"It amazes me that anybody could ask that question," Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini responded when asked about what his guys would be playing for the rest of the season.
The Cornhusker football team's championship hopes effectively ended Saturday with an ugly, 45-17 loss to the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House, and naturally, when the Huskers lose big, Husker Nation goes into a frenzy.
During Monday's press conference, Pelini fielded questions that ranged from topics like next week's Iowa game to whether the Nebraska football program has improved since Pelini was announced head coach following the disastrous 2007 season.
Pelini was understandably testy with questions like the latter, summing his opinion up by saying, "I don't care about the perception. The program has come a long way."
The fact that anybody would be questioning the state of the program under Pelini after one four-touchdown loss to a very good team is ridiculous.
In 2011, the Huskers have won eight of 11 games despite being stuck with a tough schedule, and there are still two more games to go. If they can bounce back to beat Iowa at home and then win their bowl game, they will have achieved their third 10-win season in a row under Pelini.
The head man already has 37 wins to his name, and such a finish would leave him with 39 wins in four years as head coach, compared to 27 for the man whom he replaced.
Beyond that, the Huskers have so many new and young pieces on both the team and the staff that astounding success may not have been a realistic goal this season. Those changes include a new offensive coordinator, new linebackers and secondary coaches, an additional offensive line coach and a handful of shuffled responsibilities.
Three of the top four receivers had a combined one catch in 2010; the back-up running back was any one of three true freshmen; the offensive line started three or four different players who hadn't played at all in 2010, including one true freshman; the starting quarterback was a sophomore learning a brand new offense; the defense lost three outstanding playmakers from the secondary; and the team's top defensive lineman was injured halfway through the season.
Need I say more?
The Huskers looked great at times year (see Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State in the second half) and bad at other times (see Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan). Inconsistency was the name of the game. Based on the new coaches, new scheme and new players, that's something that should have been anticipated.
But that doesn't mean this team didn't make any progress. In fact, they made a lot of progress.
Nebraska's football program is brimming with potential right now, and a strong end to this season could help them carry momentum over to 2012.
That starts this Friday against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have had a disappointing season themselves but have shown a penchant for pulling off the upset. Just ask the Michigan Wolverines.
If Nebraska can survive at home, they will go into their bowl game with nine wins and the opportunity to build confidence leading into next season. Pelini and the Huskers still have plenty to coach and play for.