LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska is ranked in the Top 10 in the Associated Press Poll for the first time since November 2011, but that’s not something the Huskers want to hang their hats on.
“It’s just a number,” Nebraska kicker Drew Brown said Monday.
“It’s sweet,” senior center Dylan Utter added, “but we want to keep winning and no matter what.”
Coach Mike Riley acknowledged the ranking is somewhat important in terms of showing how far the program has come in the 12 months since Nebraska fell to 3-6 with a 55-45 loss at Purdue last season. But, he said, the ranking doesn’t represent where he wants this team to be.
“Growth is not an option,” Riley said. “It’s a necessity.”
Coming off a bye week and staring at a grueling upcoming Big Ten schedule, Nebraska will have plenty of room to grow, starting at Indiana on Saturday.
The Hoosiers are the No. 1 pass offense in the Big Ten and mix their pass-heavy attack with a dangerous run game behind junior RB Devine Redding. The Hoosiers are 3-2 with a win over Michigan State and just gave No. 2 Ohio State a run for its money, at least for three quarters, on the road.
“They look like a good football team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Riley said. “They play hard, and offensively they’ve got a good, well-rounded attack.”
Plus, the Huskers will be without its leading receiver, senior Jordan Westerkamp, and leading rusher, Devine Ozigbo, against Indiana.
The Hoosiers game is the beginning of a long road grind for Nebraska that also includes visits to No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State over the next four weeks.
Senior QB Tommy Armstrong has been around for awhile and is familiar with how tough the cold, loud, grind-it-out road games can get. And for Nebraska to get to where it wants to be — the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis and the College Football Playoff — Armstrong said the Huskers need to put their heads down and just work.
“We’re looking forward to the second half of the season,” Armstrong said, “but we’re focused on Indiana. They’re a tough team. We just have to make sure we go in there prepared this weekend. This is going to be a tough game, a tough battle. We just have to make sure we game plan the right way.”
With the hype building around the Huskers, with the new rankings and the bowl projections and the possibility of winning the Big Ten West, Riley said it’s time to hunker down and keep plugging away. The ranking is something Reilly expects, and where he wants Nebraska to be all the time.
“We wouldn’t trade (the ranking), but we also have to stay hungry,” Riley said. “We’re pleased with where we’re at. Really, at this stage, all it is is about mid-season rankings. But we’ve got to continue to get better and just win the next game.”