It’s almost here.
We’re suddenly less than a week away. After months of treadmilling, water-treading, debate. After months of offseason quicksand that threaten to suck us down if we struggle too hard. The dawn of a new football year has started breaking across the plains; light mercifully spilling into the end of the tunnel that will soon be Walked through with a capital “W”. The cicada symphony of quiet August nights is turning into the breathless ellipses that occurs when a million eyes suddenly widen with excitement at the same time; when pupils dilate with 1080p and irises ignite with the fire of reckless passion from 63 rows up or front-and-blue-blazing-hell center of the madness.
Suddenly, after so many long hours spent watching cup adjustments and batters calling time so they can spit-and-adjust-and-spit-and-adjust their batting gloves for the fiftyleventh time, we’ve lifted our noses from the collective grindstone of summer and our crescendo is timpani-rolling into a grand canyon echo that ricochets from fan to fan like a benign Magic Bullet.
This is it. Our countdowns are on one hand and are allegiances are shown to the referees with one finger. Our dignity is about to get punted into the air with a tight, rapid spiral. We’ll care too much. We’ll care too little about caring too much. It’s going to be glorious.
And as this beautiful time of year approaches, I find myself battling internally with twin parts of my fanhood. That’s right. I’m talking about Dr. Hatchyll and Mr. Fan.
Dr. Hatchyll is slightly aloof. Withdrawn. He’s a medical examiner giving a cause of death or a doctor trying desperately to separate business from personal. He’s a statistician who isn’t prone to making rash decisions and is so skeptical of things that he might actually fire up a Google fact-check on something he finds on Twitter before he reacts to it. Maybe. While thoroughly in love with the program he tries to keep a pragmatic view of things, never getting too high or too low. Simply put, he’s waiting to see if Nebraska is the real deal before he buys in. He’s the Yin to Mr. Fan’s yang.
Mr. Fan is more like a Ying Yang Twin. He’s brash. He’s overconfident. His lips are stained a ridiculous hue of Husker red from keg-stand-chugging the pre-season hype Kool-Aid for this year’s Nebraska team. He owns 11 Husker flatbills even though, at this stage in the game, he probably should move on to hats that have a little curve to them. Where Dr. Hatchyll is Atticus Finch, Mr. Fan is the rabid dog that comes running through town looking to gnaw on the legbones of any non-believers. Sometimes Mr. Fan is closer to Boo Radley. If he hears “Sirrius” by the Allan Parsons project he’s likely to throw his head back and bay at the stadium lights like a lycanthrope getting a full super-moon rush of adrenaline.
Here are the questions and storylines that Dr. Hatchyll and Mr. Fan have already begun debating this year.
First off, how’s everyone doing? Excited for the season to start?
Dr. Hatchyll: Absolutely. Great to be here.
Mr. Fan: Actually, since infographics are all the rage, I’d like to share a flow chart here to demonstrate my level of excitement, if I may.
That’s. . .informative. Now on to the questions:
1. Do we have enough depth on defense, after all those injuries, for them to take the next step?
Dr. Hatchyll: Damn, I hope so. It seems like every time I turn around there’s another Husker defender going down for the year. While the injuries haven’t been of the season-tanking variety, they have also been costly. On a defense with high-level 1s, it suddenly has become the 2s and 3s that have been getting all of the pre-season talk. Aaron Curry went Chase Rome, Michael Rose is done for the year after coming on strong to finish the 2013 season, and Charles Jackson’s injury has left a hole at the all-important-to-Bo’s defense, Nickel spot. While I think that initially we’ll still be able to plug and play, we’re going to have to stay freakishly, lucky-as-hell with on the injury front for the entire season not to find ourselves in trouble at times.
