CHICAGO –– Hype is a tricky thing. At least it is for Nebraska as it enters 2019 as something of a division favorite in the Big Ten West. This is especially true at media days, an event that exists solely for the hype that it may build.
“I just don’t get it when people ask me about the hype,” said Mohamed Barry, linebacker and emotional leader for the team that Big Ten media members picked to win the division. “We went 4-8 last year. If anyone on the team thinks that we’re rock stars right now and we haven’t proved nothing, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.”
I say something of a division favorite because the votes are close. Really close. What we’re really seeing here is a crowded field. Look around a bit and you can find nine-win predictions for Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Iowa and Purdue have been predicted as high as second and as low as sixth in the preseason magazines. It’s a jumble.
But because the Huskers have some first-place votes and because they are still the historical heavyweight of the group and because, as Barry noted, they went 4-8 last year, that gets easily classified as hype. It’s the perfect hype storm, really. Usually all you need is a lofty prediction for a team coming off a downer of a season. Add in a brand name and it only bolsters the sense that something here is unearned. Brand names do always get the benefit of the doubt when they appear to be close to comeback, which only adds fuel to the fire.
Even Athletic Director Bill Moos, an accomplished hype man when that’s the tool for the job, was downplaying things a bit. Rather than bluster, the message was just get better. Six wins, a bowl game, that’s the first step.
Scott Frost laughed at that one a bit.
“I’m not sure any of us would be happy with six,” he said. “I’m not worried about the number right now, I’m worried about getting better. And we are better. I want our kids to have expectations, we’re just not going to talk about it much in the program.”
There’s a key word in there. It’s not “better,” but “expectations.” That’s entirely different than hype, but when you’ve been where Nebraska’s been for the past two decades you have to jump through the hype hoop first. You have to earn back the right to have expectations, not internally but externally.
The media and people who predict things––the progenitors of hype? the conveyors?––don’t have expectations for Nebraska any more. Hype is as good as it gets for now. Expectations, long the norm at Nebraska, are what you get after you’ve delivered on the hype.
That’s not the Huskers’ problem, but is what they were asked about most in Chicago. How those players handled those questions was perhaps the best indication that expectations might only be a year away.
They’re already there on the inside. It’s probably the best way to be sure the hype remains on the outside.
“We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder, Barry said. “We feel we have everything to prove every game and that’s what we’re going to bring.”
It’s the sort of thing you hear often at events like this, but you have to decide when it’s real and when it’s not.
I know where I fall heading into 2019.
I don’t know if Nebraska will win the division, but I’m growing increasingly confident that they’ll be worthy of the hype, however you measure that.
Maybe the way to measure it is if Frost’s holiday wish comes true.
“I don’t want to have another Christmas at home until I’m retired,” he said.
I wouldn’t bet against that at this point. You? If you had to bet right now, do you think Nebraska will miss a bowl game during the rest of Frost’s tenure, however long that is?
Maybe that’s just more hype, but that’s temporary.
Eventually it becomes an expectation.