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Steven M. Sipple: An achievable standard for NU football; Badgers surging; and 'Horns reeling

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Scott Frost presser

Nebraska coach Scott Frost speaks to reporters Wednesday following practice at Memorial Stadium.

Things I know, and things I think I know: 

Someone remarked last week that it feels like Nebraska's football season is over already.

That's an awful feeling. But in the context of last week's mega-news in the program, coupled with the Huskers' paltry record (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten), it's easy to understand the sentiment.

If you're a Nebraska fan, you might have felt a degree of jealousy Saturday if you watched Iowa players joyfully carry the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy on their shoulders after they won a bare-knuckle Big Ten West Division brawl against Minnesota in Iowa City. 

If you're a Nebraska fan, you also might have spent your bye-week Saturday scouting Wisconsin's home win against Northwestern. By the middle of the second quarter, the Wildcats' defense clearly had no answers for the balanced Badgers. Meanwhile, UW's defense essentially dismantled Pat Fitzgerald's crew piece by piece. It was ugly.

Surging Wisconsin improved to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten, while Iowa raised its record to 8-2 and 5-2. The Badgers, however, control their destiny in the race for first place in the division, having defeated the Hawkeyes two weeks ago. 

As it all unfolded, I considered something a good friend suggested last week regarding expectations for Nebraska's program next season and perhaps even in future seasons. That is, it would be fair to expect the Huskers, at a minimum, to enter the last few weeks of the regular season in contention for first place in the division. That's happened only once (2016) in the past seven seasons.  

If Nebraska right now were consistently playing at the level of Wisconsin and Iowa, or even Minnesota (6-4, 4-3) and perhaps even Purdue (6-4, 4-3), it's likely that Husker coach Scott Frost wouldn't have had to essentially overhaul his offensive coaching staff, as he did last week. 

If Nebraska right now were in the hunt for first place in its division, there might still be some grumbling in the fan base, but the prevailing sentiment would be excitement for both the present and future. 

There's no question the program's expectations have dropped precipitously (and organically) since 2014, when Bo Pelini was fired with a 9-4 record. The Huskers finished 5-3 in the division that season, tied for second. In Pelini's seven seasons at NU, the Huskers three times played in conference championship games (twice in the Big 12 and once in the Big Ten).

Inside Scott Frost's restructured contract, which includes the potential to add an extra year

These days, however, you'll seldom hear Nebraska fans haughtily proclaim, "Our standards will never drop," a common refrain as recently as 2015.  

That's because Nebraska is now on its way to its fifth straight losing season and sixth in the last seven years. So, yeah, the expectations have had to be adjusted, at least temporarily and perhaps permanently. But next season — which will be Frost's fifth in charge at NU — it shouldn't be too much to ask for the Huskers to enter the final few weeks of the regular season with a chance to win the division. Am I right?

Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost speaks during a news conference on Wednesday.

In most seasons, that would mean Nebraska would have bowl eligibility wrapped up by mid-November. Next season, it would represent discernible progress in Frost's program, and likely would get him a sixth season at the helm. 

The Big Ten is a bear. It'll probably remain a bear. It's become apparent that Nebraska's long-held standard of yesteryear — nine wins as a birthright — can no longer be applied in a fair manner. 

So, just get to mid-November with a chance to win the division. Do it regularly. If Nebraska can manage that standard, it'll likely mean it's playing sound, hard-nosed football on a consistent basis. That's what Husker fans hunger for at the moment.

They long for meaningful games this time of year.

Steven M. Sipple: Frost handles critical moment well and other takeaways from media session

My heavens, those incredibly loyal fans have missed out on a lot of fun in recent years. 

* Wisconsin fans are having some fun because the Badgers, who play host to the Huskers this Saturday, have righted themselves with six straight triumphs. They have an excellent chance to make their fifth appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game since the conference went to West and East divisions in 2014. 

They're doing it with a lot of familiar faces. Receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis and tight end Jake Ferguson have been around forever.

They're doing it with elite defense. The Badgers rank first nationally in total defense, allowing only 211.4 yards per game. Georgia is a distant second at 245.9. What's more, UW allows only 55.7 rushing yards per game, which also leads the nation (the Bulldogs are next at 78.10).

They're also doing it with a rising star at running back. True freshman Braelon Allen, age 17, has reeled off six straight 100-yard rushing games. 

Good luck to defenders who try to arm-tackle the 6-foot-2, 238-pounder. He's already a good college back, but not necessarily a great one. If he keeps improving, he has a chance to be an elite back. 

* Big Ten "wow" statistic of the week: Entering the game at Iowa, Minnesota was rushing the ball 68% of the time, the most of any FBS program that's not a service academy. 

P.J. Fleck is doing excellent work in Minneapolis. Even so, he's now only 1-8 against Wisconsin and Iowa. 

Nebraska fans can relate, but probably aren't overly empathetic. 

* Big Ten "wow" score of the week: Rutgers 38, Indiana 3. The Hoosiers, ranked No. 17 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, fell to 2-8 (0-7 Big Ten) with their sixth straight loss. They turned it over six times against the Scarlet Knights. Yikes.

* Heading for home: Texas has dropped five straight games, the latest a 57-56 overtime decision at home against Kansas. The Longhorns could be headed for seven straight defeats to end the season, with games remaining at West Virginia and against Kansas State.

I say with great certainty that Nebraska fans are unsympathetic.

* High-five to Kansas coach Lance Leipold, formerly an on-campus recruiting coordinator at Nebraska during the Frank Solich years.

The 57-year-old Leipold has a lot of friends in our neck of the woods who were "Rock Chalking" into the night Saturday.


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Husker sports 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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