CHICAGO — We're now neck deep into talking season in college football.
So let's talk goose bumps.
Tell me, Nebraska fans, that you don't get them as you imagine what it's like to be a player running out of the tunnel before kickoff at Memorial Stadium.
Close your eyes. Think about it.
"Coming out of that tunnel is like you're on the biggest roller coaster imaginable and right before you drop, you have that feeling in your stomach that it's about to drop," Husker senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis said Thursday during Big Ten Media Days at Hilton Chicago.
Only the sensation in your stomach is replaced only by a rush that produces "the best feeling you've ever felt," Davis said.
"That would be close to what walking out (to the field) at Memorial Stadium feels like," he said.
Davis praises Nebraska fans as being "the greatest in America." The sellout streak that dates to November of 1962 obviously suggests a high level of loyalty. Davis literally feels that loyalty. And although he didn't say it explicitly, you know intuitively he would embrace the notion of rewarding that loyalty with a special season in 2019, perhaps one that ends with the Huskers playing in the Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
There's little chance of it happening without significant defensive improvement. You don't have to be Joel Klatt to understand that. After all, Nebraska last season ranked 94th nationally in total defense and 96th against the run. Husker senior middle linebacker Mohamed Barry identified stopping the run as "job No. 1" as far as where the Blackshirts need to improve.
So, turn the spotlight on the Nebraska front seven. That's where it has to start. Barry feels that's where it will start in large part because of a deep and experienced line that was bolstered in the offseason by the arrival of graduate transfer nose tackle Darrion Daniels.
"He's a true nose guard," Barry said. "We didn't even play with a true nose guard last year."
Nebraska players believe Daniels' presence is critical to improvement.
"Now those (offensive guards) can't just free-release to me or the other linebackers," Barry said. "We had to deal with that last year a lot — the free-releasing guards. Sometimes they didn't even care, they just came right up to us. We're supposed to do our job and defeat a block no matter what. But it makes it way easier on the inside linebackers (if offensive linemen are unable to free-release)."
Have we mentioned that it's talking season? It's the time of year when many fans scour preseason magazines for nuggets to enhance their optimism. Nebraska fans may have noticed something in Lindy's preseason magazine that's germane to this discussion. Lindy's lists the Huskers' top five NFL prospects in 2019 and get this: All five are in the front seven on defense.
Khalil Davis tops the list and is joined by twin brother Carlos Davis, also a defensive lineman. Others who made the list are Barry, Daniels and junior tackle Ben Stille.
Perhaps that helps explain why Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is optimistic in defensive improvement — yes, even against teams with pounding ground games.
"I think at times we did really well against the run last year, and at times we didn't," Frost said. "The strength and conditioning is going to take care of a lot of that, I hope. We also need to be able to adjust some things defensively. I think they've been working on that. It's a completely different scheme when you're playing someone like Ohio State and they're in three or four wide (receivers), and then you get into games against Iowa and Wisconsin where they're going to have tight ends on the field and pack the box and run it at you.
"As we get more depth and more versatile and more athletic (on defense), I think we'll be able to adjust and adapt better. But I think our team physically is going to be more equipped to take those things on."
Khalil Davis also expresses confidence. He's certainly aware of the many media entities predicting Nebraska to win the Big Ten West Division. He just doesn't pay it much mind.
"We see it, but we don't talk about it because it's earned," he said. "We want to earn it. Once we earn it, then we can talk about it."
Davis feels that a second year in Erik Chinander's defensive system will be beneficial. With greater understanding of assignments comes added confidence.
Davis also expresses confidence in defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, who joined Frost's staff in late February.
"He's very technical, and we like that," Davis said of the former Cal assistant. "He goes over the same stuff every day. It gets boring. But it's what we're going to need in November when you're tired and your body's hurting. Your technique is going to save you."
A few pundits at Big Ten Media Days broached the possibility of Nebraska playing Iowa in Lincoln on Nov. 29 with first place in the West Division on the line. We'll see. The Hawkeyes are expected to be strong up front this year on both sides of the ball. The Huskers should be tired of being bullied by their border rivals. Perhaps Davis and company will bow up in a big way.
Close your eyes and ponder the atmosphere in Memorial Stadium if Iowa and Nebraska are slugging it out for a division title.
Tell me it doesn't give you goose bumps.