A man who played a central role in the Nebraska-Oklahoma football rivalry of yesteryear has an office just a few steps away from Cornhusker coach Bo Pelini. Has athletic director Tom Osborne given him any advice about what to do in Saturday's game in Norman, Okla.?
"He told me to win the game. He told me if I don't win, I'm fired," Pelini joked, prompting laughter from reporters at his weekly news conference Tuesday.
The kicker is that Osborne lost the first five games he coached against Oklahoma, finally winning in 1978.
"He's been away from coaching long enough, in his mind he didn't lose any," Pelini said.
Pelini is nine games into his first season at Nebraska (5-3, 2-2 Big 12) and, of course, there are no must-win games yet.The fourth-ranked Sooners (7-1, 3-1) are the third Top 10 opponent the Huskers will play, and their first eight opponents have a combined 38-25 record to date. Pelini said that for a program such as his in rebuilding mode, the stronger the schedule, the better.
"Any time you play good football teams, it helps you see where you are right now and where you want to get to," he said. "Texas Tech was a good test, and this will be a bigger test. In my opinion, this is one of the top three or four teams in the country when you talk about top to bottom. I would rather play Oklahoma than some Division II team."
The toughest stretch of the schedule came early, with consecutive losses to Virginia Tech, then-No. 4 Missouri and then-No. 7 Texas Tech. Nebraska has beaten Iowa State and Baylor since.
"We had the three-game losing streak there, and throughout all that, our team came closer and together even more," defensive end Zach Potter said. "I think you saw what we did last year when we got into those losing streaks, compared to what we did this year." The Huskers lost six of their last seven games in 2007, with those losses by an average of 24 points.
Pelini compares his situation at Nebraska to the one Bob Stoops had when he took over Oklahoma's program in 1999. Though Nebraska won the Big 12 North in 2006, the program mostly swooned in four years under Bill Callahan, posting losing records twice. When Stoops became the Sooners' coach, they were coming off five straight seasons of going .500 or worse.
Stoops was 7-5 and 5-3 in his first season. He won the national championship his second year with a 13-0 record. "Is that going to happen here? I sure hope so," Pelini said. "That's what we're working toward. I focus on where we are now and where we want to get to. We're not at the level I want to be yet, but I think we're getting better."
Pelini said the Huskers have a better chance to continue in that direction if they play a challenging schedule. In the Huskers' future are name opponents such as Virginia Tech, Fresno State, Washington, UCLA and Tennessee.Potter, a senior, said he wishes he could be part of those games. "They're going to play everybody and anybody, whenever," he said. "That's a great thing for this program."