Nebraska Football: A Return to Normalcy Starts at Home
Across the air waves and all around the Internet, you'll find fans discussing what it will take for Nebraska football to return to its old form. People throw around terms like the "Nebraska Way," laud Osborne's return as athletic director, and praise new coach Bo Pelini's intensity and fire.
That's all fantastic, but it's just a bit too abstract for my tastes. Frankly, I think a return to form boils down to winning—and that starts with winning in Lincoln.
Almost Like Death and Taxes
There was a time when the Huskers winning at home in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln was one of the great sports "knowns." Consider this: Between 1980 and 1997, NU lost a total of seven games at home.
Seventeen seasons, seven losses at home. Stunning.
All of those losses were competitive games, and many came at the hands of eventual national champions.
Not impressive enough? Okay, in the 1990s NU lost three games in Lincoln. That includes an astounding 47-game home winning streak from 1992 to 1997.
More than anything, I believe this consistent winning at home generated the expectations fans have of the Huskers. Winning at home was the great metronome you could count on to pace the season's lofty goals.
Fans basically circled the tough road games and hoped for the best there. Winning at home was assumed.
In the face of those assumptions, home losses were killers for more than one coach.
Home Losses End Coaching Careers
Under Osborne, it took NU seventeen years to lose seven games at home. Bill Callahan took four years to lose eight games at home.
That, more than anything, was Callahan's undoing for many Husker fans.
From the loss to Southern Miss in 2004 (just his second home game!) to the very ugly blowout loss to Oklahoma State last season, Husker fans can't stomach losing at home. What good fan can?
As well, competitive losses to great teams (like Washington in 1992) are very different than the kind of home losses the Huskers suffered under Callahan.
It may be unpopular, but I have to make the argument that home losses were also part of ending Frank Solich's tenure as coach. Under his watch, NU had the aforementioned 47-game home winning streak snapped.
It had to end sometime, but the fact that it came in his first season as head coach—and in a pretty big upset (NU was ranked seventh at the time)—hardly endeared him to fans.
While Solich had a very solid home record overall, his home losses in 2002 and 2003 set kind of an ugly tone. The 2002 NU squad finished up a mediocre 7-7 due in no small part to two home losses, both in conference play.
Solich's 2003 team also lost an ugly game at home to Kansas State, ending years of Wildcat futility in Lincoln and sending Husker fans into the aisles. Many point to that moment as a backbreaker for Solich as NU's head coach.
Bo: Follow Bob Stoops' Example
Winning at home is the key to establishing dominance in the conference, as well as nationally. NU fans need look no further than our crimson cousin to the south for the best current example of this fact.
In nine seasons, Bob Stoops' coaching record in games played in Norman is...wait for it...54-2. Two losses—that's it.
If Bo wants to be great, he just needs to be a winner at home like his fellow Youngstown, Ohio native.
Say whatever you want about Stoops' record in BCS bowls. 54-2 at home...that's consistency, folks. That is the foundation for winning the division and the conference title.
Qualifying "8-4" Expectations
Let's spin this topic forward to the 2008 season. I have said before that my very informal straw polling of fans sets the expectations mark at eight wins and four losses for the Huskers this season.
Here's a hypothetical: What if all eight wins came at home, and all four losses came on the road? Would 8-4 still be satisfactory? Would it be more or less in line with what you want to see?
Winning all eight at home would mean wins over Virginia Tech, Missouri, and Kansas among others. That would be great to see.
But four road losses would mean NU would lose a game or two that some folks would consider upsets (Iowa State? Kansas State?).
Personally, I think I could live with this prospect. It would mean that fans could pass through Memorial Stadium's gates expecting to see a Husker win most every week.
That return to normalcy would be great.
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