The history’s been a lot of fun this week, but none of it has offered a reason to believe in Nebraska.
If you can believe it, since Tom Osborne handed over the captain’s chair of the Husker bridge, the most successful occupant of it has been Frank Solich, his successor.
Five of the seven teams Solich guided in Lincoln won at least 10 games. Between Mike Callahan, Bo Pelini, Mike Riley and Scott Frost — 17 seasons before this one — the Huskers have won 10 games three times, all during Pelini’s seven-year stay.
This season, Nebraska has lost (30-22) to an Illinois team projected to finish last in the seven-team Big 10 West; beaten Fordham (51-7), which won four games the last time it played a full FCS, not FBS, schedule and beaten Buffalo (28-3), which has been projected to finish fourth in the six-team MAC East.
Still, though there may be no reason to believe in the Huskers, they are, at least, a real team, which means the Sooners have a second chance to play a great game against a real team and maybe lay down a marker about who they think they are, and who the plan to be.
That’s the opportunity today and it’s a real thing. If Oklahoma’s not a pretender, it can begin to make the case.
The two heads that run the Sooner offense and the defense know it, even if only of them is willing to say it so starkly.
“There’s a lot of plays from that game the other day that we didn’t do very well, that we were successful on because we’re better players,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said. “Our guys can look at it and say, ‘Well, coach, I was successful … even though I didn’t quite do this, it still worked.’ We know the margin of error is going to get smaller as we go.”
When defensive coordinator Alex Grinch had the chance to speak this week, he made his point with a torch. The question was about his linebackers.
“We have high expectations for them as well, we have high expectations for the interior defense,” he said. “Any time a guy’s a returning player, we expect you to be a different dude than you were the year before, and thus far I don’t see a different Brian Asamoah, I don’t see a different David Ugwoegbu, I don’t see a different DeShaun White, and that’s a challenge to them.”
That took care of the linebackers, but to be sporting, Grinch kept going.
“I haven’t seen a different [safety] Pat Fields. I haven’t seen a different [nose tackle] Perrion Winfrey in my opinion. I haven’t seen a different [defensive end] Isaiah Washington.”
Just about every likes to put a polish on their negative public comments. Grinch may be the only one who goes the other way and both the honesty and the out-front high expectations are refreshing.
You wonder if that might raise his value as a future head coach or decrease it.
As to this week, along with Riley’s more cautious points, the message is clear.
At the very least, Nebraska will bring real FBS football players, real FBS athletes and, likely, high confidence given its last two results, no matter who they came against.
The Sooners think they’re something? Now’s a time to show it.
Historically, it is not OU’s method of operation. Historically, what the Sooners like to do is lose a game they should never lose, or play games that shouldn’t be close very close, frequently falling apart after the half despite holding on to win. Then, after all the hand-wringing, it all comes together November, just not quite as well as it might have had it began from the start.
OU’s not just trying to finally get to the table only Alabama and Clemson have recently occupied, it’s trying change an old narrative, a narrative that persists even in the face of six straight conference crowns.
The history of this game today is fabulous. Also, the Sooners can take a real step, right now, and begin to accelerate their future.