With spring ball now in the books, Nebraska has officially concluded the first portion of the 2010 season. That doesn't mean that the sting of how the 2009 campaign ended has completely worn off, though.
While the Huskers finished the year with a dominating win over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, thoughts of what could have been had one more second run off the clock in the Big 12 Championship game against Texas still loom in the minds of some of the players.
On Tuesday, head coach Bo Pelini said during his interview on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference that some of his players are using their near conference title win as motivation for the coming season.
"It's whatever guys choose to use as motivation," Pelini said. "Obviously we were close, but I think guys are just hungry and people are anxious. They came here to win championships, and it hasn't happened yet. It was a disappointment that we got so close, but you know, bottom line is that we didn't finish it off and it didn't happen. I think for our guys, you get that close, it makes you hungry to come back and should provide some extra motivation for us."
While the 13-12 loss to the Longhorns may be driving some Huskers through the off-season, Pelini said he doesn't need that game or any other loss as motivation for this year. In his mind, just because the game ended in some controversy on the final second doesn't mean his team was cheated of anything.
For him, the Huskers simply didn't do enough in the first 59 minutes to deserve to win the game.
"I'm driven anyway," Pelini said. "I don't worry about that. I look at the things that we didn't do in that game to allow it to happen. We didn't win because we didn't earn it. In the end, I'm hungry to win a championship and I want to do some great things for this program, and it hasn't happened yet. So I'm looking forward to the next challenge, which is the upcoming year."
Last year didn't end with his ultimate goal of winning a championship, but Pelini still declared to the entire country following the Holiday Bowl victory that Nebraska was "back and we're here to stay."
Asked if he still felt that way about his team, Pelini said what he meant by that statement was that for the first time in his two years as NU's head coach, he finally felt like his team could compete with anyone.
Time will tell whether that sentiment holds true this season, but for Pelini, it wasn't the kind of statement he would make if he didn't absolutely believe it to be true.
"What I meant was, I finally felt like we're at the position in our program that we can compete with anybody out there," Pelini said. "I just felt like as the season went on and we kind of progressed, I kind of liked the position of where we are right now as a program. Even though we haven't won anything yet, we were finally at that point I felt like we could compete with anybody.
"Does that mean we're going to beat anybody? No. We've got to earn it. There's a lot of things that play into it, but I just felt like we've kind of reached that point where week in and week out there's not anybody who they can throw at us that we don't believe we don't have the opportunity to beat."
***Pelini said he had no timetable for when senior quarterback Zac Lee would resume throwing after sitting out all spring while recovering from surgery on his throwing arm.
"He'll be throwing soon enough," Pelini said. "I don't really know the timelines. That's for the doctors. When's able to throw, he's able to go, and that will be the time to go."
Though he couldn't take any live reps, Pelini said Lee still should have been able to progress because of the work he put in watching film and taking mental reps in practice.
"Anytime you're out there, hopefully you progress mentally and learn the mistakes he made," he said. "(The quarterbacks) watched a lot of game film from last year. But obviously there's no substitute for actually doing it yourself, but obviously he wasn't in the condition to do that, so you've got to try and make yourself better in other ways."
***As for the quarterback race as a whole, Pelini said he had no concerns about having three legitimate candidates competing for the starting job heading into fall camp.
"I think it's a good position to be in because we have three guys who we feel are capable and they're good football players," he said. "Competition will hopefully bring out the best in everybody. I'm looking forward to the race, and let the best man win."
Pelini also didn't rule out the possibility that the quarterback race could extend beyond the season opener and as long as it needed to into the season.
"It could go on for a while," Pelini said. "I don't know how it's going to play out, but we're going to do what we need to do to win football games and be the best we can be. How that's going to play out, I don't know. But I do like the group as a whole and what they bring to the table."
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