The exorcism of the 1996 season finally took place this May, on
one of those sweltering days that almost melt the carpet at
Lincoln's Memorial Stadium. Senior All-America defensive end
Grant Wistrom had watched the intensity of many of his teammates
wilt during the first couple of days of "voluntary" spring
workouts, just as it had the previous spring. Instead of
singling out the offenders, he had the entire team charge up the
stadium steps, over and over again, until players began to
vomit, leaving the pent-up bile from '96--upset losses to
Arizona State and Texas--in puddles on the ground.
It was the healthiest sickness that Wistrom, who nearly threw up
himself, has ever felt. "That got the message across real quick
that we weren't going to put up with a lot of the b.s. from last
year, the lackadaisical attitudes and everything," he says.
"After that, we had one of the best summers any of us can
Whether that preparation will lead to a third national
championship in four years remains to be seen. Much will depend
on the poise of senior quarterback Scott Frost, who finished
last season with respectable numbers--nine rushing touchdowns,
13 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions--but had
trouble making fans forget his predecessor, Tommie Frazier,
especially after Frost's bumbling performance in the Huskers'
19-0 loss to the Sun Devils. "Last year was my first playing in
this offense, and you could tell," says Frost, who transferred
from Stanford two years ago. "I was too tight, thinking too
much. Arizona State was only my second game at quarterback. This
year I feel a lot more comfortable."
That feeling is shared by the rest of the offense, which was
fourth in the country in rushing last year (291.9 yards per
game). Among the six returning offensive starters is junior
tailback Ahman Green, who is pain-free after being hindered by
turf toe and a stress fracture in his left foot last season and
rushing for just 917 yards, down from 1,086 the year before. He
will get plenty of carries this fall, as will sophomore I-back
DeAngelo Evans (776 yards) after he returns from a pelvis injury
that will sideline him for one to two games. Senior All-America
center Aaron Taylor moves back to his old spot at left guard and
heads an experienced line.
As coach Tom Osborne enters his 25th season at Nebraska, his
main concern is a defense that lost eight starters (six were
chosen in the NFL draft). Had Wistrom left, he would likely have
been a first-round pick, but the Huskers' 37-27 loss to Texas in
the Big 12 championship game--a bitter defeat that quashed
Nebraska's three-peat hopes--helped persuade him to stay. "If
you had told me Texas would hang 37 points on us, I would have
laughed at you," says Wistrom. "Every time I go into the weight
room I think about that loss."
This year the prospect of defeat doesn't appear often on a
schedule littered with fatted calves such as Akron and Central
Florida. Indeed, all that stands between Nebraska and another
run at the national championship are road games at Washington
and Colorado, two teams the Huskers find themselves trailing,
for a change, in most preseason polls. Frost hardly minds that.
"Any time you're ranked from Number 3 to Number 9, there's
definitely less pressure than when you're Number 1," he says.
"We're going to be fighting our way up from the bottom to the
top this year, and that's how we won two national championships."
It's hard to count out any team that has the exorcist on its
side, a guy who not only turns heads on the field but also looks
at wins and losses in mystical terms. "It's like an out-of-body
experience when you lose at Nebraska," says Wistrom, who has
tasted defeat only twice in his 38-game college career. "When I
leave here, I don't want to be remembered as a loser."
COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN DUNN/ALLSPORT DESPITE THE LOSS OF EIGHT STARTERS, THE HUSKERS' D WILL AGAIN BE FEROCIOUS [University of Nebraska football players in game]
36 Number of consecutive games Nebraska has won at home, the
longest streak in the nation. The Cornhuskers' last loss in
Lincoln was to Washington in 1991.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
SEPT. 20 AT WASHINGTON Return to glory? If the Cornhuskers have
visions of No. 1, they must pass this early road test.
NOV. 28 AT COLORADO What rivalry? The Buffaloes haven't beaten
the Cornhuskers since 1990. Nebraska's average margin of victory
over them in that stretch has been 18.8 points.
Passing Scott Frost Sr. 104 comp., 200 att.,
1,440 yds., 13 TDs
Rushing Ahman Green Jr. 917 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving Vershan Jackson Sr. 13 catches, 220 yds.,
Tackles DE Grant Wistrom Sr. 75
Interceptions CB Ralph Brown Soph. 4