Cotton Bowl Journal - Day 1

I was thinking of titling this something like the "Cotton/All American Journal," as I will be heading to the Cotton Bowl of course, but then it's off to cover the All-American week. But I figure one step at a time is enough. So, similar to last year, it's a daily recap of the Cotton Bowl experience, and, of course, coverage of the team. Here we go.

You ever pack every single thing you own, get it all stuffed into bags and just sit and stare at it, wondering what you forgot?

One bag for the blazer, pants and shirt I almost never wear. One small duffel bag for some clothes. One bigger sports bag for yet more clothes, plus the various toiletries one has to take with them unless they don't mind two weeks worth of single-serving shampoo, soap and mouth wash bottles, that are nice, but it's just never enough.

Then you throw in the two laptop bags, one actually holding the laptop, along with two video cameras and various publications, some of which don't even have pictures.

In the other laptop case is enough cord, wire and cable to make even the Marque De' Sade envious.

Add the camera bag, the tripod for the video camera and enough rechargeable batteries to keep even Heidi Fleiss happy, I've got more crap than a cable TV truck, the men's section at Wal-Mart and a portable radio show.

Oh yeah, I am also taking my mixing board so that I can attempt to do the Big Red Report radio show while I am down in Dallas.

Is that it? Damn, I hope so. Yeah, I am answering my own questions, but it's ok, because I am writing it down. If you speak out loud and write stuff down, it's called a journal. If you don't write it down, well, you are just talking to yourself.

Every time I head off to a game where I will be on a long road trip to get wherever it's going to be, I always think about the last big road trip I took. Oddly enough it was during last year's bowl game down in San Antonio, and the feelings I have now are much different than they were just a year ago.

I looked at Michigan as a team that Nebraska could use to make a statement. Not of being back mind you, but instead of just mattering when it came to the college football landscape.

Let's face it, the idea of Nebraska being back has been voiced over and over to the point of insanity this year. You'd think the Huskers were heading to the BCS title game and not a distant and slightly less endearing cousin.

My question, or at least my thought pertains to just what "back" means to different people. If I think it's a Husker fan talking, "back" means intimidation, domination, luster, a top five ranking and a chance to play for the national title. If I think it's the local media, I think "back" means competent, competitive, dominant in the North Division, always a contender to win the conference, with a fair to decent shot at making the BCS perhaps every other year. And when I think of how the national media perceives the Huskers, I think "back" means that Nebraska is worth having on TV at least three quarters of the season.

It's all perception, and when I was driving down to the game, languishing in torment from the varying country, gospel, Spanish and farm channels that littered the radio, I thought that the Michigan game was THE perception game for the big red.

Leading up to the Michigan game, it was more about just convincing people (maybe even themselves) that they could once again compete. They looked good early on, their first loss coming in dramatic fashion as former Husker Le Kevin Smith fumbled away a win over the Red Raiders.

It didn't take long, though, before the wheels came off the truck a bit, the Huskers enduring a three game slide, the "icing" on the cake being the 40-15 loss to Kansas, which I considered worse than the 70-10 loss to Texas Tech a year prior.

They squeaked by Kansas State, absolutely shelled Colorado, but it still wasn't really enough. I thought that if they at least played well against a markedly more talented Michigan team, they would have proven that the disasters in Lawrence and Columbia that season weren't indicative of what kind of team this could be.

And they actually won.

Not only did they win, but they did it having to come from behind, which was a bit of a theme all year, the team spotting opponents three touchdowns before they finally figured out that it's ok to score and stop the other team from doing the same.

In the end I think they did make a statement, and I think that, though, Michigan is a much different team now in regard to experience and savvy, because this is mostly the same team they had last year, the Huskers can take something they can use.

Fast forwarding to Auburn, this isn't a perception game. Nebraska had the right game plan against USC, but the offense couldn't get going when it needed to and the defense just wore out. It is by the way, the same game plan everyone else has used against the Trojans, which is a big reason why it's not USC in the national title game, having lost two games this year.

