The polls welcome back Nebraska

When the coaches' poll came out, no, it wasn't as dramatic for Husker fans as it was in 1997, both fans and players waiting anxiously to see if the coaches would recognize Nebraska's season, giving them a share of the title with Michigan. It would be hard to argue, though, that for the same, it didn't feel pretty good. Nebraska may not be back all the way, but finally making it back to the AP means they are taking steps in the right direction.

Regardless of who won between USC and Texas, it was pretty easy to see that at the end of the game, one was going to be ranked at the top, while the other would either move down to number two or stay right there, if that losing team happened to be Texas.

When an unranked Nebraska team beat the 20th ranked Michigan Wolverines, it wasn't quite as clear cut just where Nebraska would finish in the polls. Could they leapfrog a few teams and make it in or would they once again find themselves on the outside looking in?

Typical to what this team did all season, Nebraska posted another comeback as they now sit on the USA Today Coaches' Poll at 24th. This is the first time Nebraska has been ranked since the end of the 2003 season.

I know that this season has been rehashed, but I am going to do it again, but this time, I am going to also include not just the events, but what surrounded the events before and after the game. Honestly, the drama around the program was almost as interesting as what was going on, on the field.

Offense struggled, but defense started
season off well with a record 11 sacks
Maine – Never good playing one of these teams, because no matter how down you are, you are Nebraska, they are Maine, and that means you dominate front to back. The Huskers beat Maine 25-7, but against a Division 1-AA team, the big red couldn't even manage three yards per rush and Zac Taylor's debut was anything but stellar, throwing less than 50% of his passes complete, no scores and two interceptions.

The defense did play as you would expect, though, tallying a school record 11 sacks against the Black Bears.

Nebraska 1-0

Wake Forest – Coming into the game, Wake was known for their running game and smashmouth style of football. They had two good running backs, but other than that, this wasn't a team that was on-paper supposed to give Nebraska many problems.

The Huskers did end up winning comfortably, beating the Demon Deacons 31-3, but a bothersome theme persisted: The running game was still struggling, the Huskers totaling just 134 yards on the contest, but the passing game was even more horrendous, Taylor throwing for his first TD of the year, but also completing just 14 of 33 passes, adding another interception as well.

What was more comforting if not completely comfortable was the defense and the fact that Wake's vaunted running attack managed just 2.5 yards per rush the entire game.

Nebraska 2-0

Pittsburgh – Close to the end of this game, the ABC announcer commented that watching Nebraska versus Pitt was like watching a high school football team. The Huskers came out on the good end of a
Adam Ickes' block saved Nebraska
from losing to a team that lost to
the University of Ohio
7-6 victory, sealed by a special teams block of a field goal attempt as the clocked ticked down to zero.

Up to that point, as you can imagine, it was ugly, though, Cory Ross managed a regular season high 153 yards on the ground, averaging almost five yards per carry. It's ironic then that it was Zac Taylor that scored the only touchdown of the game, and on the ground at that.

The passing game proved futile once again, Taylor completing just 10 passes for 93 yards on the game. Even the defense had their hiccups, giving up over 300 yards in total offense to the Panthers.

Because of Pitt losing to Frank Solich's Ohio team earlier in the season and the narrow margin of victory over Dave Wanstedt's Panthers, the discontent was growing in Lincoln. Much of the talk was about this west coast offense, it being too complicated for the collegiate level, and Taylor perhaps not being the right guy for the job.

Nebraska 3-0

Iowa State – When the Cyclones came into Lincoln, it was as one of the few ranked teams Nebraska would face this season. ISU had trounced a then top ten Iowa team and was riding high coming in. The questions about this Husker team, if they were to have a chance, was centered around the running game and if Ross could continue his success, thus giving Taylor a little time to try and work out some of the kinks.

It appears in the bye week leading up to the game, they did just that.

After the game Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney said that they didn't really know what to do, because everything they planned for in facing Nebraska, was everything they didn't do during the game.

Ross had almost 40 carries the week before, while Taylor completed just 10 passes on the game. Against Iowa State, Ross carried the ball less than half that (15), while Taylor went off for a school record 431 yards on a whopping 55 attempts. Zac also threw for two touchdowns, no interceptions and while Ross didn't do much getting the ball in the backfield, he tore up Iowa State in the middle of the field, grabbing eight balls for 131 yards and the two scores through the air.

Zac Taylor ended his season stuggles
with record-setting performance against
Iowa State
Despite the prolific efforts of Taylor, the Huskers still only managed to put up 13 points in regulation, but the defense proved worthy enough that it was good enough to send the game into the first overtime session ever held inside Memorial Stadium.

