Monday, November 28, 2011

9-3 is in the eye of the beholder

With Nebraska’s regular-season ending 20-7 win over Iowa having come and gone, Lincoln Journal Star columnist Steve Sipple posed the question of “how do you feel about the Huskers’ 9-3 season?”

It’s certainly not the end all, be all that comes from any fan over the age of 30 that truly remembers Nebraska winning national championships (five to be exact). Keep in mind, Nebraska won three in the 1990s and went 60-3 from 1993-1997. However, I have said for a long time that we, as Nebraska fans, had become so jaded because of the long run of success we had during the Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne eras that we had lost sight of the definition of success.

Winning a national championship is every team’s goal, but only one team gets to do it. Does that mean every other team failed? Certainly not. We’ve had more than our share of success and failures this season, but any time you win 75 percent of your games, especially in a meat-grinder of a conference such as the Big Ten, you’ve got to look at that as a success (at least on some level).

You have to remember what Nebraska had for a leader in the athletic director’s chair and where that leader took this program (namely Steve Pederson). We didn’t “gravitate toward mediocrity” under his leadership, we sprinted toward it.

Could the Huskers have done better in 2011? Certainly, short of going undefeated, teams can always do better. They crapped the bed against Northwestern and didn’t play well against Michigan or Wisconsin. In the grand scheme of things, though 9-3 is a pretty good season. Great season? No but it certainly beats the 7-5 saddle Iowa has to ride on.

Osborne made a living on nine win seasons in a conference where you had six blowout wins a year and one legit game against Oklahoma. Well, when the Sooners started to backslide that the legit games later became Kansas State and Colorado. In the Big Ten, there is quality at the top and lack of quality at the bottom but the quality in the middle is much better.

The nine win benchmark was what everybody pointed to when Frank Solich broke that streak with a 7-7 season in 2002. Now, we have Bo Pelini winning nine games for the fourth year in a row and people are mad. Those same people who point to the 1990s don’t remember the 1970s and 1980s. They only remember the 1970 and 1971 seasons ending with national crowns. They don’t remember that from 1972 to 1979, the seasons ranged between 9-3 and 10-2. Those same people also only remember the 1980s for the consecutive 12-1 seasons in 1982 and 1983. They don’t remember that the rest of that decade ranged between 9-3 and 10-2. They also don’t remember that it took nine years for Osborne to win a conference title; something Pelini has had Nebraska on the doorstep of doing twice in his four year span.

I recently went to an Oklahoma message board after they lost to Texas Tech and they were calling for Stoops head. One post read like this “If you want to win a conference championship every other year Stoops is your guy, but if you want to win a national title we need a new coach.” Really? It’s about the perspective of fans. We would be thrilled with a conference championship but I dare say if we won a couple of those our fans would then elevate their expectations to winning national titles and if we didn’t do that they would still want Pelini fired.

Look, there’s no way in hell I want to have Iowa’s standards. They’re happy with seven wins but do you hear Iowa fans calling for Kirk Ferentz’s head right now? Hell no because their standards are nowhere near ours (which is why they've never won a national title).

What people don’t seem to realize is that the days of Nebraska beating the living crap out of teams week in and week out are long since passed. College football has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The playing field is a lot more level than it once was when an elite list of teams like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State and others were dominant year in and year out. Northwestern isn’t the weak sister they once were because they’re now capable of playing at a more competitive level than they used to. Conversely, look at Colorado, they had risen up to an elite level not that long ago, and now they’re the Pac 12 doormat. Osborne averaged ten wins a year in 25 years as head coach, and there were a ton of 9-3, 9-2-1 seasons in that legendary era.

I remember in the early 1990s about how Husker fans had to make a choice whether we could be happy with nine wins a season with Osborne or hire somebody who can get us to “the promised land.” Well, a few years later, he got the Huskers to the promised land three times in four years, and it wasn’t until we got an underhanded sleeze of an AD like Pederson that the program fell from the elite.

Nebraska is back where it once was with nine wins a year, and I think it can get back to the promised land with the current setup. I appreciate those years under Osborne today more than I did at the time they happened, and I think the frustration of losses like those the Huskers experienced this year are far outweighed by the overall success and direction the program is now headed but beating Iowa was helpful.

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