The game ended, yet the real story seemed to have just started. Even before the red wave began their trek home, past the Hawkeye faithful basking in their soon-to-be official victory in the enemy's territory, the jeers were being slung around the internet - and living rooms around the midwest - in waves that make even the stormiest beaches look calm. Simply put, the proverbial (chicken)shit had hit the fan and things were getting messy. An emotional press conference by the head man himself, some questions designed to merit those responses, and a mum administration painted a picture that was anything but promising. The Bo Pelini era would come to an end, a whole plethora of coaching rumors and ruminations would be thrown around with words like sources and inside scoops being used from HuskerMax to infinity, and beyond.
This was the reality I believed I would be writing about four days later. Sure, that seems to undermine the entirety of Iowa's good story and solid win, the penultimate statement to the Ferentz renewal Part III and the Pelini Debacle Part I, but truth-be-told, that was exactly the sentiments I felt as the clock ticked toward zeroes. The tortuous arguments on whether firing an 8 win coach was defensible was upon all of us in Huskerland, and the sad resignations of who would - and more importantly would not - come to Lincoln to bring Nebraska back to the promised land were already fired up and waiting.
Of course, it is now Tuesday and we know that has not happened. In fact, an apology was issued, an AD gave his commitment to the man in charge, the former boss asked for some time, and the fanbase remained as split as one base could be. How do you get back on the ledge you already jumped off of? Moreover, what forced so many - me included at times - to jump?
That is the real story here. At some point during the next few weeks, I will look backwards at the shortcomings of Nebraska. There is an argument they were a lucky mediocre team and there is an argument they were a bad good team. I am not sure that either does this team justice considering the consternation that it has born among the faithful and the observer. However, I think you can come to a pretty simple conclusion about what caused the issues - expectations.
Expectations are the root of reaction. If I go into a restaurant and order a cheeseburger, I generally expect a cheeseburger. If I receive a corn dog, I'll probably be a little disappointed. Conversely, if I go to that little dive bar in Smalltown, NE and order a steak and a succulent filet with freshly steamed lobster tail comes out - all for the low price of 9.99 - I'll probably be ecstatic. Our views on outcome absolutely control how we judge that outcome.
Rightly or wrongly, Nebraska fans expected this season to be great because of a perceived scheduling advantage. Minnesota and Iowa? We can take them because we always have. Michigan State? Heck, it will be hard but there hasn't been a time in history they have beat Nebraska. UCLA? Psh. Mora isn't very good. This was the narrative of expectation and it was hard to argue with in a lot of ways. Nebraska had a solid offense returning, a promising young set of defenders, a tried and true special teams pedigree, and a coach who was getting things figured out in year six. The fact of the matter was that this Nebraska team had potential.
Of course, the other side of that coin is reality. What if I told you that Nebraska would play much of their season without Taylor Martinez? Moreover, what if I told you that one of the most pivotal parts of the offense would be third-string, former-walk-on Ron Kellogg? That would probably have altered your expectations a little. And, if not that, how about the loss of any semblance of an Offensive Line? These are things that happened and tempered one side's view. Excuses are unbecoming, though. Lowering expectations because injuries happen is basically allowing for big picture problems to be overlooked.
That is where we stand, though. Right now there are two sides teeing off on each other because expectations have or have not been met. Both are absolutely correct and absolutely wrong, and maybe that's okay for the time being. I will mention one more piece of praise of the Iowa administration for a small moment, in hopes that it will at least serve as some interesting parting thoughts for Nebraska fans. The past few years - and really, at multiple times in his tenure - a vocal part has screamed for Kirk Ferentz's head on a proverbial silver platter. Whether it is financial concerns, or truly belief in his system, they have not relented to that pressure. This year seemed like it could go in multiple directions for the Hawkeyes, but the one it eventually settled on has been nothing short of great. A strong year, and a really strong argument for 4th best team in the conference - despite preseason basement dweller predictions - has given new life to the old conservative, gum-chomping, guy in Iowa City. Oh, and before you say, "I don't want to settle like Iowa did," remember that this is not talking about settling. It's figuring out that sometimes the best move is to make no move at all. Iowa did that and made the best move for its program. Is Nebraska doing the same? Probably too early to tell.
I always believed Bo had one year left after this one no matter what happened. That clock is officially ticking now - more than ever in fact - but he still might get that year. A bowl game win would push this team in the right direction. It's hard to argue that a win alone will be enough to keep things together, but it wouldn't hurt. Needless to say, this will be a very interesting year in Nebraska.