Mr. Fan: Sure, we lost a few guys. But Bo Pelini finally has that d-line talent that allows his defensive scheme to flourish. Randy Gregory is going to smoke the lead-footed QBs of the Big Ten like they’re product in a Seth Rogen movie. The safeties are going to be coming down hill with a ferocity not seen since the end of Shark Week and it sounds like the replacements for our injured players are all stepping up to the task. Even freshman DJ Foster appears to have found a spot to contribute immediately on the D Line. With Gregory, Vincent Valentine, and Malik Collins all looking like beasts this pre-season the quarterback is going to have, what?, 1.5 seconds before he’s getting decapitated? Good luck throwing on 3rd down, The Big Ten.
2. Will Tommy Armstrong develop into a good-elite Quarterback?
Dr. Hatchyll: Good? Yes. Elite? I don’t think he’s quite there yet. One of the side effects of Pelini letting the media into his camp, besides an even more unbroken stream of relayed information (*Author’s note: did Bo and his players kick into any insane, pre-meditated hi-jinx to be mass-media-regurgitated by the team’s video department? Reaction and breakdown at 10!) is that we’ve been allowed to make our own assessments of the players’ development (*Author’s note: even if that’s through the lens of the mass media). With no other player does this have more importance than with Tommy Armstrong. Armstrong had a W/L record that didn’t quite ring true based on his own personal statistics. While many argue that winning is the only measure of a good quarterback, I would beg to differ. Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl, after all, and Zach Lee very nearly won a Big Twelve Championship against Texas back in ’09. Armstrong’s completion percentage was spotty and his TD-INT rate was barely above even. These numbers have to improve for us to have a chance.
Mr. Fan: Yes. The tools are there. He’s a tried-and-true leader, who carries himself with a confidence that’s beyond his years. Did you see that he hung out with Brett Favre?!? Come on, son! All Bret Favre did was gun-sling, win, sext, and make huge plays. Let’s hope that Tommy does all of that minus the dick-pics. Actually, I don’t care much about those, either, as long as they don’t hit Twitter. Did he throw a few picks last season? Yeah. He was a Freshman, thrown into the mix mid-season and forced to split reps with RKIII. Tough to get momentum rolling in that case. He’s got all the intangibles, an improving O-line, a good wide receiver corps. and an All-American running back to help him out. I’m also really excited about referencing Tommy Gun from Rocky V at a higher clip.
3. Does this newer, seemingly more relaxed, Pelini translate into a looser, more relaxed coach on the field?
Dr. Hatchyll: Here’s the thing. I doubt that Bo has changed. At least not as much as the national narrative seems to be stating. It seems to me, from everything I’ve heard in interviews with former players, that he’s a pretty cool dude. He has a good sense of humor, enjoys talking some friendly junk, and is well liked by a great deal of people who know him personally. His media personality and his actual, walking around in the streets personality, seem to be at odds with each other. This offseason’s media campaign – and to call it anything else would be disingenuous – to change the public perception of Bo has worked, to a degree, but I don’t think it’s a product of a new coach. Just a coach who is willing to let his personality be displayed a little more publicly.
I hate to broken-record this piece (*Author’s note: what would this cliché be in modern terminology? Corrupted MP3?) but if Bo is really the same guy, why expect different results on the field? Everyone is a comedian during the offseason. Everyone can yuck it up with viral videos during a meaningless spring game. I don’t need the Tom Osborne stoicism that made Clint Eastwood seem like a circus clown, but what I do want is wins. And I don’t care how we get them, at this point. If Bo wants to send his blood pressure to “Mount Saint Helens” on the dial, but we pull out a “W” I’m totally cool with that. If he wants to come out dressed like a mime, pretend to pull the refs pants down like a goddamn Harlem Globetrotter, I don’t care. As long as we get the “W”. Seeing a pattern here?
