Any coach you talk to will tell you that every loss is horrible, painful, the worst loss of his or her life. But usually after around 24 hours they move on to the next game plan, game prep and practice. But what about the loss that eliminates every goal you set before the season?
Michigan not only took the Huskers behind the woodshed, not only dominated all three phases of the game, but most importantly they also put a stake in the heart of Big Ten Championship and BCS hopes. So what now? The heroes game versus Iowa is of course the easy answer. Let’s think on a grander scale. Bo Pelini is wrapping up his fourth season still with a chance for double-digit wins, however this was another season where a Pelini lead team lost at home to a double-digit underdog and when presented with a chance to take the next step instead took a whopping.
I was told a couple of weeks ago by a person who owns a Husker Apparel store that Husker fever is almost non-existent. Even after the win over Michigan State Husker fans that he talked to just weren’t excited about the team and even less about the head coach. I was always under the impression that all Bo Pelini had to do was win. I was told repeatedly by fans that they didn’t care about how Pelini acted in news conferences or on the sideline as long as the team won and with that I agreed. That’s why I was surprised when the Husker store owner told me what people were saying to him about Pelini and the team.
Now Nebraska football an its embattled coach face an end of another disappointing season. Just last week we were asking fans if the season would be failure if the Huskers didn’t make the Big 10 Championship game. If a BCS appearance would be enough to call the season a success. Now fans are facing a trip to Tampa, Jacksonville or Tempe, all nice weather by the way. An end of season loss to Iowa could push the Huskers to Houston and the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. At this point I would guess disappointing would certainly transform into devastating.
Bo Pelini is second to only Frank Solich in wins in his first four years as Husker head coach. Pelini was considered a savior following Bill Callahan, who produced the worst stretch of seasons since Bob Devaney. The defense took only one season to go from terrible to top ten. The offensive struggles were blamed on offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Now with Watson gone and Pelini picked and approved quarterback Taylor Martinez in his second year the excuses are starting dry up. I have always assumed that it’s easier to accept a loss as a fan when a team is just better than you. Saturday the Huskers did everything possible to give the game away. Return game fumbles, a blocked punt, ill-timed penalties and a quarterback that still struggles in must pass situations.
I have been told by my Co-Host Kevin Kugler that Tom Osborne would never fire Bo Pelini. Because of Osborne’s experiences as an embattled head coach he would give Pelini the chance to figure it out, to get over the hump like he did. That was the 70’s and 80’s when head coaches were much lowered paid. Expectations were high but different from what we have now when donor dollars are needed even more than ever. No, I am not naive enough to think that donors or anyone else will force Tom Osborne’s hand. You have to wonder how long will Dr Tom remain in charge or how long will Bo be willing to deal with a fan base that he already feels is a bit irrational. Either way I expect 2012 to be a make or break year for Pelini’s run as Nebraska’s head coach.
One quick thought about the game. Nebraska seemed not only out matched and out coached, but Michigan’s players just looked more athletic. Take David and Dennard out of the game and who are the players that would start for Michigan (Kyler Reed)? Michigan has big time recruits at each position where NU has walk-ons in starting spots. Not to say that the walk-on program isn’t an amazing way to develop talent in a state with few division one players, but sometimes it is more about the Jimmie’s and Joes than the X’s and O’s. Saturday was about a more talented team getting a few breaks and taking advantage of each and every one of them.