TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

Missing The Buzz?

So, how about those Huskers?
The Nebraska football team is several weeks into fall camp and, in fact, just 10 days away from opening the 2012 season.
That’s right, we’re just 10 days from Husker football action!

With a new gridiron season virtually here, hasn’t it seemed a bit quiet this fall? Where’s the buzz? Where’s the hoopla?
Oh, Fan Day had a good turnout once again at Memorial Stadium. The annual college preview magazines hit the newsstands long ago and there have been articles on the team in the state’s daily newspapers. I’ve caught a brief report or two on local television stations.
However, it just seems the normal level of anticipation has been lower, the excitement of an oncoming campaign lacking. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel that Big Red electricity in the air.
Am I imagining this, or has (gasp!) Husker fan fervor fallen a bit flat entering Bo Pelini’s fifth season? Seriously, I’m just not sensing the usual passion and overboard anticipation.

Perhaps Big Red fever will begin to spike next week. I guess that would be normal. But, hey, since when have Husker football fans been normal? Remember the glory days? Beginning weeks ago, talk around the state would have been all red, Big Red, all the time!
Is it possible that more than a decade of mediocrity has sapped some of the spirit from Husker Nation? That’s a startling – and unexpected – thought!
Even during the darkest days of Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan, offseason and preseason interest still seemed intense. First, the anticipation of the West Coast Offense coming to Lincoln. Then the recruiting buzz. Finally, the near-morbid fascination of how bad it could get before ‘the evil duo’s” heads were put on the chopping block.
Of course, Bo’s arrival in 2008 was big news and, as he quickly turned Billy C’s ballyhooed recruits into several of the finest Blackshirt units ever, hopes skyrocketed. Then, the shocking departure from the Big 12 and the A&M debacle, followed by last year’s trumpeted inauguration into the Big Ten. All creating plenty of buzz.

Which brings us to season five under Bo. Four years of at least nine victories (not what that once meant under TO, with the expanded schedule), but also four years of four losses. No national Top 10 finishes. Only one Top 15 ranking. A crushing – dare we say humiliating – bowl loss to conclude a disappointing 2011 campaign that included ugly beatdowns by Wisconsin and Michigan and – who’d a thunk it? – a defeat at the hands of not-so-mighty Northwestern – in Memorial Stadium, no less!

Has it all taken the air out of Nebraska’s sails? Have Husker fans begun to expect the program to merely patrol the the placid waters of mediocrity? Have we come to fear having our Big Red hearts broken again, preferring to keep a lid on long-bubbling championship hopes?
Is that why it has seemed quieter than usual?
Actually, this may be a good thing. Maybe sneaking up on the pack is the answer to Nebraska returning to its once-accustomed place in the pantheon of college football.

Pelini does not exactly embrace the media (now there’s an understatement!). He prefers to go about the business of coaching and isn’t really interested in fans getting “the inside scoop” on his team.
We’ve heard the reports about Taylor Martinez’s summer work with a QB guru, improved footwork and passing goals. There was the brief controversy of Tyler Moore, the first true freshman offensive lineman to ever start at NU, bolting the program. There have been snippets of info about new linebackers and some impressive freshmen defensive linemen.
Not a lot else. Preseason polls have Nebraska somewhere in the lower half of the second ten. The Huskers are generally picked to finish third – third! – in the Big Ten Legends Division. And I haven’t heard a lot of fuss and frustration about it!
Pelini and his team are going about their business, preparing for Southern Miss. Husker fans seem to be taking a wait-and-see, show-us attitude.
Yes, that may indeed be a good thing.
This is a program that has to learn how to “win big” again. And it’s been chasing that lesson through a myriad of distractions. Conference angst and changes. Goodbye vendettas. New foes and faces. Coaching changes, along with system and strategy shifts. Almost a running soap opera at times.
Now, quiet. Is a Big Red storm brewing behind it?

There are no Suhs, Amukamaras, or Davids. Depth might still be an issue. But, overall, considering both sides of the ball, this might be Pelini’s most-talented roster. There is game film on Big Ten opponents, a growing comfort level in the new league. Bo should be more confident in his staff. Players are more familiar with systems.
Is it a quiet confidence emanating from North Stadium? Are Husker fans simply picking up on that vibe after past seasons of tumult? Could that lid over expectations be ready to blow sky high again?
I don’t think fans have lost their passion. Football is still much of who we are in Nebraska. Maybe there’s more caution. Maybe it’s just the effects of a brutal, but short summer. Heck, maybe it’s my imagination.
It’s nothing a few Rex Burkhead heroics, a couple of Daimion Stafford “slobberknockers” and a string of early victories won’t alter.
Consider … a 4-0 record with the Wisconsin Badgers coming to Lincoln on a late September Saturday night.
NU gets there, I guarantee it’ll be anything but quiet in Husker Nation!