Paved with russet-colored bricks, the central quadrangle at Washington is known on campus as Red Square. That may explain why Nebraska looked so at ease in Seattle last Saturday. After all, Cornhuskers football evokes the old Soviet Union.
There's Nebraska's nickname ( Big Red) and the five-year plans that most Huskers players follow. There's the relentless monotony of the Huskers' stolid and anachronistic offense. There's the revered but mysterious leader, coach Tom Osborne, whose every practice remains closed as tightly as his mouth. "I know Tom," Washington coach Jim Lambright said jokingly last Friday. "And I know how he loves to babble on and on in those long, in-depth interviews." Indeed, after fielding a single postgame question on Saturday, Osborne inquired, politely but impatiently, "Anything else?"
Yet the Cornhuskers didn't simply resemble a former superpower last week: They showed that they still are one. Having failed to three-peat as national champions last season, their first with quarterback Scott Frost at the offensive controls, the Huskers came to Washington off a pair of unconvincing triumphs. "Two mediocre victories against two subpar teams," said senior defensive end Jason Peter of wins over Akron and Central Florida. "I'm sure people think the only reason Nebraska is 2-0 is because it schedules subpar opponents."
Subpar Central Florida was leading the Cornhuskers 17-14 in the second quarter on Sept. 13 when, unthinkably, many card-carrying Nebraska fans effectively revolted. Frost, who had sat out the Cornhuskers' previous series, returned to the huddle and heard what were believed to be the first concerted boos ever directed toward a home player in Memorial Stadium's 74-year history. "It's been very distressing to me, when all Scott has done is the best that he can," said Osborne last week. "He's on a scholarship worth $7,000. This isn't a pro quarterback."
Try telling that to every Husker Bob and Bobbi in the state. Frost's first sin was to attend Stanford after an all-state career at Wood River ( Neb.) High, which he describes as "90 miles down the interstate" from Lincoln. He transferred to Nebraska in 1995, but the following season, his first as the Cornhuskers' starter, Nebraska lost as many games—two—as it had won national titles under previous quarterback Tommie Frazier.
So Frost wore a baseball cap tugged low on his forehead as he circulated on campus last week, though the lid hardly rendered him incognito. "Lincoln is a small town," he said. "People recognize you everywhere you go."
He had just emerged from his 11:30 a.m. philosophy class, and he spoke, as you might imagine, rather philosophically. "You can count on both hands the schools where fans expect a national championship every year," Frost said. " Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Nebraska. Beating our rivals is great, but the fans aren't satisfied unless we win a national championship."
As the Cornhuskers huddled before kicking off on Saturday, Peter, a Nebraska co-captain, shouted a reminder to his teammates. "Don't forget!" he yelled, struggling to be heard in legendarily loud Husky Stadium, which is often called the House of Pain. "We're Nebraska! We won back-to-back championships! We dominated college football in the '90s!"
And just like that, the Huskers were back, like it or not. "Love us or hate us," as Peter would later put it. Frost ran for touchdowns of 34 and 30 yards on Nebraska's first two possessions—he finished with 97 rushing yards—while backfield tanks Ahman Green and Joel Makovicka rumbled for 129 yards apiece on the option and up the middle. In a style frighteningly redolent of seasons past the Big Red rolled over Washington 27-14.
"A lot of people wrote us off this year," Frost said afterward. "I'm not saying we're home free now. But people definitely have to watch out for us." With games remaining against Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa State, Nebraska is poised to be unbeaten heading into its Nov. 28 showdown at Colorado.