IRVING, Texas — Shrugging off what might have been a shattering 13-12 loss to Texas in the 2009 Big 12 championship game, Nebraska proceeded to smother Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl — inducing coach Bo Pelini to declare on the field, "Nebraska's back!"
"I wasn't saying we'd arrived and we'd won a national championship or anything like that," Pelini said Monday during Big 12 media days. "But I finally felt the culture that we were trying to instill ... had taken hold."
Maybe so. But Nebraska soon will face another radical cultural challenge with its decision last month to ditch the Big 12 for the Big Ten after this season.
While a year away, the topic loomed so heavily that Pelini felt the need to announce he would not address it before his news conference began.
Still, questions about it speckled both the formal part of the session and a gathering around him afterward, overshadowing themes such as how Nebraska might replace Ndamukong Suh and which of three quarterbacks will emerge as Nebraska's starter.
Not that Pelini was particularly illuminating on the derby involving Zac Lee, Cody Green and Taylor Martinez:
"Somebody's got to line up as the starter in the first game," he said. "Is that necessarily who's going to be the starter in game three, four or five? No, not necessarily.
"My goal is pretty much (to have it) solidified by the time we get into Big 12 play."
His goal of avoiding Big Ten talk wasn't successful. He slipped once and referred to the Big Ten when he meant to make a reference to the NFL.
He only vaguely tolerated efforts to engage the topic.
"It's easy for us; I haven't even thought about it. Hasn't even been a question for me," he said. "If you start looking ahead, you're going to get stomped in this conference. You're in for a rude awakening."
Business as usual, he called it, and he tried to parallel this scene with what his team faced after losing to the Longhorns last year on a field goal with .01 second left — a fact commemorated on wristbands players are wearing, with the word "Finish" on one side.
If it seemed disingenuous when the volatile Pelini suggested he seldom changes his demeanor much, his broader point made sense.
"We always talk about that day," he said. "Staying completely in the moment, which you have to do on a daily basis. We don't look ahead. We don't look behind.
"Because no matter how good you play or how bad you play ... what you have to do the next day is the same: You've got to keep reaching for your potential."
Still, Pelini's brusque treatment of related questions suggested he may be trying too hard to avoid a topic that has relevance this season.
Before a questioner could finish asking about where the Big 12-Big Ten matter converges in terms of tone and incentives for Nebraska's Big 12 finale, he interrupted and said, "There is no Big 12-Big 10 matter. We're in the Big 12 right now. That's all we're concerned with."
Others found it easier to appreciate the intersection of emotions as some schools that have been entwined for generations now will separate.
"I think teams will play on that," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "I think people surrounding the teams will play on that even more."
For a sampling of how that's playing now, consider the stance of Baylor linebacker Antonio Johnson, whose program has played Nebraska only 12 times and won't face the Cornhuskers this season.
"We knew that they didn't want to include us," Johnson said. "That showed us no respect."
The Missouri contingent, which will appear Tuesday, may address what extra importance there may be to playing its final game against Nebraska for the foreseeable future in Lincoln, Neb., on Oct. 30.
But their series has picked up steam in recent years with Missouri winning four of the past six meetings. Tigers fans already are talking about the game and long since have conveyed their passion regarding Nebraska.
Cornhuskers receiver Niles Paul, who scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter last year as Nebraska rallied to beat Missouri 27-12, said Tigers fans are the toughest in the conference and added, "They were saying things I'd never heard before. They hate us. I never heard those things before. I didn't expect that.
"Our fans are nice and show some respect, I think. But, man ..."
If sending Nebraska out with a whimper instead of a bang becomes the goal of some, Pelini is being publicly consistent enough to insist he won't use that as a rallying call for his team.
"It's not my approach. Don't believe in it," he said. "Emotion can work two ways for you. It can work to your advantage. It can really work to your disadvantage, too. We worry about us, and taking care of us, and our fundamentals and our techniques, the basics, and getting better on a daily basis. ...
"You've got to keep your focus in the direction where it needs to be."
No matter how much reality tries to intrude on it.
Reid Laymance of the Post-Dispatch staff contributed to report