OMAHA, Neb. (AP)—Leave it to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to start the week trying to tamp down the buildup for Saturday’s grudge match with Texas.
Cornhuskers fans have had this one marked on their calendars since last December, when—in their estimation—the Longhorns stole the Big 12 championship from Nebraska.
That’s just one of the delicious subplots for this game.
“What motivations there are, as far as the fans are concerned, you can chuck those out the window when it’s time to line up and play,” Pelini said Monday.
Pelini would have his hands full trying to calm the masses in Nebraska regardless of this week’s opponent.
The No. 5 Huskers (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) have their highest ranking since the end of the 2001 regular season. They’ve established themselves as Big 12 favorites in their final go-round before leaving for the Big Ten, and last week’s 48-13 win at Kansas State left them well-positioned in the national championship hunt.
They also have one of the nation’s hottest quarterbacks in redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and a defense that looks to be rounding into the dominant form of the 2009 unit.
As for the polls, Pelini pooh-poohs them.
“If we win a lot of games, good things will happen for us. I have confidence in that,” he said. “I don’t think about it any other way, to be honest with you. If you start thinking about any of that stuff, you’re going to get humbled really quick. My only concern is Texas and what we have to do today to win the next football game.”
While Pelini sticks to business, Nebraska fans and the media are 10 months into their pregame hype, dredging up real or perceived Texas transgressions dating to the Big 12’s infancy in the mid-1990s.
The bottom line is that the Longhorns have won eight of nine meetings with the Huskers, starting with a stinging victory in the 1996 Big 12 title game that knocked Nebraska out of the running for a third consecutive national championship.
Last year’s game hurt as much or more. The Huskers appeared to have the Longhorns beat 12-10, but one second was put back on the clock after Colt McCoy threw out of bounds, just enough time for Texas to kick the game-winning field goal.
Saturday’s game became even bigger once the Huskers accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten in June. It’s their chance to beat the Longhorns on their way out of the conference.
Texas (3-2, 1-1) comes to Lincoln after back-to-back losses to UCLA and Oklahoma, and is out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2000. The Longhorns haven’t lost three straight in the regular season since 1997, the year before Mack Brown’s arrival.
“The coaches and players over there have a lot of pride,” Pelini said. “They’ve won a lot of football games for a long time. They’re going to come out firing. We understand that and know that’s going to be the case. We have to be ready to match their intensity, execution and be ready to go earn it on the field because it’s not just going to happen.”
Martinez began drawing attention as a Heisman Trophy candidate after accounting for 369 yards in last week’s road win over Kansas State. He carried 15 times for 241 yards with touchdown runs of 14, 35, 80 and 41 yards. He also was 5 of 7 passing for 128 yards, including a 79-yard scoring strike.
Martinez’s 241 rushing yards set a Nebraska quarterback record and were the eighth-most in school history.
“I think they’re as good as anybody in the country right now and have a chance to win all their games and play for a national championship,” Brown said. “They were super on defense last year and everybody knew that, but they didn’t have the explosive plays on offense, and Taylor brings them unbelievable plays.”
The defense shut down K-State star running back Daniel Thomas, with linebacker Lavonte David following up his 19-tackle performance against South Dakota State with 16 more against the Wildcats.
“Believe me, I understand we’re doing some things well,” Pelini said. “But there are a lot of things we need to fix if we’re going to meet all the challenges that lie ahead, and that starts this week with Texas.”
Pelini didn’t answer directly when asked in what areas his team could improve, other than to say the “casual observer” wouldn’t notice them.
“People are really uninformed on where we are,” he said. “They don’t watch the same films we watch. They aren’t privy to the things, the meetings, that show where we really are and the need there is for us to improve.”