Pelini faces first big challenge vs. Hokies

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Bo Pelini's aura among Nebraska fans remains smoking hot after three games.

Books and polkas were written and enough T-shirts were printed to stock a small army before the new Nebraska coach's first game. That legend has only grown as the Cornhuskers have started strongly.

Early victories over Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State have boosted Nebraska to a 3-0 start. But the Cornhuskers still have as many questions as answers heading into Saturday's game against Virginia Tech.

"We're anxious to see how good we actually are, and I know everybody else is around the state, too," Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. "I think this is a good time to have the game. We're all wondering how good we can actually be and how we play against elite teams like this."

Ganz might be stretching his definition of an "elite team" just a little, considering the Hokies' less-than-imposing body of work so far. But the game is coming at a good time as the Cornhuskers prepare for a difficult start of Big 12 play that will include games against Missouri and Texas Tech in the first two weeks of conference play.

Pelini is careful not to embrace Saturday's game as a measuring stick for his program.

"Every game is important for us and this is just the next one," he said. "That's our attitude as a football team -- that Virginia Tech is just the next challenge for us."

The Cornhuskers are barely removed from last season's 5-7 debacle that cost Bill Callahan his job. So it's understandable that some might still have some doubts about this Nebraska team, at least until it plays some stronger teams.

"We have to prove ourselves to everybody," Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "We're going to come out and have that chip on our shoulders because we don't want to lose to anybody."

The Cornhuskers have been effective on offense, but the early signs might be tempered a little by the opposition. Nebraska ranks in the top 40 in all of the major national statistical categories, including 16th in scoring, 20th in total offense and 27th in passing offense.

And despite battling an early rash of injuries, the Cornhuskers are 18th nationally in rushing defense and 22nd in scoring defense.

But even a struggling Virginia Tech program that hasn't scored more than 24 points in any of their games so far this season will be the toughest opponent the Cornhuskers have faced.

"We feel like this is a step up in the competition," Nebraska wide receiver Todd Peterson said. "We just need to figure out where we're at."

Fans have gravitated toward Pelini's rebuilding job so far. Saturday's game represents the first real challenge and the first indication if Nebraska can jump back into national prominence against the Big 12's formidable existing power structure.

"This is a huge game," defensive end Zach Potter said. "We've faced three teams already, but they were teams we were supposed to beat on paper. Then we came out, played well and beat them.

"This is going to be a good challenge for us and determine where we are as a team. It's going to be a good test, and I think the guys are really excited for it."

So is Pelini, even as he has tried to temper placing too much importance on the upcoming game.

"It's still a work in progress, but I like where are," Pelini said. "We've set ourselves up now where we're getting better as a football team. We're not a finished product yet by any means and we're getting better week-to-week. And we need to, because we need to be better Saturday night."