LINCOLN, Neb. – The collective eyebrows of Nebraska fans were raised when coach Bo Pelini publicly challenged his Cornhuskers to go 6-0 in their remaining regular-season games.
It's not that the goal is too ambitious — even though no Nebraska team since 2001 has won six straight in the same season. No doubt, Big Red backers hungry for a first conference championship in 13 years hope it can be accomplished.
What caught people off guard is that Pelini issued his challenge moments after the humiliating 25-point loss at Ohio State, and it seemed to run counter to the coaching profession's one-game-at-a-time mantra.
Nine days later, Pelini wasn't backing off. The Huskers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), coming off a bye week, start their mission Saturday at Northwestern.
"It's week to week. I don't change our process," Pelini said Monday. "But I know this: if you win out, you control your own destiny. That's what I meant. It's nice to be in a position where you control your own destiny. The only way we keep control of our own destiny is winning out."
Winning out would assure the Huskers of a Legends Division title and a spot in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
It's no small task. After Northwestern, Michigan visits Lincoln and then there's a trip to Michigan State. The Huskers finish with Penn State and Minnesota at home and a road game against Iowa.
Pelini said he doesn't worry about possible losses being detrimental to his team's psyche. He reminded reporters that his expectation at the start of each season is to win every game. That, he said, is the big picture.
Day to day, Pelini said, he challenges each player to improve. Week to week, he said, he challenges his players to get ready for the next opponent.
Pelini's big-picture message after the 63-38 loss at Ohio State resonated with the players.
"We didn't need Bo to say it," receiver Tim Marlowe said. "We know we slipped up in Columbus and the only way we can guarantee we go to Indianapolis is winning out. Obviously, there are other ways to do it. But if we just win the next six games we'll be in Indianapolis and, ultimately, that's where we want to be. We want to bring this state a conference championship."
The Huskers go into Saturday behind Iowa (4-2, 2-0), Michigan (4-2, 2-0) and Northwestern (6-1, 2-1) in the Legends.
Tight end Ben Cotton said in past years players and coaches would not have put as much pressure on themselves to win every game. That's because there was an expectation things could fall into place if teams ahead of them would lose, he said.
Cotton said the attitude is different now.
"We all appreciate Bo's honesty, that we have to take care of our business from here on out or we're going to be sitting here while two other teams are in Indianapolis," Cotton said. "We know if we want to get there, we've got to win every game, we've got to win every quarter, we've got to win every snap. We have to take control of it because no one else is going to give it to us."