You know that beer commercial who's slogan is, "it doesn't get any better than this"? Well, think of the opposite of that and you have the current slogan for the Nebraska team. Yeah, it could get worse and most expect that it will, but right now, it's bad enough. "It's pretty rough right now." starting middle linebacker, Barrett Ruud said. "It's something I have never went through before and it's something a lot of guys on the team haven't been through before."
As new and interesting experiences go, I am sure Barrett would just as soon leave this one in the closet, but right now, Nebraska is going through something that everyone else already knows full well. No matter how good you are or how long you have been one of the best, sooner or later, everyone stumbles. "Everybody has faced adversity, except us." Ruud stated. "For the last 30 years this team has been good, so we are going through something everyone else already has."
It's true. Nebraska has had more winning seasons in a row than anyone in NCAA history. They have gone to more consecutive bowls than anyone in NCAA history and the coveted 9 win streak, again spans farther along than any NCAA team, ever. So much success over such a period of time, that even when losing it all smacks you right in the face, it's still hard to comprehend. "This last game (Oklahoma State) was the worst, because I know we should have won." Barrett said. "Iowa State played really well and against Penn State, we just made a lot of mistakes. It's frustrating, because I know that we should be a much better team."
Many have been the opinions of what has gone wrong. It's the coaches, it's the players or it's both. For a team though filled with players reeling from this bout with mediocrity, their frustrations do not change their focus as they look to the next game or even, the next season. "The key is to play to your potential, whatever that is." Ruud stated. "If your potential is to go undefeated and win a national title, you should do that or if your potential is to lose four or five games, that's what you should do."
"We shouldn't be 5-3 right now. That's ridiculous. Should we be a national championship team? I don't know, but I know we shouldn't be 5-3."
The scrutiny that follows this program's success and it's failures is amongst the most piercing in the country. Their accomplishments are viewed on Sportscenter, but treated with a rather benign fact-of-the-matter attitude, because Nebraska is supposed to do those things. When things go wrong though, it's headlines from coast to coast. And oh how things have gone so terribly wrong this year that the panic button has been pushed in with no sign of being lifted up anytime soon.
The panic is a good thing though, because it at least tells you that people aren't used to feeling like this, seeing their team play like this and if you really want to worry about something, fear more the time when people won't pay attention to NU losing, because it will simply be no big deal. "That's the thing that scares me the most." Barrett said. "They day I am going to start getting depressed is when the fans don't say anything."
"I want the losses to hurt. They should hurt."
And they do. Most any fan of Nebraska would tell you that at this time right now, their pain is mind-numbing from a spectator's point of view. To see a team that for the better part of 40 years has been the most consistent winner in college football history stumble if not collapse, the pain is all too real, but matched by this feeling that there is yet more pain to come.
Texas A&M looms on the horizon. A resurgent team with a newly found offense and the knowledge that they will be hosting Nebraska in one of the toughest houses to play in all of college football. For a team trying to right itself, especially concerning it's road-woes, this is a helluva place to get back on track. "The tradition down there is incredible." Ruud stated. "To win down there, you have to play your best football and that's what we have to do."
And can Nebraska play it's best football on the road at one of the toughest road games in the country? And if they do, will that even be enough to win? "I don't look at the losses we have on the road." Barrett said. "It's hard not to when everyone is bringing it up, but you can't spend time looking back. To get a win down there, it would be huge for us. It would help our confidence a lot and it would help to get this team back on track and get a win on the road."
Many are looking at the up-coming trip to College Station as yet another nail in the coffin. It's going to be another notch in the belt for teams that have been waiting for this moment for years and another notch in the noose around those who must shoulder the blame for having let it happen in the first place. It's seems almost ludicrous to talk about whether NU can win even if they play their best, but these are ludicrous times in Husker land, so the question remains.
"We don't go into games thinking about losing." Ruud stated. "We've never been like that and it's ridiculous to think that it will ever get like that here. We play to win."
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619