This was also the first time of the year where Nebraska actually had to come from behind, something they did twice in pulling out the win with an eight yard pass to Ross as the offense and defense sealed the game.

The good about this game was obviously Nebraska's passing, but the bad was that the defense that had basically carried the team up to that point, gave up over 300 yards passing to Iowa State for the second year in a row, despite the fact that the sack-happy Huskers still got to the QB six times behind the line of scrimmage.

Nebraska 4-0

Texas Tech – Coming into this game, while nobody wanted to admit it, 70-10 still loomed in the air. It didn't help that the Red Raiders were coming into this contest averaging around 65 points per game. Led by yet another 5th year senior in Cody Hodges, this was going to be the test of the defense, especially after they gave up over 300 yards in the air to Iowa State, a team that passes considerably less than Tech.

Those fears probably turned into nightmares at the beginning, the Huskers giving the Raiders a 21-0 spot before they decided to get going in the game. With that kind of deficit, based on last year, there were few (if any) that thought this game was going to be a game, many probably thinking that at that point, it could get uglier than last season.

Consistent to what would be the theme for this group, they fought back, Nebraska answering with 14 of their own points off of two Cody Glenn tumbles into the end zone, before Tech would score again, kicking two field goals as they took a 21-14 lead and stretched it to 27-14.

Taylor answered Hodges, hitting Nunn for two more scores, followed then by a Jordan Congdon field goal, which actually gave Nebraska the 31-28 lead.

What happened after that, though, is now a part of history and infamous history at that, defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith intercepting a Cody Hodges ball. If he had fallen down at that point, Nebraska could have run out the clock and came out of the weekend 5-0. He didn't, the emotion running through him, Smith opted to run with the ball, had the ball knocked out of his arms by a Tech player and the Red Raiders got the ball back in their possession.

Cody Hodges didn't waste the effort as he hit Joel Filani for the game winning touchdown.
Le Kevin Smith's play against Tech
will long be remembered in Lincoln

Despite the passing stats, the defense did better than anyone thought they could have going into this game and Texas Tech, up to that point very stingy against the pass rush, gave up four sacks to the blackshirts.

It was easy to say that while this was a loss, Nebraska fans and even players took more out of this in a positive sense than they had from any of the four victories earlier in the season.

Nebraska 4-1

Baylor – Who would have thought that going down to Waco, Texas would be a big deal, but it was. The Bears, undefeated when Nebraska came to town, had a decent passing game, a punishing if not prolific running game and they were efficient, if not excellent.

Also, Nebraska had won just one road game under Bill Callahan going into this contest, so for a lot of reasons, this game had plenty of importance to it and a little worry attached to it as well.

Nebraska once again let the other team get off to the quick start, Baylor marching down the field on its first drive, scoring the first touchdown of the game to take the 7-0 lead. The Huskers didn't take as long to respond this time around, though, putting up the next four scores as the Huskers opened up a 20-7 lead on the Bears.

Baylor scored a touchdown late in the game to cut the lead to six, but a Jordan Congdon field goal put the game in the bag for the big red.

The Husker defense once again set the pace, holding Baylor to just over 50 yards on the ground. While they did give up over 200 yards in the air, the blackshirts grabbed two interceptions and notched another four sacks in the game.

The offense was perhaps its most balanced of the year, rushing for 182 yards and passing for just over 160. Taylor completed just over 50% of his passes, throwing two for scores and throwing none to the competition.

Smith produced personal bests against
Nebraska this season.
This wasn't a marquee victory by any stretch of the imagination, but considering the Huskers road-woes over the last year, there were plenty that were breathing a nice sigh of relief as Nebraska came out with the 23-14 victory.

Nebraska 5-1

Missouri – Believe it or not, this game appeared to be a win for Nebraska as they headed down to Columbia to face Brad Smith and the Tigers. Missouri hadn't looked all that great, Nebraska hadn't looked all that bad and the Husker defense was stifling against the run.

Three scores later in the first quarter later, two of them runs by Brad Smith, one for 79 yards, that particular opinion had been crushed.

Nebraska had lost starting linebacker Steve Octavien one quarter into the season. Just over four games into the season, they lost another starting linebacker in Stewart Bradley. Their loss was never felt so much at this point than it was in this game as Brad Smith ran off for a personal record 246 yards on the ground and another 234 yards in the air.

Despite the initial flurry, Nebraska did once again come all the way, shutting down Smith all but completely in the second quarter, the teams heading into halftime tied at 24 a piece.

