LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska is starting preseason practice facing the same question: Is this the year the Cornhuskers make the next step?
The Huskers have been a model of consistency under Bo Pelini. They’re among just four teams that have won nine or more games five straight seasons.
But they also have lost each of the three conference championship games they’ve appeared in since 2009. They also have three straight bowl losses.
Offensive lineman Spencer Long grew up in the state and knows the fan base is restless after having gone 13 years without a conference title. It’s the longest drought since the program went from 1941-62 without a championship.
“Obviously, we haven’t been getting it done,” he said Friday. “Every single year we fail, the sense of urgency goes up even more.”
The Huskers will open practice Monday with one of the nation’s most experienced and dynamic offenses, led by fourth-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.
The concern is defense. Eight players who started at least five games last season are gone. The secondary looks solid, but end Jason Ankrah is the only veteran among the front seven.
There also is the matter of those big losses during last year’s 10-4 campaign — by 25 points to Ohio State, by 39 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and by 14 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
Senior defensive back Andrew Green said returning young players and newcomers in what’s been billed as Pelini’s best recruiting class could help make for a surprisingly strong defense.
“I feel like we’re real talented, probably the most talent we’ve had in a couple years from defensive line to linebacker and secondary,” Green said. “We’ve got linebackers that can run sideline to sideline and defensive linemen, too. If we’re on the same page, we can be a pretty good defense.”