Michigan State vs. Nebraska, 11.17

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost watches warmups before the Michigan State game Nov. 17 at Memorial Stadium.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

Tell me, Nebraska football fans, that you didn't ponder the following question as you watched Clemson beat Alabama earlier this month for all the marbles.

How close is Nebraska to being able to compete at that level?

"It's hard to say. The closest we've played to that is probably against Ohio State," Luke Gifford, a starting outside linebacker on the Huskers' 2018 team, said last week on the Husker Extra podcast. "This year, I felt like we were ... not far. We're almost there."

That's open to discussion, of course. After all, Nebraska finished 4-8. In the first six games, the Husker defense allowed 38.3 points per game as the team went 0-6. But in the final six games, the defense allowed 24.1 points as the team went 4-2.

One of those final six games was a 36-31 road loss to 10th-ranked Ohio State in which Nebraska accumulated more first downs and won the turnover battle. The Buckeyes finished the season 13-1, won the Big Ten championship and defeated Washington in the Rose Bowl. Some suggest their talent was on-par with Alabama and Clemson, or at least close to it.

Yes, Nebraska pushed Ohio State to the limit on that crisp November day. But hey, The Citadel was tied with Alabama 10-10 at halftime. Are the Bulldogs nearing the Crimson Tide's level? C'mon. On a given Saturday, even elite teams can be vulnerable.

So, the critical element in this discussion is consistency. Alabama and Clemson have achieved at such an elite level on such a consistent basis in the last six-plus years that Nebraska is merely among a large pack of teams pedaling hard just to keep the two top dogs in their sight.

If I were lucky enough to get Tom Osborne, John Cook, Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney together for a round-table discussion, among the first questions I'd ask would be: How did you get your teams to compete at an elite level on a consistent basis?

Consistent greatness is ultimately what Scott Frost is chasing at Nebraska — not upsets or near-upsets on random Saturdays or occasional great seasons, but sustainable success at an elite level.

In that context, Nebraska seems a ways away, although Gifford feels otherwise.

"Give (NU strength coach) Zach Duval a couple years — I shouldn't even say a couple — it's within reach soon," Gifford said.

I know what you're thinking: How about first winning the Big Ten West Division? Northwestern finished atop that group in 2018 with an 8-1 conference record, three games ahead of Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue. Nebraska was 3-6, including a 34-31 overtime loss at Northwestern.

"Nothing against Northwestern, but for them to be in the Big Ten championship game seems crazy to me," Gifford said. "That was one of the games I felt we were three touchdowns better possibly. Which is frustrating, but also shows we're right there and can easily be there soon."

Nebraska can indeed win the West Division soon. Perhaps in 2019.

But if "right there" means achieving consistent greatness that even approaches the level of Alabama and Clemson, well, Nebraska better keep pedaling hard and make sure all aspects of the program are hitting at a high level. That can be maddeningly elusive.

* Speaking of elusive, the great Bob Gibson apparently can be hard to pin down. Although he will be among seven people inducted Feb. 10 into the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame, the two-time Cy Young Award winner from Omaha likely won't be on hand for the annual banquet at the Country Cookin' Restaurant and Event Center in Beatrice.

The 83-year-old Gibson, who lives in Bellevue, hasn't responded to the Nebraska Hall's invitations in the form of letters, e-mails, personal contacts, the gamut. The former St. Louis Cardinals fire-baller apparently doesn't do a lot of personal appearances. Whether Gibson is on hand Feb. 10 or not, his accomplishments will be recognized, said Larry Bornschlegl, secretary-treasurer of the Hall.

All-time Husker great Paul Meyers, who played for the Beatrice Bruins as well as the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A affiliate, also will be inducted. It sounds like the banquet is a hoot. Tickets can be ordered through Bornschlegl at (402) 469-4789.

* Quick shout out to former Lincoln Journal Star sports writer Chuck Sinclair, who was our eyes and ears Saturday from the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sinclair, of course, watched Devine Ozigbo closely as he rushed four times for 14 yards and a touchdown.

"Wish Devine had been given more chances," Sinclair wrote. "He really looked impressive (physically) on the field. Like NFL caliber impressive. Extremely fast and very powerful. Given the opportunity, he will do very well. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t get an invite to the combine."

Cross your fingers. Ozigbo is doing the same, he told me last week.

* A bunch of guys in the best shape of their lives are playing basketball in four-minute bursts. Do you see any of Tim Miles' players asking to come out of games? Ever?

Could Nebraska use more bench production? Of course. Is it a code-red crisis? Far from it.

If a starter gets injured, then we'll talk.

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


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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