Huskers building on '09 success

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Bo Pelini could have said just about anything on the victory podium at the Holiday Bowl. Minutes after a 33-0 beatdown of Arizona -- one Pelini later called "a complete win" -- the list of things that wouldn't further spur the Nebraska faithful's frenzy was short.

"Nebraska's back and we're here to stay," he said.

It was a proclamation to the fans, one he said meant his team could compete with anyone in the country. To his team, it could also be considered a challenge, one his team took its first step toward fulfilling this spring.

The Huskers don't spend their nights dreaming of wins in the Holiday Bowl.

"There’s a tradition here of excellence and national championships," said running back Rex Burkhead. "We’re really looking to put our name up there with all the best teams in the nation. That’s what we strive for every day. That’s why we compete every day; to be there at the end."

The win was the extension of Nebraska's late-season momentum, a season that began modestly with a 4-3 start and a 1-2 record in the Big 12 after a blowout loss to Texas Tech and a home loss to Iowa State that featured eight turnovers.

Nebraska was a second away from winning the Big 12, but it was also a second away from entering the program's first BCS game since 2002 with a six-game win streak and a possible top-15 ranking.

The Huskers didn't allow the bitter taste of the Big 12 championship game loss to sour their bowl performance, instead using its second shutout as a shove into spring.

"There’s definitely a lot of momentum that we’re carrying. There’s a lot of pressure on us -- if we let it be pressure," said cornerback Prince Amukamara. "We could just let it be momentum."

And Pelini's words after that bowl performance only enhanced that pressure -- or momentum. But Pelini was pleased with his team's progress in the spring, and its real chance to respond comes in the fall, when Nebraska won't need to Restore The Order.

As defending Big 12 North champions lugging a possible preseason top-10 ranking into 2010, the fall is a chance to Validate The Order, prove Pelini right and keep teams like Kansas State and Missouri from representing the North in December's title game in Arlington, Texas.

"You’re always out there to prove people’s expectations of you," Burkhead said. "Expectations are higher after last year, of course, and we just want to go out there and prove we belong."

During Nebraska's five-year absence from the ranks of double-digit game-winners, expectations waned. Support didn't. Two losing seasons and a coaching change didn't halt Memorial Stadium's sellout streak, which enters 2010 at 304 games.

"The town is always crazy about football -- they know us no matter what," Amukamara said.

Replacing one of the program's most dominant and beloved players (Ndamukong Suh), along with a handful of other All-Big 12ers, won't temper those expectations, mostly because no one within the program will let it.

Huskers fans want Pelini's talk of an even better defense this season -- improving on its national No. 1 ranking in 2009 -- to become reality. They want the assumed progress from the offense to show itself for more than 60 minutes, and to come back to Lincoln after an impressive showing in San Diego and a second glimpse of improvement in Saturday's spring game.

But most of all, they hope Pelini is right. And his players are working toward making sure he is.

"Now that we’re kind of back in the light," Burkhead said, "people really expect more out of us."