Not the victory but the action; not the goal but the game; in the deed the glory reads the inscription on the facade of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. That's high-minded stuff, but it's little consolation to a team that finished but a single victory and a single goal short of the glory of a national championship the past two seasons. An Orange Bowl loss to Clemson cost the Corn-huskers the title in 1981, and a controversial Penn State touchdown with four seconds left tagged them with their only defeat of last season. "He was out of bounds," says Husker I Back Mike Rozier of Nittany Lion Tight End Mike McCloskey, who caught a 15-yard pass that set up the score to beat Nebraska. "We have films that show it."
But the fact remains that the Huskers still have a championship to win for the three marvelous seniors who start at offensive skill positions. They're Wingback Irving Fryar, Quarterback Turner Gill and Rozier, the 1982 Big Eight Player of the Year and the leading returning Heisman Trophy vote getter. Dusty Roz brought his 5'11", 210-pound frame to Lincoln, where the offensive linemen average 6'4", 260, with good reason. "Go to another school," he says, "you get hurt."
But infirmity can catch up with you, even at Nebraska. I.M. Hipp, Jarvis Redwine and Roger Craig, I backs all, suffered injuries in their senior seasons, and more than a few Nebraska folk fear that Rozier will be the next victim of a senior I-back jinx. He held himself out of the Cornhuskers' winter conditioning program to let a nagging sprained ankle heal. That seems to have worked, as he then bolted for 108 yards and two TDs in the Huskers' spring game. And he has recommitted himself to his studies, after having bagged classes for three weeks last semester. "It was my fault," he says. "Can't blame the teachers."
Fryar, who also returns punts, is a "Hi, Mom" type of player who made 19 of his 24 receptions in front of national-TV cameras last season. He's also the best athlete among the Huskers and the fastest Nebraska football player in history, with a 4.43 in the 40 to his credit. Gill directed a 1982 attack that led the nation in total offense (518.6 yards per game), scoring (41.1) and rushing (394.3 yards).
Gone are four of the starting five Monsters of the Midlands, including Center Dave Rimington, the two-time Outland Trophy Winner. "He could go two positions over and take out a man," says Gill. "Plus he was the big motivator with our linemen." Rimington's replacement will be 6'6", 270-pound junior Mark Traynowicz, a converted tackle. The one returning starter up front is 6'4", 270-pound Dean Steinkuhler, a senior guard who has run the 40 in 4.67—faster than any other Husker interior lineman ever.
But don't judge Nebraska's offensive line—or any part of the team, for that matter—by the number of returning first-stringers. This year the Huskers have eight letter-men coming back up front, a byproduct of Nebraska's 12 wins in '82: Most of them were so lopsided (the average margin of victory was 26.7 points) that everybody played.
At fullback, Mark Schellen replaces Doug Wilkening, who quit the Cornhuskers during spring practice because he was feeling burned out. Two years ago Schellen was a 5'10", 280-pound blob who had been cut from the team at Nebraska-Omaha, a Division II school. His wife talked him into going on a diet, and by and by he showed up at Lincoln and holed up in Nebraska's renowned weight room, setting all sorts of records. Before long he was a svelte 219, and walked on. He'll block for Rozier.
The defense will be young and inexperienced, with no senior starters. The best of the four returning starters are Safety Bret Clark, who led the Huskers in tackles last year with 52, and Tackle Rob Stuckey and End Bill Weber, who made the conference's all-academic team while making 91 stops between them. Nebraska's linebacking remains suspect, though Husker hucksters are already talking up junior Mike Knox as the finest in the Big Eight. Over the winter he qualified for the NCAA wrestling championships as a heavyweight, though 1982-83 was his first season of college wrestling.
Gill is a master of the option, and for much of the spring he had Coach Tom Osborne trying to read him as he weighed an early pitch-out to pro baseball against a college football keeper. (When he came out of high school. Gill passed up a $90,000 signing bonus with the White Sox.) While mulling things over. Gill started at shortstop for the Cornhusker baseball team and hit .284 with five triples. Ergo, he missed spring practice, which, he admits, might catch up with him in Nebraska's early opener against—hmmmmm—Penn State in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 29 at the Meadowlands. But Gill talks like someone out for revenge. "We should have beaten Penn State last year and we didn't," he says. "That's what it boils down to. It was my dream when I came to Nebraska to win a national championship. I think the third time might be the charm."