LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Maine coach Jack Cosgrove has never been to Nebraska, but the self-described “college football junkie” knows all about the Cornhuskers.

“As a kid growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, there were the Johnny Rodgers and Jerry Tagges. The names could roll of my tongue,” Cosgrove said.

Rodgers and Tagge are far removed from their national-championship playing days in the early 1970s. After last year’s 5-6 season – and its 22-18 record in its last 40 games – Nebraska’s program also seems a long way from its heyday.

But Cosgrove doesn’t seem to care. As far as he’s concerned, his Division I-AA Black Bears are taking on a powerhouse when they visit Nebraska today.

“My respect for that program puts a handle on what we’re trying to do here,” Cosgrove said. “It’s going to take everything in our power to go out there and be successful.”

If there’s one thing Nebraska has learned from its worst season since 1961, it’s that nothing should be taken for granted in a program that once regularly stomped nonconference opponents.

So even if Cornhusker fans are chalking up the season opener as an easy victory, no one on the team is, offensive lineman Seppo Evwaraye says.

“That N’ you slap on your helmet, there’s no magic to it,” Evwaraye said. “It’s not like you put that helmet on, run on the field and have 80,000 people cheer you on and you’ll beat anybody. Those days are over.”

Second-year coach Bill Callahan’s charge is to lead Nebraska back to its former glory. With one full recruiting class on board, he believes he has the cast that can help him start the process.

Junior-college transfer Zac Taylor takes charge of the West Coast offense, which was abysmal last year with Joe Dailey at quarterback. Dailey transferred to North Carolina after Taylor beat him out in the spring.

But the offense may not be at full strength for the opener. Receivers Mark LeFlore and Chris Brooks are nursing knee injuries, and Isaiah Fluellen has a hamstring pull. Callahan said their availability was uncertain.

If necessary, the Huskers are comfortable turning to their ground game. Cory Ross is back after running for 1,100 yards, and backups Brandon Jackson, Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn have been impressive in the preseason.

Not only is the offense bent on re-establishing itself, the Huskers’ defense is looking to bounce back after a dismal showing in 2004. The Huskers’ secondary lost underclassmen Fabian Washington and Josh Bullocks to the NFL draft, but defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said he is excited about the prospects of young cornerbacks Cortney Grixby, Tierre Green and Zackary Bowman.

The Huskers open against a Division I-AA opponent for the second straight year. Last year they throttled Western Illinois 56-17 before their worst season since 1961 unfolded.

A Nebraska team that hasn’t been in the Top 25 in more than a year has a favorable schedule, with five straight home games to open the season.

“Rankings only mean so much, but obviously you want people to recognize that you have a great program,” Taylor said. “We want to win one game at a time, and hopefully you people start realizing that Nebraska is back up there where they used to be.”

The Black Bears also were 5-6 last season, and they are picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 North Division.

That doesn’t mean they’ll go into the game content to collect their $350,000 paycheck and take a beating.

Though today marks only the fourth time Maine has played a I-A opponent, last year the Black Bears beat Mississippi State 9-7 on the road.

“We have experience against a team that has guys who are bigger, and we gained a little bit of confidence,” quarterback Ron Whitcomb said. “We showed we can play at that level for a short period of time.”


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