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Capital One Bowl Press Conference, 12.31.21

Nebraska's Bo Pelini answers a question at the Capital One Bowl news conference at the Renaissance Orlando on Monday, Dec. 31, 2012.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Sometimes it seems those halcyon days of Nebraska football — mainly the early 1970s and mid-1990s — might never return.

Nebraska craves the big-dog status it once enjoyed consistently.

It has a ways to go.

It seemed that way last week listening to Husker junior offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles discuss his team's role as underdog for Tuesday's Capital One Bowl.

"It's something that we're kind of used to around here, I'd almost say," he said. "I don't know why, but I just feel like that's a feeling a lot around here sometimes."

His words perhaps struck a chord with anyone who remembers Bob Devaney losing only four games in his final four seasons as Nebraska head coach. Or Tom Osborne reeling off a 60-3 record from 1993-97.

We all know what has transpired since Osborne's departure following the 1997 season. It's become relatively common for the Huskers to be on the wrong side of one-sided games. It's no longer a shock to our systems.

Even so, it jolted me when Sirles said being an underdog "is something we're kind of used to around here."

Here's hoping Nebraska never gets too used to that role.

Here's hoping Husker fans never become overly comfortable with the narrative accompanying NU's bowl matchup against sixth-ranked Georgia.

Hardly anybody is giving No. 23 Nebraska a snowball's chance in you-know-where to win the game.

"That's the beautiful part about it," said Husker senior safety P.J. Smith.

In a sense, he has a point.

But what about those folks who think Nebraska will do well just to hang close to Georgia?

Is that what it's come to?

Smith said he hasn't heard such discussion. But it's out there. And it says a lot about how some folks have come to regard Nebraska football.

"I could care less what people say," Smith said. "It's about these guys on this team. We know what we need to do. People are going to say what they want to say anyway."

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It was good to hear the pride in Smith's voice. The deeper Nebraska settles into an underdog mentality, the tougher it will become to reverse course and regain a consistent spot among the nation's elite.

Being an underdog is cute. But it doesn't consistently fill 90,000-seat stadiums.

You have to go back to the Rose Bowl following the 2001 season to find a time when Nebraska fans felt as pessimistic as they do now about the Huskers' chances for a bowl victory. But let's not mistake Georgia for the 2001 Miami squad, which is regarded as one of the greatest teams in history.

Georgia (11-2) is excellent. It was seconds from earning a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. It pushed Alabama to the brink. Like Nebraska, Georgia closed the regular season with six straight wins.

The Bulldogs are an SEC big dog. But they aren't superhuman. They fell 35-7 at South Carolina. They won by five at Kentucky. They gave up 44 points to Tennessee.

So, why does it seem nobody is giving Nebraska (10-3) a chance?

Two reasons readily come to mind: SEC and 70-31.

The SEC carries the clout of six straight BCS national titles. The SEC's brand has never been stronger. Consequently, Nebraska has a great opportunity. Beating an upper-echelon SEC team would pump some needed vitality into NU's tarnished brand.

"It's a huge game for us," Smith said. "We have to have it."

The Nebraska-Georgia game is a fascinating study in psychology, especially as it applies to Nebraska. How will NU respond to its 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game?

Husker coach Bo Pelini should hope all his players carry running back Ameer Abdullah's confidence.

"The way I see it, if we come out and match Georgia's intensity, come out strong, it's anyone's ballgame," Abdullah said. "I don't think this team is better than us. I feel like we're better than them in certain areas. In certain areas, we have to get better to attack them.

"For the most part, I think we have an edge, honestly."

Georgia's offense is dangerous in large part because of its balance. The Bulldogs' defensive line is big up front and fast on the edges. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez likely will have pass-rushers buzzing around his head all afternoon.

Perhaps Nebraska can crank up its reliable rushing game (Georgia ranks 78th nationally in rushing defense). Maybe the Huskers can control the clock. On the other hand, a grind-it-out game isn't necessarily Tim Beck's style. But this might be a good day to take his foot off the pedal.

Underdogs usually have to play intelligently to win, or even hang close. Nebraska has come to understand that all too well.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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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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