Oct 9, 2021; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive back Gemon Green (22) and linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green (41) celebrate after the Wolverines intercepted a pass from Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
There are a lot of bad things in the world of college athletics.
This weekend, from that long list of bad things, I pinpointed the worst thing.
There is nothing worse in the world of college athletics than living in the purgatory of being “close.” Being close sucks for the players. Being close sucks for coaches. And being close definitely sucks the most for fans even though they’re the ones who are actually impacted the least by it.
What do I mean by the purgatory of close, you ask? Usually being close to a goal is good, right?
Wrong — or at least not in college athletics.
In college athletics, close is the thing that fosters hope. Close allows your excitement to build and your mind to race with the devilish thoughts of possibility. “If we can just get there…”
But, you don’t get there. Well, maybe you do sometimes, but usually, you don’t, because you’re just… close.
There are many levels to this purgatory of close. They’re each infuriating, hope-inducing, despair-causing, exciting and heartbreaking in their own ways.
Iowa State football lives on one of the better floors of the purgatory of close… at least for now. The Cyclones had sky-high expectations during the offseason. Two early losses have seriously dampened those expectations, but there are enough signs to show the Cyclones still have the opportunity to turn things around and do something special in 2021.
The Cyclones remain close enough to potentially climb out of this purgatory before being pulled down into its depths by whatever firey monster lives below.
Oh, wait, that’s not a monster. That’s just a partially deflated Lil Red costume.
What is the somewhat terrifying and still a little bit loveable-looking inflatable mascot of the Nebraska Cornhuskers doing down here in a deflated state?
He’s been down here a long time. More than a decade, in fact, ever since Mack Brown raised one finger and the Big 12 officials added time to the clock at the 2009 Big 12 title game.
The Huskers were very, very close that time. That’s when they lived on the same level Iowa State exists in now. They were that close twice more over the years that followed, but those instances feel like ages ago now.
The folks in Lincoln have spent the majority of the last decade falling further and further away from the top of the purgatory of close. They’ve gone through three different coaching changes, numerous offensive and defensive schemes and hundreds of players, all just trying to find their way back out of the purgatory of close.
There have been fleeting moments when it seemed like they could be on the verge of reaching one of this god-forsaken place’s upper floors, just for them to be pushed back down the ladder in the most deflating ways possible.
That’s what happened this past Saturday when Adrian Martinez fumbled the football late in the fourth quarter of the Huskers’ loss to Michigan in Lincoln, setting up the Wolverines’ game-winning field goal. This would’ve been a monumental win for Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and that program. It would have been their first win over a ranked opponent since 2015.
It would have been a sign that the Huskers might be climbing out of this place, but, alas, as so often happens to those of us in this place, Nebraska remains the worst thing of all.
They’re close, but not close enough to see the daylight of impending major success.
Penn State has seen that daylight. Oh, have they ever seen that freaking daylight.
I’m sure they were seeing it sometime in the mid-afternoon this past Saturday. They were surely dreaming of massive clashes ahead with Big Ten East rivals and the possibilities of a berth in the College Football Playoff. I hope they enjoyed the feeling of that daylight on their faces and allowed its warmth to wash over them before they were crushed back into the icy depths of the college football underworld.
Because Sean Clifford got hurt. Kirk Ferentz’s devil magic reigned supreme and the fans at Kinnick Stadium stomped on Penn State’s on-field graves despite being favored and the higher-ranked team at home.
Welcome back into the purgatory of close, Penn State. The folks in Iowa City are unfortunately awfully good at putting us back in this dreadful place.
The same could be said about the folks in Manhattan, Kan. I’m fairly confident the opening of the purgatory of close resides inside a tunnel at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It is there for easy access to kick you right back into the depths.
Iowa State has a chance to be the ones who find their way out of the darkness and back into the light, though, over the next seven weeks. We can feel the daylight on our faces and the warmth in our hearts again like we did for most of 2020.
All I know is I hate being here. There is no place worse.
I’ve had enough of the purgatory of close.