A no-back four-wide-no-huddle adjustment by the Tigers, though, squashed Nebraska's hopes for yet another comeback victory as Smith led Missouri to a 17-0 second half performance, beating the Huskers 41-24, which is exactly the same score they posted against the Huskers the last time Nebraska went into Columbia.

Taylor did manage 281 yards in the air, throwing a couple of scores, but he also threw a couple of interceptions. On defense, the blackshirts were obliterated in just about every fashion, despite the fact that they notched another four sacks in a game.

At this point, this is where the worm had turned for the Husker fan base. Where many of the early criticisms of the team were pointed towards the offense, this humiliation at the hands of the Missouri Tigers got the defense a little scrutiny of their own. The offense was still taking heat, but it would be the defense that would get it now and as we will see, it would only get worse very soon.

Nebraska 5-2

Oklahoma – This was a big game based on last year's contest in Norman. Yes, the Huskers got clobbered by the Sooners, but there was a spark ignited back into the rivalry that was discontinued by the
DT, Dusty Davorcek ran
roughshod over Nebraska
as Nebraska allowed a
record nine sacks against OU
boneheads in the Big 12.

What gave most Husker fans hope was the fact that the Sooners had lost to TCU earlier in the year, their star QB Rhett Bomar was basically dreadful up to that point and the star of the show Adrian Peterson, had been injured most of the early part of the season.

The questions about Peterson's health went away quickly as he posted the first two scores for the Sooners, one where he carried defensive back Zack Bowman for about 10 yards, before romping into the end zone. That was part of a run, where Nebraska got down big once again, Oklahoma jumping out to a 21-3 lead at half.

Unlike Missouri, though, the Huskers proved more stubborn in the second half on defense and more opportunistic on offense. Off of three Zac Taylor passing touchdowns, the Huskers outscored the Sooners in the second half 21-10, and were driving, trying to take the lead.

Two costly penalties and two tackles for loss by defensive tackle Dusty Davoracek later, though, the Huskers found themselves in a 4th and 26 situation, which turned into yet another sack, one of a record nine Oklahoma had on the day, sealing the defeat for the Huskers.

The game obviously didn't go well for the Huskers as they went up against a talented team, but one that was obviously struggling both to run and to pass. Peterson answered the latter with an impressive 155 yards, while Ross could only manage 25. And the much maligned Bomar wasn't excellent as he didn't throw for a touchdown and had just 157 yards on the game, but he didn't have an interception or a fumble. Taylor on the other hand had two interceptions, one of which was taken back for a score in the first half of the game.

The KU loss was the bottom for the
2005 Huskers.
It Nebraska hadn't lost to Missouri the way they did, there might have not been much of an uproar over this game, but this was considered salt in an open wound, so the talk, now encompassing both the offense and defense, was starting to pick up.

Nebraska 5-3

Kansas – They say you can't really get back up until you hit bottom. Well, this game was undoubtedly the absolute bottom for the Huskers.

Kansas was sporting one of the better defenses, but they had one of the most anemic offenses in the country. They ranked 100th or worse in three different offensive categories, and even a Husker team that had lost two games in a row, was favored to win down in Lawrence.

As usual, the other team opened up on top, Kansas hitting a 40-yard pass for a touchdown. Nebraska answered with a safety, closing the lead to 7-2. Kansas scored twice more, both off special teams, one a blocked punt taken in for a touchdown and the other a field goal, the lead ballooning as the Jayhawks led 17-2.

Right on cue, Nebraska stormed back, Terrence Nunn and Cory Ross both scored, closing the gap to two points, KU leading 17-15.

That's when the proverbial wheels fell off.

On the ground, through the air, on defense (an interception returned for a touchdown and a safety) – KU hammered the Huskers in the second half, leaving the big red at 15, while the big blue romped to 40 points on the game.

A team that was amongst the worst in all of Division 1-A in putting up both points and yards, put the 40 on the Huskers, but added over 400 yards in offense as well. On top of that, the sack happy Huskers were stifled in this game, grabbing only one tackle of the QB behind the line of scrimmage.

This game ended what was one of the few streaks Nebraska had left as Kansas hadn't beaten Nebraska since 1968.

Following this game, you could say all hell was breaking loose in the Husker state. The call-in shows were on fire about Callahan, Cosgrove and company. The now infamous press conference comes to mind, where one reporter asked coach Callahan if he was the A.D., would he fire himself.

The media was ruthless, both locally and nationally. There was no doubt that as bad as things seemed prior to this game, they were now infinitely worse. And it was thought that while coach Callahan was probably going to have another year, his boss might be on the outs.
Jordan Congdon's clutch kick gave
Huskers kick start into Colorado

It was thought that no matter how this team finished up, this season was another disaster in the books and after starting 5-1, many were thinking that this could indeed finish with yet another 5-6 season.

