By the end of the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ 20-7 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes last Friday, it looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan. All in all, five starters were either injured or re-injured during the course of the game – an unfortunately fitting conclusion to a very strenuous first season in the Big Ten.
The question now becomes: how will the journey end?
Privately, the 9-3 Huskers -- who up until an embarrassingly awful loss to the Michigan Wolverines a couple of weeks ago had a shot at playing for the conference title -- are hoping for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on January 2. If a second Big Ten team gets a bid to a BCS game, that hope will become a reality. If not, then there is a good chance that they will have to settle for the Outback Bowl in Tampa Fla., scheduled January 2 as well.
Even though they can no longer contend for a Big Ten title, the Huskers are still motivated to finish the year off strong and capture their 10th win in whatever bowl game they ultimately find themselves in.
“It’s the ultimate goal right now,” said offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles. “If we’re not competing for the championship, we want to go out and have as many wins as possible. We have a chance at 30 wins in three seasons, and that’s pretty special.”
The key to capturing that elusive (well, not for Nebraska, but in general) 10th victory will be getting healthy. Currently, players not at 100 percent at the moment include dignitaries like quarterback Taylor Martinez, defensive linemen Baker Steinkuhler and Terrence Moore, offensive tackles Marcel Jones and Jermarcus Hardrick and super-running back Rex Burkhead.
“I appreciate the effort those guys gave out there,” head coach Bo Pelini said of his players. “I think our resolve was something special. I loved the approach our football team has. They had a never-say-die attitude.”
Wherever the Huskers find themselves come the beginning of January, it’s safe to chalk this season up to being an interesting experience. No, it didn’t ultimately result in the conference title that many were clamoring for at the start of the season, but to say that the Huskers didn’t adjust admirably to their new Big Ten digs would be disingenuous. If nothing else, they made it clear to one and all that come next season, they will be right there, full-acclimated, and ready to take on the competition with a year of experience under their belt.