Mr. Fan: You criticize Bo for being a dick to the media. Now you criticize him for suddenly being a goofball. Which is it, Dr. Hatchyll? We all want wins. Why not have a coach who seems to enjoy himself while doing that. He’s loose. He’s focused. He’s been a social media-driven sensation in a time when social media matters with recruits way more than we’d like to admit. He has changed. His practice tempo is different, his players seem to be responding to his new style by bonding together into what appears to be the tightest knit unit he’s had since he arrived on campus and they’re hiring a freaking DJ for practices, for God’s sake. That’s not a change? We don’t want Bo to turn into a total quack like Mike Leach, but it’s good to see a coach who appears to be enjoying his job. Besides, that cat thing? Pretty f-ing hysterical. His interactions with his fake Twitter personality? Also really good. See if you can turn off the withering cynicism for 3 minutes and just enjoy a funny joke involving your favorite football program.
4. Taylor Martinez is finally gone. . .
Dr. Hatchyll: Thank God.
Mr. Fan: Thank God. Wait, did we just agree on something? Screw you, Debbie Downer! T-Magic 4 Lyfe!
5. What’s your take on this year’s schedule?
Dr. Hatchyll: While, at first glancem it appears to be pretty simple, I’ve learned to not take any games on our schedule for granted. If we can win the games that we should win? We’re looking at a pretty phenomenal year. But I think that feels like the exact same thing I wrote last year. And probably the year before that. Let’s be honest, our schedule this year should be pretty simple. We’ve got 2-3 tough games (*Author’s note: Wisconisn, Michigan State, and maybe Iowa) and a weird one that could go either way (*Author’s note: a wacky 9:30 PM Central time game at Fresno State that should be fine, but is such an odd time and place that it could be some kind of a trap.) and the rest should be fairly simple. We don’t play Penn State, Ohio State, or the University of Brady Hoke’s short sleeves. We do get a schedule with Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota. The mind-numbing sameness of this statement applies once again: if we take care of the games we will be favored in, we’ll take a step forward as a program. IF. IF.
Mr. Fan: Pssssh. This schedule is soft. I’ll give you a quick synopsis of the opposition, in order.
McNeese State: Dirt
Fresno State: West-Coast Dirt
Michigan State: 2-1 All-Time V.S. Dantonio. If we don’t have a 5 Turnover botch-fest, we beat them at home last year. Pelini owns MSU.
Purdue: Whatthehellisaboilermaker? Also: dirt.
Minnesota: Frozen Dirt
Iowa: $3,650,000 annual salary worth of dirt
What, do we lose 1 game all year? Maybe. But look at that schedule. Now look again. If you go through that on a game-by-game basis, forgetting history and previous years of Taylor Martinez quarterbacking and bad injury breaks? Who is going to beat us? Really? Maybe Wisconsin on the road, but they look prepared to come back to earth. Maybe Michigan State on the road, but Pelini and the Huskers match up extraordinarily well with the Spartans. I say, we’ll see a Braxton Miller-less (Read: very beatable) Ohio State team in the Big Ten championship game. We walk into the college football playoffs undefeated and with a 2-seed. The band plays, the girls faint, Bo Pelini kicks Urban Meyer in the crotch as the fans storm the field in Indianapolis, and the Huskers are suddenly, legitimately, and irrevocably back!
6. So, you two seem like you’re pretty different in how you approach the season. I’m sure you guys are going to constantly take to Twitter and Facebook to badger, harangue, and berate anyone who doesn’t agree with you, correct?
Dr. Hatchyll: Nope. Actually I’m secure enough in my own fanhood to just kind of let myself enjoy the season on my own terms. I’m not worried about convincing other people to see things my way unless they directly ask me. This is the forensics team from the dweeb coalition in high school. This is just a game that I love a little too much and the way that I approach things. People are going to react how they want and I don’t care, nor does it truly have any outcome on my enjoyment of the entire process. Ultimately, I control my own fandom.
Mr. Fan: Nope. Fans telling other fans how to fan? Dick move, son.
7. So, Miami is coming to Lincoln. For a night game. That might get College Gameday.
Dr. Hatchyll: I know. Even I have to admit, I’m very excited about this. If we get Gameday here and we’re playing well? All the history and nostalgia for the Huskers V.S. ‘Canes is going to be completely insa– wait. Has anyone told Mr. Fan about this?
Mr. Fan: Wait, did you say College Gameday. . .?