This is the question all of Husker Nation are asking themselves and others. What is this "it" factor? Nebraska hasn't played with the "it" factor since the late '90s. Frank Solich couldn't seem to corral "it," and Bill Callahan clearly failed in his four years as Nebraska's head coach to get a real grasp on what the "it" factor is all about.
To an outsider, "it" sure seems to be a bunch of Husker Hokem. But to those who know "it," those who have been around the program and those that have cheered for this program, I think they know what I mean.
During Nebraska's run to three titles in four years in the mid-'90s, the entire team seemed to carry this "it" factor. From the head man T.O. to the fourth and fifth string walk-ons who may have never even run down on a kickoff, "it" was there. "It" was tangible, and you could feel "it" in the way the Huskers competed and went about their business.
Some of the best Husker teams displayed this "it" factor on the field by being relentless, physically dominating, and playing with heart and soul that drove the team to the heights of the '90s. That "it" factor could be seen in the swagger and the confidence that Nebraska stepped on the field with.
Opponents could feel that "it" factor in Memorial Stadium. Opponents knew, win or lose, that they were in for a physical battle unlike anything they had seen—from the O-line and running backs punishing defenses to the way the Blackshirts played as if their hair was on fire.
Most glaringly, Callahan's defensive teams at Nebraska, especially in 2007, had completely lost their "it" factor. Teams were no longer scared of the Blackshirts. The '07 edition of the Blackshirts seemed to be passionless, uninspired, and at times, a soft defense.
I won't lay blame at anyone's feet for this, but it often appeared that the defense had just given up. I think any reasonable Nebraska fan can accept a loss, even a exceedingly bad loss, as long as it appears that the team plays with passion and heart, is physical, and never gives up.
Often times this "it" factor oozes from coaches and inspires kids to play hard for them and to run through a brick wall. T.O. had that "it" factor, as all great coaches do. They inspire and motivate their players to reach heights that they didn't think were reachable.
I believe that Bo Pelini is a coach with the "it" factor. He will inspire and motivate the Huskers to play at a peak of excitement and aggression—anything less will not be acceptable. Pelini also understands that this "it" factor can come from the players themselves and groups of players.
For decades, in-state walk-ons injected much of the program with the "it" factor. They would do anything for the chance to wear that white helmet with the block letter "N." Under Callahan, the walk-on program was largely ignored and eliminated.
Outsiders will call this "Husker Hokem." They say, "How is it possible for a non-scholarship player to make any real impact, other than be a scout team player?"
Well, it is in the way that these walk-ons participate in the program, how hard they play, and the effort they put forth that rubs off on other players. Scholarship players see this and note how hard and fast they go about their business, and it does motivate every player to be at their best at all times.
One of the first things Pelini did upon taking the job at Nebraska was make attempts to reconnect with in-state high school coaches and make it clear that walk-ons would again be a large part of Nebraska football.
Pelini's first recruiting class included 30 or so recruited walk-ons. Most of these kids are players that gave up full rides to other schools for the chance to wear that Nebraska helmet.
Some of these kids will work hard for five years, and the most they may ever do during a game is get a chance to run down on kickoff coverage. But these kids will work hard for that one opportunity to do just that.
Through Pelini's own attitude and his level of understanding of what has worked in the past in Lincoln, I believe the Huskers will be fine in time. I am not predicting a BCS bowl this year, or even next, but given time the Huskers will reign again with Bo at the helm.