October 29, 2008

Huskers keeping season goals in perspective

On the heels of its first two-game winning streak in nearly seven weeks, there's definitely a renewed sense of confidence amongst the Nebraska football team at the moment.

However, as far how the momentum pertains to their postseason aspirations, the Huskers are definitely keeping things in perspective.

While some might have jumped to the conclusion that wins over Iowa State and Baylor were the starting blocks for a run to the Big 12 Noth title run, the players and coaches know they still have a steep hill to climb before they can begin thinking about that mountain top.

"I don't really worry about where we are right now and all that," head coach Bo Pelini said. "We're taking it day-by-day, week-by-week, trying to get better as a football team and as a football program every single week. At the end of the year, all the other things will take care of itself.

"We're at a stage right now, and I've said it before and I'll say it again, we're a work in progress. We're trying to fix some things and get better every week."

Nebraska certainly has good reason for not jumping the gun about a potential trip to Kansas City in December for the conference championship. First off, the schedule is anything but a cakewalk for the rest of the season.

Obviously a trip to Norman, Okla., is the first major roadblock - if not the biggest. The Huskers enter Saturday's game with the No. 4 Sooners as 21.5-point underdogs, and haven't beaten OU in their past three meetings.

After that, Nebraska (5-3, 2-2 Big 12) hosts once-ranked Kansas (5-3, 2-2), travels to take on Kansas State (4-4, 1-3) and then closes the season against rival Colorado (4-4, 1-3). While all three are winnable games, even a perfect run to end the year doesn't guarantee a North division title.

Because of a 52-17 loss to Missouri to open the conference schedule, NU must hope it wins out and the No. 14 Tigers (6-2, 2-2) lose at least one more game. Should the two teams finish with the same Big 12 record, the Tigers would hold the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head victory.

The rest of the way, Missouri has a trip to Baylor this weekend followed by Kansas State at home, at Iowa State and home against Kansas. In reality, the only major challenge the Tigers have left is their season-ending rivalry game against the Jayhawks.

As a result, this makes Nebraska's game against the Sooners essentially a must-win situation.

Still, the Huskers seem to be as confident as ever that they can play with anyone as long as they limit their mistakes and play their style of football. Until they're officially eliminated for the Big 12 title game contention, the Huskers are going to play the rest of the way with that goal in mind.

"I think we are definitely confident," junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "I believe in all the guys that I play around with and the guys that come in for us. There is no doubt that I think we can have a great game against them and definitely push them to the limits."

Even if their division title hopes do come to an end, the Huskers say they still take pride in the fact that they're even still in the discussion considering the way last season went. The in the first year under Pelini, Nebraska has at least shown it will fight to the very end every time they step onto the field.

Aside from the Missouri loss, the Huskers other two losses came with the ball in their hands and a chance to win in the final moments. Oh, and all three losses came to teams ranked in the top 25 at some point this season.

"We've had a tough schedule," senior defensive end Zach Potter. "We had the three-game losing streak. Through that time, the team became closer and came together more. You saw what we did last year when we got in those losing streaks compared to what we did this year. I think you saw this team grow and come together."

For now and through the rest of the season, Nebraska will remain focused solely on the next challenge it faces. Like they've done all year, the Huskers won't look any further down the road than their next opponent. With their Big 12 title hopes now completely out of their control, that's about al they can do.

"Every day's important for us right now in our preparation and where we're headed as a program," Pelini said. "I think that at the end of the year, hopefully we can say four or five weeks from now that we're a better team then than we are now. I think we can say that from the beginning of the year to now."

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