Pelini 'proud' of Huskers' program entering finale
No. 22 Nebraska has beaten the Big Ten's division leaders. The Cornhuskers have also lost on the road by 31 and 28 points, not to mention a home loss to Northwestern.
Is fourth-year coach Bo Pelini's program stuck in neutral?
Fans grousing about the 45-17 loss at Michigan might think so, but Bo isn't buying it.
''I don't care about the perception. This program has come a long way,'' Pelini said Monday. ''I don't really care what's out there, to be honest with you. What I concern myself with is where it is right now. I'm proud of where this program is right now.''
Pelini inherited a mess when he arrived. Bill Callahan's 2007 squad was 5-7, losing six of its last seven games in embarrassing style.
Pelini won nine, 10 and 10 games his first three years and took his 2010 and 2011 teams to the Big 12 championship game. His 2009-10 defenses were among the nation's best.
The Huskers (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) were the trendy pick to win the Legends Division in their first year in the conference. Pelini said the week before the opener that the season would not be a success unless the Huskers won the Big Ten championship.
Any chance at that was lost in Ann Arbor. The Huskers will go into their final regular-season game, against Iowa on Friday, with no more to play for than pride and the hope of padding their bowl resume.
''I knew it wasn't going to be easy coming into this year,'' Pelini said. ''A new conference, 11 new opponents.''
Nebraska opened Big Ten play with a 48-17 loss at Wisconsin and had to come from 21 points down in the third quarter to beat Ohio State at home. In between knocking off Legends Division leader Michigan State and Leaders Division leader Penn State, they lost 28-25 to a Northwestern team that just achieved bowl eligibility this past weekend.
Pelini said his program is in good shape.
''Our kids are doing well academically, our kids represent this state the right way, this university the right way, and they come out and, I think, they're a good representative of what you want this football program to be about,'' he said.
Inexperience in the secondary, a lack of depth at linebacker, injuries on both lines and dropped passes by the receivers have plagued the Huskers.
Star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard missed the first three games with a leg muscle problem and preseason All-America defensive lineman Jared Crick was lost to a torn chest muscle after the Ohio State game. Tight end Ben Cotton, offensive lineman Andrew Rodriguez and defensive lineman Chase Rome have missed time because of injuries, and running back Rex Burkhead has played despite being banged up.
Asked about the Huskers' on-field accomplishments, Pelini said, ''I think we're playing good football. We compete every week. We're not winning a division championship right now - it didn't happen - but over the last few years we've been right there. We won at least a share all three years I've been here. This year it didn't happen for us.
''We've had a couple tough times, we've had a lot of injuries, we've had some things happen to us, but our kids have still come out and represented this program the right way.''