popping his gums off after the Penn State, bad-replay-angle win? There was an air of invincibility around him then that seemed too good to be true, which in fact it was. Factor all the travel, and that Nebraska is an undersized team to begin with, and you saw the results versus Wisconsin. Nebraska should have been the upstart that day, claiming their long-awaited title, like Colorado was on that day in Boulder in 2001. They weren't
No one will know if the Big Title Game loss is systemic until the end of November, or until Nebraska turns over five times in a “shocking” loss at Purdue. There is relative luck again this year, as Nebraska faces an easy schedule. Let's hope that is enough to mask the flaws on the new YouTube montages.
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05 for regular updates.