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October 30, 1999
Tom Shatel: NU Starting to Lose Some of Its Glitter

Lawrence, Kan. - Good morning, Nebraska boys of autumn. It's the last Saturday in October. Do you know where your aura is?

It's a good question, a valid question. Not simply because of what happened last week in Texas. Hey, stuff happens. Even the Yankees lose once a year.

No, the Huskers might want to check their driver's license pictures to see if the helmets are still white with the red "N" on the side. Because this week is Kansas week, the easy week, the "breather" game. And something isn't quite right.

There's a strange sound coming out of Lawrence this week.

"They're not "The Man" anymore," Kansas defensive end Dion Johnson told the Kansas City Star. "There are other teams out there who can beat them and who have beat them."

He wasn't talking about Missouri.

"Maybe some of the glitter and mystique went away when Dr. Tom (Osborne) left," said the KU coach, Terry Allen. "People start looking around and seeing how Texas beat them the last three times they've played."

They're talking about Nebraska. The Big Red. Three-time national champs in the '90s. Yes, the same Nebraska that has used the KU game as a season coffee break. The same Nebraska that has pummeled the Jayhawks 446-100 in the last 10 games. The same Nebraska that hasn't lost to Kansas in 30 years.

"We really believe we can beat them," KU fullback Moran Norris said. "In previous years, we had some doubts. But this year, we believe we can beat Nebraska. And I think we will."

Surely, the coach is going to step in and put an end to this madness. Doesn't he know the ramifications? What the Huskers will do when they hear these Hawk squawks?

"The attitude at practice has been, "Hey, what the heck?" Allen said. "I don't remember in years past that, during Nebraska week, that we even talked about beating Nebraska.

"Now, we've got kids talking about it. I'm pleased with that."

Remember when the mere sight of the Husker helmet was good for a 21-0 lead? Those were the days. When the KU coach would throw only kisses and roses toward Lincoln, in hopes that the Big Red wouldn't go for two after its seventh touchdown come Saturday. Now the Jayhawks are openly mocking NU and the Head Hawk smiles and says "Why not us?"

Look, not that much has changed in three weeks, when the Huskers dismantled a better Iowa State product in less than 30 minutes and were feeling pretty salty. And, truth be told, tonight's NU-KU tilt shouldn't be much different than the previous 30 tales from the crypt.

But if the Huskers didn't know the task before them the final weeks of the 1999 season, they do now. They need to put the fear of Nebraska back into opponents. Like, well, Kansas.

It's not that shaky. If teams would look at the Texas films, they'd see a Nebraska team that came within a mistake or two - or three or four or five - of blowing the game wide open.

But teams also see a Nebraska team doing uncharacteristically-Nebraska things. Turnovers. Failing to own the line of scrimmage. Blowing time outs. Not-so-special teams.

Throw that in with no Osborne, no special threat at I-back and four losses last year and you have a perception out there in Big 12-land that maybe, just maybe, Nebraska can be beat. Texas A&M won't be afraid next week. K-State fans are already talking like they've won again this year.

To a man, the Huskers say this is a team of character, special people, hard as rock. Now we're going to find out how hard.

The national title may be out of scope, but there's a ton of other things to be won that are equally, or more, important. The Frank Solich era needs wins over Texas A&M and Kansas State. A Big 12 title. Not to mention respect, fear and intimidation, all of those wonderful things that built the Nebraska football empire.

That Big Red aura has taken some hits lately. Not just from KU mouths. From down south, too. An article in this week's Sports Illustrated on Texas quarterback Major Applewhite painted the Huskers as predictable and unimaginative. After last week's game, Applewhite was quoted as saying he thought the Huskers "were doubting themselves" during the game.

Which is easy to say after you've won. But what if it's true?

The Huskers say no. They've got character. But this team, too, loves to talk. Moreso than most Husker teams in recent memory, which mostly just walked the walk and let the aura speak for itself. Are they losing their aura?

It starts tonight, when the Huskers will play the hardest game on their schedule. They're playing Kansas, their personal lackey, the week after a tough loss to Texas with the national title fading from view. But this suddenly looks like the biggest game on the Huskers' schedule. With A&M and K-State coming up, they need an ego boost. They don't need a sloppy, close win. They need a big win. A win that will stop the smirks and put the fear back into the hearts of all men.

And Jayhawks.


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