The Nebraska Cornhuskers took the field in Orlando hoping to upset the Georgia Bulldogs and bury the memory of their dismal Big Ten Championship Game showing. But instead, the Big Red only produced a 60-minute microcosm of their 2012 campaign.
Husker fans’ sentiments toward this year’s team, and more specifically, head coach Bo Pelini, have oscillated between cautious optimism and wild depression all season long.
At times, Nebraska has looked like the team many had hoped for, stifling opposing passing attacks, defending the run sufficiently and consistently putting up big points on the scoreboard.
Yet at many other times, the Huskers were living their worst nightmare as they turned the ball over, suffered special teams mistakes and defended in a way more indicative of a doormat than the traditional Blackshirts.
The result of this inconsistency was another good but not great season under Pelini—just like the criticism that has begun to haunt his time in Lincoln.
As is the case with any other top-tier college football program, Nebraska expects and requires championships: divisional, conference, national.
There is certainly no shame in a nine or 10-win season. But in Lincoln, in the shadows of the Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne eras, close simply does not cut it.
On New Year’s Day, the Nebraska Cornhuskers offered a performance that perfectly summarized this close-but-not-quite-there quality of the 2012 Huskers and the Pelini era as a whole.
The offense frequently marched down the field against the second best team from the supposed best defensive conference in the country.
The defense came up with multiple big plays to swing momentum and put the offense in desirable situations.
And ultimately, this down-and-out group of Huskers, fighting the ghosts of that December night in Indianapolis, held a lead against a team that came up five yards short of a National Championship Game appearance.
Based on those facts, a Cornhusker fan could not help but be happy with the team’s performance.
However, this was unfortunately nowhere near the entire story.
The offense also turned the ball over at crucial junctures, the defense gave up multiple spirit-breaking big plays and Nebraska eventually lost their lead and the game, just as most expected.
In hindsight, there were a number of positives to take away from the Cornhuskers' Capital One Bowl performance. One can also play the game of what-ifs and consider how easily the game could have swung the Huskers’ way with a tackle here or a made field goal there.
But Cornhusker fans have been playing that game all year. All signs point to a team that is respectable, but not exceptional. In Lincoln, only one standard is accepted.