That wasn’t the real Nebraska that lost 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship game. It wasn’t the real Nebraska that gave up 63 points to Ohio State, either. But it also wasn’t the real Nebraska that stifled Michigan at home. The real Nebraska lives somewhere in between. Between the extremes of horrible and terrific.
In reality, the real Nebraska IS the team that lost by two touchdowns to SEC power Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. The best teams in the SEC are, right now, about two to three scores better than the Huskers.
And that’s what’s most depressing right now. Not that the Huskers lost to a Georgia team that has better pure talent than they do. It’s the fact that Georgia and many other teams have significant more talent, more experienced coaches, and are that much better in every way than Nebraska is now. That’s what’s depressing.
It wasn’t THAT long ago that Nebraska was the standard bearer in college football. Not THAT long ago that a team like the 2012 Bulldogs would have been beaten, bloodied and put to bed by the end of the third quarter. Think about it: How would this Georgia team fare against the ’95 Florida Gators? Pull out the tapes. I say Gators by two scores. And Nebraska beat THAT Florida team by 38 points.
So clearly, this is an ‘Us’ problem, not a ‘Them’ problem right now. It’s not that the rest of college football has gotten that much better; it’s that Nebraska has regressed by that much. And while we can all hope that things will get significantly better in the near term, we have no reason to take that to the bank.
Make no mistake, Nebraska IS still very relevant in college football. (For one thing, it was Nebraska that started the wave of conference re-alignment three years ago…) Nebraska is relevant in the same way that Oklahoma State, Stanford, Florida State, Clemson, Michigan State – and yes, Wisconsin are relevant. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. It just means while Nebraska is one of the upper echelon programs, it is no longer one of college football’s “elite” programs.
That’s the reality.
And that’s tough to swallow when you think back 15 years ago and the college football landscape that Nebraska was dominating. There were no questions about depth in the defensive line, or about the quality of the offensive line. Those were Nebraska staples. “The Pipeline” sent guys to the NFL with regularity. Like Penn State and linebackers, or BYU and quarterbacks. Nebraska was known for line play. Even have a post season award – the Rimington Trophy – named for the former Husker star lineman. Husker fans could bank on Nebraska having the superior line play week in and week out, pretty much every year.
Nebraska isn’t winning at the line of scrimmage anymore, and that’s the most disappointing thing of all.
Will it get better next season? We can always hope. But we also have to accept the reality that Nebraska isn’t Nebraska anymore.