Of all the story lines coming out of fall camp, there is one that has me trembling with anticipation more than any other, and that's the confidence that is emanating from the Husker football team. Every day brings another quote, another snippet, of an attitude that for too long has been absent from the program. To highlight a couple:
RB Quentin Castille:
"I always have high expectations for myself, and I know I have high expectations for the team," Castille said."We're not going to back down."
"We're not going to be that one team that everybody's all, 'Yeah, we can run over these guys.' It's not going to be any of that stuff like last year. Let's just say I'm not here to win just nine games."
DC Carl Pelini:
"Nine wins isn’t what we expect at the University of Nebraska, so there better not be any complacency going on.”
Throughout camp, despite the naysayers always pointing to the QB situation, there seems to be an air of calm over the Huskers, a sense that this team knows it has the potential to come out of nowhere and be something special. It's especially refreshing to see even compared to last year's camp, when guys still didn't know their calls or responsibilities and the emotional scars of 2007's collapse were still fresh in their mind.
A perfect example of confidence is when USC came to town in 2007 to play against the then-#13 ranked Huskers. I was watching the game at a Husker bar in Minnesota, and throughout the pregame, I could sense, in myself and my fellow fans, a sense of foreboding. Not that we knew we were in for an ass-kicking, but almost a feeling of "Please let's just keep it close". And that, my friends, is not the mindset of a good football team, or it's fan base. As sad as it is to say that, I think there were some players that had that look in their eye that night as well. We all know how that game turned out, but as painful as it is to rehash it, that was the beginning of a long road that led us to Bo Pelini and the Big Red's (ongoing) return to prominence.
Last year's 6-1 run to end the season, in my opinion at least, seemed to turn on a light above this team's head, and the players realized that they can beat anyone when they do their job (obviously nobody did their job against OU). Now, with another year in the system, the mental breakdowns will be less frequent, the Blackshrits will force a lot more turnovers, and I really think we'll see a team that on both sides of the ball is ready to physically impose their will on opponents.
The best teams are so confident that they are just a little bit cocky. While I do believe it's important to practice humility, I believe that there has to be that attitude, just a slight air of arrogance that one can only see when they really study a person. That swagger is the difference between NU football in the 90's and the mid-00's. A great team doesn't believe it can win, it knows it will. In the 1995 Orange Bowl, when the Huskers were down 17-7 to Miami, you could look at the Nebraska sideline and you'd have swore that they were in the lead, not the Hurricanes. It's epitomized by Tommie Frazier, who had been out for the 2nd and 3rd quarters, telling Warren Sapp "It ain't where I've been fat boy, it's where I'm going" before leading the Husker comeback to win the national title.
That's why I think all of the pundits and experts out there are making a mistake penciling us in for 8 or 9 wins. I'm not saying their foolish or anything, to someone who isn't a fan of the program, all they have to do is look at the loss of Ganz and write the Huskers off. To me though (and apparently Steve Sipple as well), there seems to be a steely determination to this Husker team, an attitude that 9 wins and a Holiday bowl berth isn't what they have planned for this season. And damn, do I like it.
And now, a few quick links for the weekend:
- A must-read by Stew Mandel over on SI about the upcoming bowl tie-ins shakeup that would put a Big 10 team in the Gator Bowl instead of a Big 12/ACC team. This would then trickle down to the Alamo, which would replace the Big 10 with a Pac-10 team, therefore upstaging the other Pac-10/Big 12 game, the Holiday bowl. Anyways, Mandel has the ins and outs handled a lot better than I do, so you should probably just click the link. The real question here is, if you're the Big 10, do you really want more publicity for a bowl game in which you'll probably get your ass kicked?
- Sports Illustrated ranked Nebraska #34 in their preseason issue. Pretty much the only thing mentioned about the Huskers in the whole magazine is a miniature paragraph about Suh and a small blurb about Pelini being the "Coach on the Rise" in the Big 12. Both were about the size of one digit of my thumb, which I guess goes to show that we'll be flying under the radar to start the season. One more aside on this issue: This is why the only rankings I actually care about is the coaches poll, because even if it isn't filled out by the actual coach, it's probably done by someone on his staff with actual football knowledge, not a writer who has never stepped between the white lines.