LINCOLN, Neb. — You’re Kevin Maurice, and in your mind, you’re due, brother. So damn due.
To grasp why 10 wins means so stinking much to Maurice and his senior classmates at Nebraska, it helps to understand the journey. The detours. The potholes.
Especially the potholes.
It’s September of your freshman year on the Big Red defensive line, the autumn of 2013, and a 2-year-old tape comes to light of your head coach saying “(Expletive) you” to Huskers fans — the fans who’ve sold out the building since JFK was in office — and torching every bridge from Lincoln to Sri Lanka. That same coach lands in an open feud with one of the greatest quarterbacks in Nebraska history.
You win nine games.
And the end of your sophomore year, that aforementioned coach gets a pink slip that most thought was coming a year earlier. He then gives a speech in which he throws everybody but the janitor under the bus. Expletive ’em all. A tape of that goes public, too.
You win nine games again.
You spend your junior season trying to get to know a new head coach, new coordinators, new everything. Playing a bit on the back foot, you lose six games by five points or less, and lose them in the most creatively agonizing of ways.
You win five games.
That leaves everybody’s blood pressure up. Then you bowl at 5-7, which leaves the pundits apoplectic.
Still, you turn up, because that’s what you do. You win said bowl game, you beat UCLA in California, and the ship feels righted again.
Only senior year, your last dance, has other ideas. You kiss summer good-bye, barely two weeks before preseason camp gets underway, one of your classmates, your top specialist and the best punter in the Big Ten, is killed in a one-car accident.
A popular assistant is suspended for the first four games of the season. Your offensive line is beat to hell; before long, your No. 1 quarterback and No. 1 receiver are, too.
You’ve won nine games.
With one left to go.
“I just really think (it’s because of) the kinds of things that we’ve been through this whole season,” the veteran defensive tackle said as the Huskers (9-3) prep for a date with Tennessee (8-4) in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
“And not only this whole season, but the things we went through last year, the transition to the coaches and all that. To say that, in one year, we were able to double (the wins), you know, that’s going to be a good feeling.”
‘That’s also a big thing’
They’ve been saying it, to a man, these Cornhuskers, for weeks now — months, even. Josh Banderas. Ten wins. Jordan Westerkamp. Ten wins. Nate Gerry. Ten wins. Maurice. Ten wins.
Ten wins. It wouldn’t erase what happened in Columbus. Or Iowa City. It won’t mend broken hearts or bring the blue skies back.
But it’s a start.
It’s a benchmark. A post in the field. A line in the sand. A carving on the back of a park bench. An autographed dollar taped to the restaurant wall.
A legacy. Ten wins. A part of the tapestry, forever.
— Matt Brockhoff (@MattBrockhoff) December 13, 2016
Nebraska hasn’t cracked the double-digit win front since 2012-’13. It hasn’t finished a season with fewer than four losses since 2003-’04 (10-3), the final year of the Frank Solich Era. The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end, depending on which Huskers fan you ask.
“I don’t think any of us, in our senior class, has won 10 games since we’ve been here,” Maurice explained. “That’s also a big thing.”
It’s a big thing for coach Mike Riley, too. In his previous 15 seasons at Oregon State and in Lincoln, his teams have won 10 games in a season just once: in 2006, after a victory in the Sun Bowl against Missouri.
“I think it would be awesome to get the 10th win,” Riley said last month. “It’s not that common. There’s not going to be that many people in the picture of double-digit wins during the season.”
‘Not a lot of teams have this chance’
And so the carrot still dangles, precipitously, waiting for a bite. The Huskers picked up 10 victories or more just three times from 2004-15. In the 12 seasons prior, they pulled it off on nine different occasions. Athletic director Tom Osborne’s teams managed to do it 15 times in a 25-year span from 1973-97. The gold standard.
Scholarship limits and television changed the game. Money changed conference alignments. The Big Red bar never wavered.
@Huskers 9-3, possibly 9-4 or 10-3, with no signature wins. AD better start booking talented teams and better expect more from this staff
— Jeffrey Schreiner (@jschreiner75) November 25, 2016
#Huskers fans, STOP. Six wins last year. Nine so far this year with a chance at 10 still. That’s progress.
— Tom Behmer (@behmer88) November 26, 2016
“It’s another chance for us to go out there, another chance for us to go play,” CB Chris Jones said. “Not a lot of teams have this chance, and we’re going to make the best of it.”
Wisconsin I (2011).
Wisconsin II (2012).
Wisconsin III (2014).
So many miles.
So many tears.
“Especially coming from where we came from,” Maurice said. “Last year, we had five (wins) at this time. To be able to turn it around a year later and win 10 games. And there’s only a few (teams) in the country that can say they did.”
They’re due. Past due. In more ways than one.