No Red Flags Yet

LINCOLN, Neb. — Another season, another loss to an unranked opponent at home.

The 28-25 setback to 17-point-underdog Northwestern made it five years in a row that 19th-ranked Nebraska has been beaten at least once in Lincoln by someone outside the Top 25.

Those kinds of losses tend to separate teams that go to BCS bowl games and those that don't. The Cornhuskers (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) haven't been to one in 10 years and probably won't make it this year unless they win the Big Ten championship.

Fourth-year coach Bo Pelini said the latest loss isn't cause for alarm as his team prepares for a Saturday visit to 12th-ranked Penn State (8-1, 5-0).

He said he measures progress incrementally and that he likes the direction of his program.

"I just don't believe in riding the roller coaster," he said.

Pelini has a reputation for being volatile on the sideline and at postgame news conferences. But he was surprisingly calm after Saturday's loss to the Wildcats and again on Monday.

"I promise you, this loss has worn on me," he said. "Any time we lose, the way I'm wired, I take it hard. Really hard. But you've got to move on. You've got to move past it. There's no sense in crying about it."

A week ago, the Huskers were on an emotional high after beating Michigan State and winning control of the Legends Division. Pelini decided the time was right to award Blackshirts, the black practice tops given to defensive starters in a proud tradition at Nebraska.

He offered a caveat, however, that the players shouldn't feel too good about themselves with a month to go in the regular season.

"You're always concerned about it," he said Monday. "What you hope is the players listen to you and they take it to heart. You're challenged as a football player every single week. You can't buy into the hype or what you're favored by."

Nebraska's easiest path to the Big Ten championship game would require it to win out against a rugged schedule of Penn State and Michigan on the road and Iowa at home, and have Michigan State lose once, either at Iowa, at home to Indiana or at Northwestern.

"We have to take care of ourselves first," offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said.

From 1968-98, Nebraska lost just five times at home to unranked opponents. Former coach Bill Callahan had six such losses from 2004-07 and Pelini now has five in four seasons.

In 2008, Virginia Tech won in Lincoln. In 2009 it was Texas Tech and Iowa State. Last year it was Texas.

Nebraska has faced a new set of challenges in its first year in the Big Ten. The unfamiliarity with new opponents has made it more difficult to prepare each week.

"Yeah, it's a challenge," Pelini said, "but I don't think it's been anything that's been unbearable."

Receiver Tim Marlowe said he and his teammates let down against Northwestern after beating a higher-ranked Michigan State the week before.

"That was an easy game to get pumped up for," Marlowe said, "whereas with Northwestern, you're the favorite. Sometimes it's hard to get up for those games."

Tight end Ben Cotton said Pelini warned the team about overlooking the Wildcats.

"It felt a little bit dead going into the game," he said. "It didn't feel like the fire we had going into Michigan State. That's a trap a lot of teams fall into. It happens to the best of us, and we'll have to learn from it and never let it happen again."

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