They’ve lost on a Hail Mary.
They’ve lost, in overtime, after a furious fourth-quarter comeback that saw them rally from 23 points down, only to have their hearts broken once more.
They’ve lost to a team they really should have beaten, and they did so after dominating for three quarters, only to see that clearly inferior team, Illinois, somehow and someway score 14 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning touchdown with just 10 seconds to go.
And finally, last week, they lost in perhaps the most excruciating manner yet; just one minute after they very likely believed Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone had the game for the Badgers by missing a 39-yard field goal with just under two minutes left to play, Gaglianone trotted right back out on the field and nailed a 46-yarder with just four seconds to go.
And just like that, the Nebraska Cornhuskers — America’s most star-crossed football team — fell to 2-4 (0-2 Big Ten) on the season.
It’s not a stretch at all to say that this team is just four plays from being 6-0. And even their experienced head coach, Mike Riley, is having a hard time wrapping his head around that.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen this before,” Riley said in his post-game press conference, according to Huskers.com. “But, we’re in it. When you’ve had games like we’ve had, you will look at many different circumstances on how you’re playing or coaching could make a difference. I feel like there are tangible things we’ve just got to do better. I can’t be anything but impressed by the team and the leadership on their ability to answer the bell despite disappointment. That’s a good quality.
“That’s also a broken record for you guys, but I’ve been pretty consistent telling you that they’re good kids. I really like this team, and I like how they come to practice and they did that and got ready to play and we fell short.”
That, of course, has been the recurring theme of the 2015 season down in Lincoln. And while that last bit — “we fell short” — is of course the part that every Nebraska fan is suffering through, it doesn’t take a genius to see that, even despite the 2-4 start, there is plenty more for this team to play for.
Specifically because, while the results haven’t been there, the effort has been.
Beyond that, the simple reality is that this team isn’t playing poorly. It is actually playing quite well (except, of course, in the fourth quarter). So long as Riley can keep driving that point home — and so long as his players, especially his seniors, keep buying into it — there’s no reason why 2-4 today can’t turn into 8-4 or 7-5 by season’s end. And this, even despite the fact that the Huskers are looking at a few tough games down the stretch.
After a winnable but tricky trip to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota this week, the Huskers will close out their season with a five-game stretch that will see them take on three opponents who are currently ranked in the Top 25: No. 20 Northwestern, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Iowa. In between are easily winnable games against Purdue and Rutgers.
It’s not a particularly easy run-in, no. And the Huskers certainly need to tighten up their game if they’re going to be able to turn these crushing defeats into well-deserved victories. But make no mistake: this team is good enough to win every single game left on its schedule. It really is.
The question is whether or not they believe that.
If they do, they can — and, I suspect, they will — turn this season around.
If they don’t, though? Well, then Riley is very likely facing an impossible task — and this season of disappointment could unravel into an outright disaster.