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The Long Way Home

This is not a story about comebacks.

As gut wrenching and heart-warming as those have been, there are only so many ways to try and explain the unexplainable.

Rather, this is a story about championships. Nebraska doesn’t have one yet. Hasn’t had a conference championship since 1999 but nobody needs to be reminded of that. Yet, with Saturday’s 32-23 win over Penn State, Nebraska put themselves on the brink of doing something most champions do.

Champions win all of their home games.

Here are some numbers for you: 33-2, 31-0, 31-2, 32-3, 30-3. Those are the combined home records of the last five champions in, respectively, the SEC, Big 12, Pac 12, Big Ten and ACC.

What’s one thing Bo Pelini has yet to do in his four-plus years at Nebraska? Go undefeated at home.

It wouldn’t be wise to assume Nebraska will win its final home game over a bowl eligible Minnesota next Saturday. Not when the improbability of this season’s comebacks leaves Pelini making jokes like this: “I’m going to call the Big Ten Conference and say ‘spot them 14’ and then we’re good to go. That’s about what we have to do.”

After the Huskers fourth comeback from a double-digit deficit – the most of any FBS team – maybe the only appropriate response from Pelini is laughter. I don’t have a problem with it, but this is not a story about comebacks.

It’s about winning at home, and that’s serious business.

Prior to last year, the Huskers had never finished any lower than in a tie for first in their division. The Huskers seemed to be on their way to a similar finish in 2011 when a home loss, this one to Northwestern, ripped control of the division from their hands. In 2010 it was Texas who put Nebraska in an early corner. In 2009 it was both Texas Tech and Iowa State. Missouri did it in 2008.

At times on Saturday, it looked like Penn State might do the same. Michigan had survived a scare at home against Northwestern earlier in the day to remain undefeated at home, meaning a Nebraska loss would’ve left the Huskers in a familiar position – hoping someone else would lose.

Winning at home – both today and next Saturday – means Nebraska won’t have to. Win at home and Nebraska’s in control. Win at home like you’re expected to do.

Home field has to mean something and, when Nebraska’s needed it most this season, it has. If the Huskers don’t rally from 17 points down against Wisconsin in front of a rowdy Memorial Stadium crowd, do they rally three weeks later on the road at Northwestern? Do they do it again in East Lansing? Are they even in a position to feed off that crowd again against Penn State?

Hard to say for certain but I got sidetracked – this isn’t a story about comebacks.

It’s about doing what good teams do. It’s what the 2001 team did. That’s the last Nebraska squad to finish out a home schedule undefeated. Winning out at home, including a victory over No. 2 Oklahoma, enabled Nebraska to withstand a season-ending loss to Colorado and, rightly or wrongly, still make the national title game.

Good teams can, and do, survive losses on the road. Very few teams survive losses at home. Of the 25 conference champions from the conferences mentioned above, 10 were able to sustain a loss at home and still win the title.

It’s possible that Nebraska could too, but, at this point, counting on even more improbabilities in a season full of them seems risky.

Better just to take care of it yourself. Better just to win your home games.

Nebraska’s taken the long way to get to this point, but the point is they’re here. Beat Minnesota and Nebraska’s undefeated at home.

It won’t guarantee the Huskers a trip to Indianapolis, but it is what championship teams do.