Nebraska getting nostalgic ‘6’ sense

The Sports Xchange

September 30, 2014 at 11:48 am.

Tommy Armstrong (4) and Ameer Abdullah (8) lead a potent Nebraska rushing attack. (Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports)

LINCOLN — For Nebraska football, 6-0 starts to seasons used to be commonplace. For instance, the Huskers won their first six football games 10 of 14 times from 1989 to 2001.

And since 2001, the last time Nebraska played for a national championship and produced a Heisman Trophy winner, the Huskers have never begun a season 6-0.

That would change if No. 19 Nebraska can upend No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday.

Of course, the historical perspective of being 6-0 doesn’t mean as much to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini as does his team staying on course for a Big Ten Conference championship, while also trying to butt its name into the College Football Playoff discussion.

“It’s important because I want to go 6-0. Historically it doesn’t really mean that much to me,” Pelini said. “This is about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish. Obviously it’s extremely important, but every game we play is going to be. I’m not going to make any more of it than what it is.”

A loss for Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) wouldn’t squash the Huskers’ chances in conference championship discussion because for the first time since divisions were formed in the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska (West Division) and Michigan State (East Division) aren’t divisional foes.

But this is a key game for the Big Ten in regards to the league’s seemingly small chances of having one of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Michigan State (3-1, 0-0) has a respectable loss to Oregon, but a two-loss Big Ten team wouldn’t likely garner much attention. Nebraska, meanwhile, has yet to play a ranked team, the reason the Huskers, while unbeaten, aren’t regarded as a playoff contender.

That could change with a victory in East Lansing, but that only happens if the Huskers learn from last year’s loss to Michigan State in Lincoln, when Nebraska committed five turnovers — all in Husker territory, and two inside the 10-yard line — in a 41-28 loss.

“We need to play better, cleaner, to give ourselves a chance to win the football game,” Pelini said. “But I don’t want to take away (and say), ‘We should have won the football game.’ That’s kind of a cop-out, to a certain extent. That’s not giving Michigan State credit. They won the football game, we lost, no matter how it happened.”

Nebraska has overcome four turnovers over its last two games to defeat Miami (41-31) and Illinois (45-14).

“It’s easy to say: Just take care of yourself,” Pelini said. “And that’s never taking away from what an opponent does. If someone makes a play, they make a play. But you’ve got to make them earn it. And that’s what you have to constantly fight against, is being your own worst enemy. And, at times, we are. And that’s what we’ve got to fix.”

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is 12-1 as a starter, his lone loss coming to Michigan State last season. He had two of the team’s five turnovers.

“I’m a lot different (now),” Armstrong said. “I’m trying to make smarter decision and stuff like that, just putting my offense in the right position.”