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Steven M. Sipple: Alberts just may help put Huskers on right path by invoking critical question

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If you're a Nebraska football fan, you might've watched with a degree of trepidation as Georgia toppled Alabama in the national championship game Monday night.

In terms of overall speed and talent, yes, Georgia and Alabama leave Nebraska in the dust, especially in their respective front sevens on defense. My heavens, those defenses close quickly on the ball.   

But let's be clear: Georgia and Alabama would leave 98% of 130 Division I teams in the dust. 

Nebraska is among a massive crowd of teams trying to make up ground. My unsolicited advice: Don't look away. Face reality. Embrace reality. 

Also, listen to your local athletic director. 

During the Lincoln Journal Star's wide-ranging interview Tuesday with Nebraska AD Trev Alberts, I told him what I hear from Husker fans: How is Big Red ever going to get back to the level we saw Monday night in Indianapolis?

"Do you know how long it took Georgia to get there?" he asked. 

Georgia's most recent national championship team had been the 1980 outfit that was coached by Vince Dooley, who was in his 17th season at the time. The Bulldogs featured quarterback Buck Belue as well as a 6-foot-2, 225-pound thumper of a running back from Johnson County, Georgia.

Herschel Walker is the kind of player that puts teams over the top. Few collegiate running backs have done it better.

Four decades later, Georgia again tastes the sweet nectar of a collegiate title, and the Bulldogs appear set to remain in the hunt for years to come. 

Meanwhile, Nebraska remains in the pack of teams chasing the elites — most notably, Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. But let's face it, Georgia and Alabama are the biggest of the big dogs. 

"You can get back there," Alberts said. "But you have to focus on the stuff that matters." 

I'm all ears. 

"Talking about playing in the national championship game, I mean, that's the furthest thing away from us right now," said Alberts, recognizing Nebraska's 3-9 record in 2021 and that NU has fallen short of bowl qualification for five straight seasons.

"We need to learn how to tie our shoes. Literally, we're starting over." 

Alberts, in his seventh month on the job, followed by offering the sort of wisdom that Nebraska fans — and, come to think of it, the Husker coaching staff — should keep in mind going forward. 

"How do we create the most physical football team in the Midwest?" he said. "Just start there. Just be physical. Focus on fundamentals."  

That's perfect. That's beautiful. Best of all, that's realistic. 

This is where we should note Alberts' background as a player. As a consensus All-American defender in 1993 — one of the very best edge rushers in program history — the Iowa native represents a strong connection to the program's glorious past. Nebraska was extremely physical during its halcyon days. A lot of us took for granted that the Huskers would always be the most physical team on gorgeous autumn Saturdays. 

Georgia and Alabama play with the sort of speed and force that routinely elicit breathtaking plays. 

Nebraska fans have almost forgotten what that looks like. Alberts hasn't forgotten. He played that way. He played on those sort of teams. He played for a coaching staff that demanded that Nebraska be, well, the most physical team in the nation. 

But, for now, let's just keep it to the Midwest. 

"We just celebrated Zach Wiegert," said Alberts, referring to Monday's announcement that his former teammate is part of the College Football Hall of Fame's class of 2022. "I mean, I don't know that (Nebraska's offense) had too many fancy plays against Miami (in the 1994 season's national championship game). They knew right where we were running. We told them where we were going to run. 

"You can't say it was because, well, Nebraska was twice as gifted as Miami. That couldn't have been the case just based on talent, right?" 

Those Miami teams were awesomely talented, and fast — you know, like the teams in this season's national title contest.

"I'd rather stop worrying about all that big-picture stuff and just narrow our focus into the granular details, and control right now what we can control," Alberts said. "We can get bogged down in all this NIL stuff and worry what Texas A&M is doing (in the NIL world), and how can we compete with that? Let's just control what we can control right now, and create a unified team that works its tail off and cares for each other and loves each other — and is fundamentally sound, and will never quit. We can do that.

"And guess what? If we do that, we will win more than three games." 

If Nebraska once again becomes the most physical team in the Midwest — yeah, that includes Wisconsin — a lot of problems around here would be solved.

It's easier said than done. We don't even know what the Huskers' offense will look like in 2022.

There are zero guarantees of a quick turnaround, as Nebraska fans should now fully understand. 

It surely won't happen without the right leadership. It helps to have an athletic director stating a mission. 

Most physical team in the Midwest? I like the way that sounds.

Contact the writer at ssipple@journalstar.com or 402-473-7440. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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