Nebraska 5-4

Kansas State – There were no illusions about the Kansas State team that came into Lincoln for the second to last regular season game of the year.

They were bad

You know what? Nobody cared. In fact, they were happy, because that's just what this team needed. After the last three games, just to get a win was great, no matter who it was against.

Unfortunately for Husker fans, the way this game started, they were probably heating up the phone lines even before the first quarter was done. Kansas State, using the quarterback and the counter play, ran like crazy on Nebraska, Allan Evridge gaining 17 yards on his first run from scrimmage and 27 on his second. Evridge ended up fumbling, though, stopping a very effective initial drive, but K. State's 248 yards rushing, 160 of it by the starting QB, was putting the Husker faithful in their seats.

Because of that philosophy and the fact that Evridge was having a lot of problems actually hitting his receivers, the defensive pass rush was all but a moot point, the blackshirts only notching two sacks on the day.

Nebraska's own rushing attack was as futile as the Wildcats was fruitful, as Ross carried the ball 26 times but didn't even break 70 net yards. He did manage to score the first touchdown for Nebraska on a one-yard dive into the end zone.

Where Nebraska stayed in the game was on the arm of Zac Taylor as he didn't give the ball away once to the competition, but notched two scores of his own, both to the blossoming Nathan Swift, who caught seven balls for over 100 yards.

Imagine the hush that went over the stadium when Taylor, so resilient throughout the season after getting his head pounded in from consistent pressure in the backfield, went down, knocked unconscious and out of the game.

Running back Ross pulled off yet another
huge performance in Boulder
In what would be the most controversial move of the game, freshman Harrison Beck was brought in, Nebraska leading KSU 24-22 at that point. Beck would end up missing on his first four throws and his fifth was a completion to the wrong team, KSU's Bryan Baldwin taking the ball back 39 yards to the Nebraska nine-yard line.

The defense held tough, limiting the Wildcats to just a field goal, but they had the lead now, 25-24 with just 4:15 left on the clock. Beck would only complete one pass on this drive, his only completion out of 6 attempts, but it was perhaps the biggest completion of the game, Beck hitting Swift for a 21 yard completion, taking the Huskers down to the KSU 46. 15 yards was added to that following a roughing the passer penalty on the Wildcats, taking the Huskers down to their 31.

A few short rushes later, Nebraska sat on Kansas State's 23 yard line, with just over a minute left to go in the game and it was 4th down with two yards to go. Amid a 40 mph cross wind, freshman Jordan Congdon came in and hit first game winning field goal of his career, even spanning back to high school.

It was typical for the Huskers as they had become known as the cardiac kids at some points of the year. It was refreshing to most as Nebraska got the KSU monkey off of their back and got back to winning when it seemed like they might not win again.

There was a little more ease in the Husker Nation, especially since it was this game that got NU back into a bowl, but most were dreading two weeks from that point, because the common thought wasn't whether or not Nebraska would lose to the division leading Buffaloes in Boulder, but just how bad the loss would be.

Nebraska 6-4

Colorado – Double-digit dogs, heading into Boulder, Colorado the division leader and Nebraska a team just trying to find itself.

Not a good formula for success, usually.

In hindsight, most said after this game that the coaching staff should have a bye week before every game, because when they have the time, good things will happen.

What happened in Boulder, though, nobody expected in the least.

If you want to define dominating, this was it. If you want to picture aggressiveness, this is a good game to use. Nebraska took it to Colorado on both sides of the ball and while Nebraska did give up the first points of the game, the ‘Buffs scoring on a 33 yard field goal, that's all they would relinquish on the day.

Zac Taylor was as close to flawless as he had been all year, throwing for 392 yards, two completions going for scores, even under duress as he was still sacked five times on the game. And who was his hot target, but the one that usually does well in Boulder, Cory Ross, the Colorado native reeling off the best receiving performance for a running back ever at NU, catching a record nine balls for 129 yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side, Colorado was excellent all year in not giving up sacks, but Nebraska got back to doing what they did best and knocked down Joel Klatt behind the line of scrimmage four times. Colorado could hardly pass, totaling just over 150 yards through the air. And on the ground, it was all but futile, Nebraska holding them to just over 50 yards rushing the ball.
Ross finished his career off in style,
running for 161 yards against Michian

The performance itself was enough, but this was also the only game on and on national TV at that. Add to that the ridiculous but typical actions of the Colorado fan base, an entire section of students being cleared, Nebraska didn't just come out of this game looking good, they came out looking like gold.