Then there was Texas, and there's probably a little bitterness lingering still as it was déjà vu all over again, only this time it wasn't LeKevin Smith fumbling away a win, but Terrence Nunn, who has had issues with ball security since he stepped on the field for the big red.

This was a much better team than last year, and while Oklahoma State was embarrassing, as well it should have been, it can't take away from a campaign that was certainly a step ahead. Even Zac Taylor's woeful performance in the Big 12 title game can't take away from the team and it certainly can't take away from him.

If it wasn't for him they wouldn't have even been in that game in the first place.

Auburn, though, it's not a perception game nearly as much as it is a game where this team can for THEMSELVES, find out just what kind of team they are.

The Michigan win was great, but it was a five loss team, the first Michigan has seen in a long-long time. The quality performance against Texas was redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy's first true road game of the year. Every single time that Nebraska has had one of those opportunities to REALLY get over the top, something has just stopped them a bit short.

Think of this year, and you can easily say that Nebraska had three clear opportunities to make some serious noise, and prove to themselves that they could beat one of the best. They didn't get it done against the Trojans, obviously lost to the Longhorns and even though the defense was mostly stellar against Oklahoma, their most consistent player, Zac Taylor, just didn't have a good day.

Well, here comes opportunity number four. When you are on the road back to redemption, you don't often get that many chances at showing everyone what you can do, but Nebraska gets just that. Auburn is a heck of a team, utilizing speed over size, and typical to most of the teams in the SEC this year, they are deadly and even opportunistic when their defense is on the field.

The Tigers are ranked in the top 10, they are the only team to beat Florida, and, of course, they are the favorites in a game, where (as usual) you can expect a very red crowd.

This most certainly is a chance for the Huskers to take out someone in the top 10, and while I believe the Tigers are one heck of a team, they come across as unbeatable as say an Ohio State. They have weapons, but they have questions as well, whereas Ohio State seems to only have answers to every question you can throw at them.

AU also doesn't have that trademark superstar-6 foot, 4 inch-eventual-first-round-wide-receiver which has plagued the Huskers all year. Of course, guys like Courtney Taylor are no slouch, and at 6 foot, 2, he's not exactly applying for the role of Mini-Me's twin brother. He's good, but he isn't Dwayne Jarrett, he's probably not Limas Sweed and maybe he's not Adarrius Bowman either.

Auburn is a great team, and possibly the best team Nebraska has faced all year long. They have definite strengths, which if Nebraska isn't sound in defending or exploiting, they could get rolled in this bowl like Oregon just got rolled in theirs.

Side note: Let's have a big hand for Oregon and their uniform designers for their consistency. No matter what derivation they come up with for their duds, they all suck. Someone needs to take Ronnie Milsap off the design team at Nike.

Back to Auburn, it's a darn good team, but not an impossible team to beat, and to Nebraska's credit, they have played some of their best ball against the best teams they have faced on the schedule.

The next step for them is obviously winning one of these games instead of trying to talk about how they missed out on yet another golden opportunity to cement themselves as a member of that team that did truly make it back.

One thing I can say about this team is that they have been loose pretty much the entire year. I honestly think that they think they can win every game they play. I would actually agree, except for USC. Maybe last year I thought Nebraska could have won that game, but as the days approached to the actual game, I thought they would get smoked.

It's like the water rising up the shores from the ocean. Each successive ripple goes a little farther up the shore, but invariably has to go all the way back. I am wondering if this game is analogous to being that ripple that gets as far as it can up the side of the beach.

I guess we're about to find out.

But it will be good for both teams, as I think the Huskers and the Tigers have something they want to prove, even if it's just to those on the team. Auburn came into the season highly ranked, but it just didn't work out like they would have hoped. Nebraska came in, and not even ranked by some, and I think even they think things didn't go as well as they thought they would.

It's redemption time for both of them, and as for any team in a bowl, especially a New Year's Bowl, this is their springboard into the next season.

Is Nebraska back? Depending on your definition, they might already be. Based on mine, though, they aren't. They win this game and they might be.

They just might be.

About time to hit the road for Dallas. That's my journal and I'm sticking to it.

Now if I could just remember everything I forgot.

Huh?

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