In another three days we can stop talking about the questions facing the Huskers in 2017 and start talking about the partial answers we receive each and every Saturday. But we’re not quite there yet.
And of the many questions that will be answered over the course of the season, the biggest one could take longer than that — Are the Huskers physical enough to win big in the Big Ten? To put it more plainly: Is Nebraska soft?
That question doesn’t come out of nowhere. Last year’s Iowa game, a 40-10 pasting, forced the issue. “Toughness” was the buzz word after that game, partly because then defensive coordinator Mark Banker mentioned it and partly because anyone with two eyes could see it.
Since then, I’ve heard that’s sort of “the book” on Nebraska in coaching circles. I know other people on our staff have heard similar things.
On Tuesday, Chris Schmidt of Hail Varsity Radio asked a guy who might know a thing or two about that — former Husker fullback Joel Mackovicka:
CS: The rep is out there that if you punch Nebraska in the face enough they’ll go away, and they have a chance to change that.
JM: Absolutely. And why wouldn’t that be the rep out there? Until you do something different, Chris, that is going to be the rep. That’s why that should piss off every player that puts on the uniform. That is not the reputation of Nebraska football. And that upsets me, that upsets all former players. People laid the foundation, and it was laid before I got there and it was sustained while I was there. You lay that foundation of “we’re Midwest and we’re the most physical, dominant team out there.” It starts with physicality. Any time you get that reputation that that isn’t what it is any more, that should upset you.
It is occasionally easy to dismiss thoughts like these because they draw on a time much different from today’s college football. I wouldn’t do that here for a couple of reasons.
One, Mackovicka knew exactly what Chris was referring to. His answer began almost before the question was over. Add another observation to the data log.
Two, it’s easy to say “you gotta be tough,” but here’s why I think we hear it come up in Nebraska so often — it’s one of things you can control. Football teams don’t really control much. Luck, injuries, bad breaks, a mysterious cases of the flu can all alter a season just slightly enough — maybe by a game or two — that the perception of that season’s success or failure changes drastically. Under Tom Osborne, one of those breaks might be the difference between winning the Big Eight and playing for a national title or simply going to a major bowl and finishing in the top five. The actual distance between those two outcomes is small, but the emotional distance is great. You can apply and adjust that scale to any team, and, to some degree, where any team lands on the scale isn’t totally in its control.
But toughness always is. That’s why it will always come up, but particularly in Lincoln where the success of just controlling effort is a proven model.
Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette previewed Nebraska’s season this week. At least I think it’s a preview. Maybe it’s a column. It became hard to tell with passages like this:
Nebraska’s last national championship was 1997. Nebraska’s next national championship will be …
Who knows, but quarterback Tanner Lee grabs the reins and now becomes UNL’s designated savior. Diaco fits that, too. Basically, any new face will most certainly lead the Huskers to the promised land. At least that’s the sell, year in and year out.
Right. That’s the sell year in and year out at every school where the fans care a lot. Auburn’s gaga over quarterback Jarret Stidham. Oregon’s sure Willie Taggart will be the guy to get the Ducks back on track. The fun of fandom is that it is a little wild and irrational.
But apparently when it happens at Nebraska it strikes a never across the river. I don’t expect fandom to be logical all the time, but I do prefer it in commentary.
The Grab Bag
- 4-star wide receiver Isaah Crocker is officially visiting Lincoln this weekend. (Premium)
- Wendy Anderson, the wife of Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson, reportedly had a successful breast cancer surgery on Monday.
- A bunch of equipment staffs are sending clothing to the Houston area.
- If I were to try to recap the day on the site yesterday, I’d need 200 more words. We published 12 stories. Lot of good stuff. Poke around and find something you like.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.