Each of Nebraska’s three seasons playing Big Ten football has come with similar results.
NU's overall record included nine wins in 2011 and ’13 and 10 wins in 2012. But the Huskers are stuck on four-loss seasons. There has been one Big Ten Championship Game appearance, losing to Wisconsin in 2012, adding to the well-documented stretch without a conference title for the program.
Practice begins Monday evening. So for now, it’s talking season, with no games to play, and Nebraska players feel they can finally break through in the Big Ten.
In a media poll, Nebraska was picked to finish third in the new West Division, behind Wisconsin and Iowa.
That’s just fuel for the fire, NU's Jordan Westerkamp says.
“I can’t stand when people try to tell us you can’t do something or you’re not good enough. We just use it as motivation,” the sophomore wide receiver said.
“Our goal is to win the conference championship, and the national championship — that’s our goal, that’s what we want to do at the end of the day. It has been awhile, but we’re hungry and ready to go. This team is special.”
One guy not ready to make any bold predictions is defensive end Greg McMullen.
“Some guys make their money off bragging and doing all that good stuff, but it’d be kind of hard to back something up if you were to lose,” he said.
And some players and coaches say they take the season one game at a time, but surely do a little looking ahead at the schedule. That doesn’t appear to be the case with McMullen.
“I talk to a lot of my friends and they tell us about our schedule, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, we play that team?’” McMullen said. “Some people are like, ‘Greg, you’re a football player and you don’t even know who you play?’ It’s because I’m focused on camp, and we got Florida Atlantic. That’s all that’s on my mind.”
With a lot expected from Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell, Westerkmap wants the other wide receivers to consistently help keep the offense going.
“Kenny is our playmaker, and defenses will be keying on him a lot, so we’ll have to do our part as well to help take the pressure off Kenny,” Westerkamp said. “I know with Ameer running, that will help, too. We have a lot of options; a lot of weapons in our offense. We've just got to go out there and make plays, and we should be all right.”
On defense, 12 players with starting experience return, including the five leading tacklers from last season (Corey Cooper, David Santos, Randy Gregory, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson). It’s a mix of experience and talent that has sophomore defensive tackle Vincent Valentine expecting good things from the defense.
“Our talent is there … we got guys like Randy, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson at linebacker, Greg, Maliek Collins,” Valentine said. “We have DBs everywhere — LeRoy (Alexander) and Cooper and all those guys. We’re all talented and want to get after it and want to show how good we can be.”