Not even Colorado getting absolutely hammered by Texas in the Big 12 title game could take away from what NU did in Boulder. That victory didn't seem to just save a team, but it shut up almost all of the critical comments.

Now, suddenly, a season going to hell was a victorious season, Nebraska slowly but surely inching its way back into the limelight. And instead of getting some crap bowl like the one down in Shreveport, everyone had eyes on San Antonio.

Nebraska 7-4

Michigan – Déjà vu all over again, Nebraska a double-digit dog, but this time it wasn't against Colorado, it was against a talent-laden Michigan Wolverine team. Chad Henne, Jason Avant, Michael Hart, Steve Breaston, Lamar Woodley, the big offensive line, etc., so on and so forth.

So many weapons on both sides of the ball, there were some believing, but that was usually with a Husker media guide in one hand, a glass of kool-aid in the other.

The darndest thing, though, was that the majority didn't think Nebraska needed to win this game. Heck, interviews with players consisted more of them wanting to play well and throughout an entire game more than it was about being obsessed with winning the contest.

The season had already been won, and they were going to go into this game ready to play well, but they would be playing very positive emotionally. Michigan on the other hand, they just got dissed by the Outback as Iowa, a team they beat, got to face Florida instead of them.

They weren't happy to be down in Texas.

Whether that was a factor or not, only they will ever truly know, but what fans found out about their Husker team is what this team had been telling people and showing people all season long.

The Huskers did that and added some wrinkles as well:

*For most of the season, Nebraska had a bad habit of getting down early and sometimes big. Against Michigan, they drew blood first, Taylor hitting Terrence Nunn on a slant that went 52 yards for the touchdown
*For most of the season, at least every game since Pitt., Nebraska couldn't run the ball to save their lives. They had set a season record for futility when it comes to rushing yardage in comparison to every Husker football team that has ever played. In the Alamo, Ross tore up the Wolverines for 161 yards, averaging almost six yards per carry, notching one TD on the game.
*During the course of the year, when the Husker defense wasn't completely in the face of the opponent's QB, receivers were getting their yards. Nebraska did get in the face of Henne to the tune of four sacks, but with his ability and more importantly, this weapons, they still were expected to move the ball with success. Not a single receiver for Michigan totaled over 80 yards on the day, and for their leading receiver (Avant), most of that was achieved in the last drive of the game. 
*Sam Koch has been money all year. He's one of the best punters in the nation and he has been a boon to the success of the defense in regard to field position. Against Michigan Sam averaged over 50 yards per punt. 
*For much of the year, Zac Taylor had been getting pounded behind the line of scrimmage. In this game that was no different and at one point, Taylor admitted that he had taken a shot that had him a little woozy for awhile. Taylor did throw two interceptions on the game, but he added three touchdowns as well, including a 13-yard completion to Terrence Nunn, that sealed the game for NU. He wasn't the MVP of the game, but there was little doubt who was the MVP for the year.

Players like Ndamukong Suh make NU's
future a very bright one
When the dust settled and the crazy play to end the game had finished, Nebraska hoisted up the Alamo Bowl trophy, being the improbable winner in an incredible game. They put an exclamation point on the thought that after the Colorado game, Nebraska was surely on its way back.

Now that the polls are out and both have Nebraska sitting at 24th, you could say that is the statistical confirmation that they are indeed correct.

The question is, will Nebraska start out in the polls next year? I think you can safely say yes to that one. Nebraska brings back most of its defense, will have its starting linebackers back, along with getting more and possibly better talent on the offensive line.

You lose Cory Ross and he's impossible to replace as a leader, but you have some great ability in Marlon Lucky, Brandon Jackson and Cody Glenn.

Losing Sam Koch might be the biggest blow to the team and it is big, don't kid yourself about that.

It's all good for the Huskers in the end, however, the team looking even better for the future, talent here, more of that west coast talent coming in and yet another year with the exact same staff.

Polls are overrated in their significance, but there can be no doubt for the kind of kick in your step this can give you as a team and a fan base going into next year. The team has done that for themselves in everything they have achieved on the field. Now, it looks like others off of it are finally taking notice.

It's been a couple of years since they have been there and who is to say how long it will last. But, when you do see Nebraska in the top 25, things just seem a little more right. When they make it back into the top ten, they will seem about perfect. It's not about Nebraska winning a national title either, but just being the Nebraska we have come to know; Win nine or more games, go to a good bowl and every now and then you'll get a crack at the top. Above all else, though, every team you have on your schedule - everyone can be beat.

After 40-15 in Lawrence, nobody was saying that. Now, almost everyone is.

Welcome back to Nebraska.

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