Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Iowa Football

Nebraska knows 4-8 to a Big Ten West title is a huge leap

The Huskers' hype train does come with cautious vibe

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost addresses the media at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Thursday. (Marc Morehouse/The Gazette)
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost addresses the media at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Thursday. (Marc Morehouse/The Gazette)

CHICAGO — Storms rattled around the midwest Thursday. That sent the Nebraska contingent on a little bit of a journey to get to Big Ten media days.

That gave Huskers head coach Scott Frost the perfect opening. Keep in mind, Chicago had a cameo in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” a comedy starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy as Del Griffith, the lovable but kind of annoying shower curtain ring salesman.

The second-year head coach nailed this one.

“Sorry, we’re a little bit late,” Frost said. “Our plane got diverted. We’re here now. Spent a little time at a hotel in Gurnee selling shower curtain rings, and we finally made it.”

So, let’s run with this.

Frost’s first season with the Huskers ended with a 4-8 record. None of the planes, trains and only a couple of the automobiles actually worked. But then, after starting the season 0-6, the Huskers finished 4-2.

And now going into 2019, everyone has noticed Nebraska has a favorable schedule. Yes, the Huskers will play host to Ohio State, but their other two Big Ten East crossovers are Indiana and Maryland.

Also, Nebraska has a legit quarterback. Adrian Martinez put up Tecmo Bowl numbers in his true freshman season, setting 11 school records and finishing second in the Big Ten in total offense. As a true freshman.

A lot of the college football world reached the conclusion that Scott Frost year 2 should be better. How much? Well, in a poll of 34 Big Ten writers, the Huskers were picked to win the Big Ten West Division.

Note, that’s the college football world. The Huskers?

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“We went 4-8 and last year,” Huskers linebacker Mohamed Barry said Thursday. “If anyone on our team thinks we’re rock stars, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

Frost also threw some road spikes in front of the hype bus.

“90 percent of the time, you guys are wrong,” he said with a laugh. “We’re excited. I think there’s going to be some confidence that comes along with that. I don’t think we have the type of team that’s going to be distracted by that.”

OK, these are people tethered to reality. The Huskers were 4-8 last year. Their defense ranked in the 100s in most categories that matter.

Maybe the table is set, but, of course, players and coaches see the miles ahead.

For an alternative view, let’s check out radio row (this is where all of the radio stations post up to grab interviews with basically whomever in the Hilton Chicago).

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In year one of Scott Frost, Nebraska had to be about Scott Frost.

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Are you ready to tie yourself to the tracks in front of the Big Red Hype Train?

“Everybody wants to be fired up,” said Doug Duda, whose show “The Doug and Daddy Show” has been on the air in Kearney, Neb., since 2004. “You know how Nebraska football is. It is the thing and not everywhere has the thing. That’s what Nebraska has right now.”

Duda and his co-host Jim Langin could’ve spent the summer drinking from the fire hose of hype. Nebraska has that kind of history and 368 consecutive home sellouts (you can asterisk it, they don’t).

Is this is the moment Big Red Nation has been waiting for? Maybe. And the maybe is a thing for Duda.

“It’s not like the old days,” Duda said. “They get it now. You start getting kicked in the teeth once in a while as a team or a fan base, they get it.

“Fans are rooting for 10 (wins) and they know that seven is a possibility.”

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Greg Sharpe has been the radio play-by-play voice for Nebraska football since 2008. The radio guy usually is the engineer of the hype train. And, yes, Sharpe can see the possibilities for the Huskers in 2019, but he’s also cautious, a vibe he’s felt in his interactions with Husker fans.

“They’re optimistic and they like where it’s going, but I think they’re cautious,” Sharpe said. “That’s a big jump, going from 4-8 to winning a division. Could it happen? Sure. But I think Purdue could win it. I think Minnesota can win it. Obviously, Iowa and Wisconsin could win it.”

That was the general read on the Big Ten West on day one of Big Ten media days. The West is expected to be entertaining and totally wide open.

Not everyone in Nebraska is ready to jump out of the plane without a parachute, believing Frost will be ready to catch them in a cornfield somewhere.

Sharpe points to the losses of 1,000-yard running back Devine Ozigbo and 1,000-yard wide receiver Stanley Morgan. He also believes the Huskers’ defense has a chance to be better, particularly on the defensive line and at cornerback.

“With the expectations, things will change a little bit the closer we get to the season,” Sharpe said. “Everybody in the West has warts. I think that’s why everyone looked at the schedule and thought, ‘OK, Nebraska has the easiest schedule, let’s pick them.'”

Nebraska is closer to competing for division titles than it is to firing/hiring another coach. Obviously. Frost helped the Huskers to a national title and is a native son.

There is a flip side, though.

In 2004, when Duda started his show, Nebraska was a bit of a train wreck, with head coach Bill Callahan flailing until his firing in 2007.

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“Some of the longest, most intense shows we’ve ever had was during some of the transitions,” Duda said. “Fans never got apathetic, but they do want to win again.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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