Rutgers vs. Nebraska, 9/23/17

Nebraska coach Mike Riley greets defensive back Antonio Reed before the game against Rutgers earlier this season.

GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star file photo

Novel ideas are golden. They can provide a jolt of energy.

Here's one for Nebraska football fans, as suggested by a co-worker: Enjoy the rest of the season.

We know, easier said than done.

Nebraska's 2017 season in many ways has been a long, tiresome slog. To a large extent, Husker fans already had entered "no fun zone" by the end of September.

My unsolicited advice: Fight the feeling of drudgery. Fight it with every fiber of your being. The season is supposed to be fun. You know, hip, hip, hooray fun. On Saturday, when Nebraska plays at Minnesota (11 a.m., FS1), concentrate on somehow appreciating the final three regular-season games, on living in the moment instead of throwing all your energy into what could happen Nov. 25 or thereabouts.

Is that so hard?

New Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos says he's evaluating Mike Riley's program. Moos has offered nothing resembling a vote of confidence for the third-year Husker coach. The end of Riley's tenure feels inevitable. But let's stay in the moment.

If you bleed Husker red, that might mean pondering an Arnold Palmer quote: "Winning isn't everything. But wanting it is."

How badly do Nebraska players hunger for a "W" at this stage of the season with their primary goals dissolved?

The stage in this case is handsome TCF Bank Stadium. The crowd will be far short of capacity (50,805). Minnesota (4-5, 1-4 Big Ten) is an awful passing team. So, the Gophers will hammer away on the ground. It'll be relatively cold, blustery. P.J. Fleck's team will keep hammering. It'll be patient with the ground game because it has little choice.

Watch the second half closely. Watch to see if Nebraska defenders are playing with enthusiasm and flying to the ball. How badly do they want that "W?" Watch to see if Minnesota's physical style begins to take a toll on the Blackshirts mentally and physically.

That sounds sort of fun, right? That's a storyline to size up. But, yeah, it also sounds sort of bizarre that we're wondering whether Nebraska can hold up against Minnesota's run game. What in the name of Mike Rozier and Mark Schellen — Sha-boom! — has happened to the Husker program?

Forget the negative sentiment, though. We're concentrating on enjoyment. If Nebraska (4-5, 3-3) shows up to play well against Minnesota, the Huskers could generate at least a modicum of momentum entering next week's game at Penn State, where the Blackshirts will be tested by Saquon Barkley, one of the nation's best players.

You naturally wonder about Penn State's level of interest since it's been virtually eliminated from the national championship race. You also wonder if we'll see the best of Barkley or a Barkley who's thinking more about NFL riches than laying it all on the line as his college career winds to a close.

You never rule out the possibility of Nebraska pulling off a massive upset. You know better than to rule it out because massive upsets provide grand theater to every season. Ask Iowa fans about that.

They stormed the field at Kinnick Stadium last week after the Hawkeyes throttled Ohio State 55-24. Nobody saw it coming, such a dominating performance by the boys in black and gold. They'll come to Lincoln on Nov. 24 bent on adding to Nebraska's misery.

Iowa's won three of the past four games in the series. Will the Huskers push back harder this time or continue to let the Hawkeyes and the Badgers of Wisconsin push them around the playground? There's some intrigue in that discussion, right?

Right?

Let's stay in the moment, though. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will be nervously chewing his gum on the sideline Saturday at eighth-ranked Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0). The Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3) will be trying to topple top-10 teams on back-to-back weekends for the first time since 1958.

"I do think one thing we saw against Ohio State was our offensive line matured a little, and that certainly helped us come along in all phases of our offense," Ferentz told Mark Packer this week on SiriusXM (channel 84).

Ferentz's respect for Wisconsin was evident.

"There's just a culture there. They've developed it. It doesn't happen by accident," Ferentz said.

Meanwhile, it's become difficult to feel good about the culture in Nebraska's program, especially if you base it on what you've seen in games, when it matters most — as opposed to basing it on the offseason fluff that has largely come to define the current program.

I'll cool my jets. This is supposed to be a fun discussion for Husker fans, so here goes nothing:

Nebraska 27, Minnesota 21.

Try to enjoy it.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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