Nebraska comfortable with title talk

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Every time Nebraska players enter the Osborne Athletic Complex, they see the display on the north-facing exterior of Memorial Stadium.

It lists Nebraska's national championship years: 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997.

The Huskers think they can add to the marquee this coming season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez might have started the title talk this spring, but he's not the only one openly discussing college football's ultimate prize.

Asked what would qualify as a successful season, safety P.J. Smith spells it out clearly.

"Win it all," he said. "First start off winning our first couple of games, winning the conference games, winning the Big Ten championship, winning the national championship. If we don't win that, it's a disappointing season."

Nebraska hasn't played for the national title since the 2001 season -- its last BCS bowl appearance -- and hasn't claimed an outright conference title since 1999. Would a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl championship truly be a disappointment?

Smith paused.

"It's still kind of disappointing," he said. "The Big Ten is our goal. The national championship is our goal. Those are our main two goals. So if we get one and don't get the other one, we're not going to be happy. We've got the Big Ten. Yeah, OK, fine. We want the national championship. We want it all."

Smith thinks Nebraska can get there, mainly because "everybody is finally in, 100 percent." Bo Pelini has recruited the entire roster, and players and coaches are sensing a stronger chemistry after a productive offseason based on details and accountability.

Still, Nebraska likely would have to skip several steps to reach the title game Jan. 7 in Miami. Pelini's teams have won nine or 10 games in each of the past four seasons, but they lack signature wins against top-10 opponents. The Huskers' path to the title game would be closer to Auburn's rapid rise in 2010 than, say, Alabama's run last year.

"It's a big jump to go from a 9-4 to a 13-1 or a 14-0 season," wide receiver Kenny Bell said. "But if you don't believe wholeheartedly in a goal, there's no point in trying to chase it. As a collective group, we're really starting to believe that we can win championships around here. We've got the talent. Now we've got to buckle in and finish.

"Last year, we absolutely beat ourselves out of a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl."

Pelini has no problem with his players talking national title, but only because of what he has seen during the winter and spring.

"Our expectations are high around here," Pelini said. "We want to win championships around here, a Big Ten championship. I always feel if you take care of that, you're going to at least be in the conversation for a national championship. But at the end of the day, I don't get caught up in all of that. Having those kinds of expectations, that's what you want. You want guys who want to compete against the best, who want to be the best.

"It's OK to want those things, but you've got to want to do the things that are lead you to what you want. That's what's most important."