Nebraska close to contending(Photo: Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports)

When Steve Pederson fired Nebraska head coach Frank Solich back in 2003, after winning nine games that year prior to the Alamo Bowl being played (which the Huskers naturally won for No. 10), the athletic director said he thought the program was slipping into mediocrity.

I guess it was if you call three Top10 finishes and two more Top25 teams in six years mediocre.

For the team of the 1990s, which included three undefeated seasons and three National Champions it obviously wasn’t good enough at the time and Solich was let go.

There’s been a whole of mediocrity since then.

Frustration too.

The Huskers haven’t finished in the Top10 since 2001.

But with Mike Riley there’s hope again. He replaced another nine-win coach that was fired and heads into his second year at Nebraska this fall with a program that could be close to turning that long ago but still very familiar corner. The roster looks close to making a run in competing for a Big Ten West crown and ultimately a College Football Playoff spot.

That’s all more than likely a year away but I can see the development.

In year one under Riley and the new regime Nebraska showed flashes last fall but struggled finishing. There were the exciting wins over Michigan State and UCLA, but there were also the blown leads and or devastating four-quarters against BYU, Miami, Illinois, Wisconsin and Northwestern that still sting.

Perhaps the Huskers will win 10 this season and be in the discussion to win the Big Ten West come this November, but the schedule is a challenge with road dates at Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at Ohio State and at Iowa awaiting. Despite having talent across the board, all their toughest conference games are played away from Memorial Stadium and 8-4 looks more likely.

So next year, that could be the special year.

Through player development, recruiting and transfers, Nebraska’s roster is beginning to look like a real competitor. Riley inherited what Pederson would still call a mediocre program from Bo Pelini. I’d call it stable. Pelini was in Lincoln for seven years, won nine four times and 10 the other three. Last year was a setback but Nebraska is now building for a run.

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