Nebraska is not scared by these bright lights.
It’s a bit of a departure from the team’s modus operandi of the last 20 or so months. Opponents need to be nameless and faceless. The premise itself isn’t anything new — coaches across every sport have been preaching the core concept for years — but Scott Frost picked up the specific terminology at Oregon under Chip Kelly. Respect each opponent. Inside linebacker Mohamed Barry got at that last week when he answered a question about looking past Illinois by saying beating Ohio State means nothing if they lose to the Illini.
He’s right, to be fair. A loss last Saturday probably would have cheapened a win this Saturday. But Nebraska didn’t lose. The Huskers opened Big Ten play 1-0. That earned them a trip from ESPN’s College GameDay and the marque game of the week. A chance to make a win mean a whole heck of a lot.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes come to Lincoln in a few days and the moment feels tremendous.
When it comes to the game itself and the extra visitors, Nebraska’s players are talking the way their coach has taught them to.
“You just stay away from it,” Barry said when asked how he’ll deal with the extra media, extra attention and extra hype. “All of that is an illusion. None of it matters. All that matters is what you put on that field come Saturday. That's all that matters. Everything else is an illusion. Praise and blame is all the same. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, you just have to focus on what you have to do and when it comes Saturday you have to perform your best football. That's what matters.”
Added freshman wideout Wan’Dale Robinson: “We have a really good opponent coming in, but we’re not going to make it any bigger than it is. It’s another football game, it’s another Big Ten game, so we’re just going to treat it like we did Saturday. Go into the week, prepare right, and hopefully on Saturday come out successful.”
Former Oklahoma State grad transfer Darrion Daniels has played in plenty of big games. Bedlam each year between the Cowboys and the Sooners is, well, bedlam. It’s one of the biggest games on each team’s schedule regardless of record. Daniels has history with this and even he talked about working hard in practice throughout the week, then focusing on film Saturday morning instead of Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso.
But when it comes to what this all means? The Husker head coach has no problem taking a second to appreciate that.
“Our guys need to learn how to be comfortable in these situations. This is special,” Frost said Monday. “Regardless of how this game goes, this is a special time for Nebraska. There are some big things coming this week. GameDay hasn’t been here in 12 years. This is a good opportunity to highlight our program, the direction the program is going, the improvement we have made, the path that we are on. … Our guys need to be able to operate and flourish amidst whatever distraction brings along with it.”
That’s a coach telling people to get used to this. The traveling show has been at an Ohio State game every season since 2012. Get good, get GameDay. When Nebraska becomes the program it hopes to be, the GameDay bus will have its own parking spot outside Hawks.
The last time it was here was in 2007. Yours truly was in middle school. There’s a reason it hasn’t been back since just like there’s a reason this team and this game is what ends that run. In a lot of ways, ESPN’s crew descending upon Lincoln already has as much to do with the progress Nebraska has made as anything.
“It’s a tremendous recognition of the direction the program is going,” Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos said in a sit-down with Hail Varsity. “We’ve got to get Nebraska back to being Nebraska. We haven’t hosted GameDay in 12 years.”
Moos will be the first to say there’s still a lot of progress to be made, but if the growth already wasn’t obvious to those without a bulk of their closet being made up of scarlet and cream, GameDay wouldn’t be here.
“That’s happening because we’re starting to get back to being recognized as a contender and a program that’s going to come into its own shortly,” Moos said. “I think that’s all positive. The guys, though they need to stay focused on the task at hand, should feel good about the fact they’ve earned the right to get back on this stage.”
Frost joked there won’t be too many soundbites for the ESPN crew to gain from mic’ing him up at practice. “I don’t raise my voice much anyway so I don’t know how much good footage they’re going to get.” There are going to be distractions, but he doesn’t seem worried about them getting in the way of his team’s preparations.
“I never even noticed anything, it was practice and the games,” Frost said of his playing days. “A lot of this stuff is for the fans. People eat it up. The audience at GameDay is big for a reason because those guys are the best at what they do. But as a player, our guys certainly won’t be on set with Herbie [Kirk Herbstreit] and those guys. They are going to be getting ready for a game. I don’t think it will distract our guys or their guys too much.”
Standing on Zuppke Field in Champaign, Illinois, late last Saturday, Barry let himself get a little starry-eyed. GameDay is that thing you watched every Saturday morning growing up. This kind of game is the thing you play for. For most of the players, these are the types of games you come to a place like Nebraska for.
The opportunity at hand, Barry said then, is to show Nebraska belongs on this stage moving forward. That this wasn’t some predetermined thing before the season started. That this isn’t just because of a weaker slate of games.
“For a team like us,” Daniels said, “trying to prove ourselves and for a team to take that next step from being a decent team, to being a good team, to being an even better team, this is one of those opportunities where we have to see it and seize it, then take full advantage of it.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.