This was the first weekend of the 2016 college sports season. Volleyball, and most exciting for me, Nebraska volleyball, had a big weekend, with the Huskers dominating Florida and Texas, both preseason Top 10 teams. The Big 10 as a conference was almost as successful.
College football begins in earnest next week. This should be a time of unbridled optimism for college football fans. That’s the way it’s supposed to be on opening day. I wish Nebraska fans felt that, it’s not the case. It’s a strange experience and not one I want to accept. I went into the Big Red Etc in North Platte yesterday, looking for the new merchandise, hoping there would be an original, clever t-shirt. My thinking was that it was time now to get my game face on. I found nothing.
It seems symbolic. We want to find that enthusiasm, the hope, the belief that we are Husker Nation and that we believe in our team and ourselves. I really want to believe. Yet when I was asked last week if I was ready for a new season, I could say “yes, but . . .” and then I had trouble finding the words. It’s hard to say I believe in the future, when our immediate past seems so disappointing. Why won’t the victories in 2015 over Michigan State and UCLA carry us through an off-season? They should, but they haven’t.
The last three weeks are a big factor. Keith Williams. Derrion Grim. The tragedy of Sam Foltz death. It’s too much, too much on top of a 6 win, 7 loss season. Tommy Armstrong’s interceptions. Purdue. Illinois. Even Bo. Go back further. Callahan. The Solich firing. The debacle in Boulder. I feel beaten down.
Where do I go to find the fire of a new season? I really want to feel it again. I don’t feel like I’ve lost hope. I don’t think I care any less. I really do believe in, and like, Mike Riley. I think he’s put together a quality staff. I think they are recruiting good players, upgrading the talent level (and we do need better players). I look at the schedule and see a minimum of eight wins. Eleven isn’t out of the question. Nine seems a reasonable expectation. This can be a good year, maybe very good.
We have a four year starter at quarterback who will own many passing records at Nebraska when he’s done. There are young potential stars at most positions and more talent visiting as recruits than we have seen for a long time, maybe ever, standing on the sideline. We still have the sellout streak. We are generally recognized as one of the blue-blood programs in college football, even if we haven’t won a championship in so long that the current players have little or no personal memory of one.
We are special. This is a special place. I could go into a detailed analysis of positions and scheduling, the conference, and match ups, but there are others who do that much better than I ever could. I could write about Tommy Armstrong penchant for locking on to one receiver and trying to force something that isn’t there. I could write about luck and confidence and momentum. I could wonder why Lee Barfknecht needs to write about toughness and somehow include Connie Yori in the discussion. Sometimes I just don’t understand what’s happening.
But it’s that time of year. Strike up “Hail Varsity.” Say “Hello, how are you?” to the people in the stadium that I haven’t seen for nine months. It’s a great time of year.
So next Saturday, when I smell runzas and hot dogs, when I hear the band, when I see the Sea of Red and stand and sing and clap and watch the tunnel walk, all those traditions that have built a lifetime of memories for me, I hope I’ll find that belief in myself, because that’s where it must first be. The coaches will have it. The players will have it; of that, I am totally confident. I hope I’ll believe also.