Once upon a time (actually, not all that long ago), the Nebraska football team enjoyed such respect. Season after season, the Cornhuskers were in the national title conversation. They’re back in that conversation following a 48-13 victory at Kansas State, televised nationally last Thursday night by ESPN, and coupled with South Carolina’s 35-21 Saturday upset of Alabama; the latter was the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 in both major polls. Nebraska moved up to No. 5 in this week’s Associated Press media poll and No. 4 in the coaches’ poll, where it even received two first place votes. The last time the Cornhuskers were ranked as high as fourth was prior to the 2002 Rose Bowl game against No. 1-ranked Miami. They lost that game 37-14 and continued a slide from national prominence. In any case, they’re again title contenders in coach Bo Pelini’s third season. “I don’t put much stock in where we’re ranked,” Pelini says. “It’s pretty irrelevant to me because I also understand we have a lot to fix right now. We’ve got a lot of things we need to do to get better as a football team. If that continues, I think we’ll like the results. “If it doesn’t, you can get humbled really quick in this game.” The Huskers are well positioned, though, right? “You know, I don’t really know,” says Pelini. “There’s a lot of undefeated teams. There’s a lot of things going on. Like I said, I really don’t even pay attention to all that stuff, that stuff that’s out of our control. If we win a lot of football games, a lot of things will happen for us.” A victory in the next game would solidify Nebraska’s position. The opponent is Texas, and though the Longhorns, who lost to Alabama in last season’s BCS title game, dropped out of the rankings because of back-to-back losses, they’ll provide a formidable challenge. They’ll also test Taylor Martinez, the Huskers’ redshirt freshman quarterback. Martinez has had a once-upon-a-time season to this point as well. His ability as a runner is reminiscent of Husker quarterbacks such as Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost and Eric Crouch. Athletic Director Tom Osborne, who recruited those three, was asked the day after the Kansas State game if Martinez reminded him of any of them, or others. “Everyone’s a little different, you know,” the Hall of Fame coach says. “I think Taylor and Crouch are similar in speed. But Taylor hits full speed probably faster than anybody I’ve ever seen. I think in three steps, he’s going full speed. And the thing that’s kind of amazing is that he clears the line of scrimmage and guys who would normally be tackled, he’s one step past that point.” Oh yes, the Kansas State game also vaulted Martinez into Heisman Trophy candidacy, though no freshman, redshirt or not, has ever won college football’s most prestigious individual award. “He’s pretty unique,” says Osborne. “But every game’s a new experiment, and every team’s going to try to stop him in different ways. And it’s not always going to be quite like it was last night.” Texas is next up, and the Longhorns represent a less pleasant once-upon-a-time moment. Once upon a time as Big 12 rivals, Nebraska defeated Texas. But only once. Since 1996, Nebraska’s record against the Longhorns is 1-8.

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