Maine coach Jack Cosgrove better pack some comfortable shoes just in case he needs them after tomorrow's game against Nebraska. It's 1,439 miles from Lincoln to Orono, after all.
''If the best thing ever happened, I would walk back, probably," Cosgrove said. ''I would want to relish that one."
Cosgrove may or may not be joking about what his reaction would be if his Black Bears were to prevail in what on paper is an improbable season-opening matchup.
Division 1-AA Maine is playing a 1-A opponent for only the fourth time in a football history that dates to 1892. But the last time the Black Bears of the Atlantic 10 Conference went against the big boys, last Sept. 18, they won, 9-7, at Mississippi State.
''People want to point to last year and Mississippi State, but I think it's an entirely different animal," Cosgrove said. ''[Nebraska] is one of the premier, elite programs in the history of college football."
Cosgrove said it wasn't his idea to schedule the Cornhuskers, who are coming off a 5-6 season.
''I would have been smarter than that. Give me a little credit," he said.
Blake James, Maine's interim athletic director, set up the game last December with a phone call he made to Nebraska AD Steve Pederson. James, who handled football scheduling under former athletic director Patrick Nero, said Maine needs to start lining up a 1-A opponent each year to help make its $11 million athletics budget. Boston College is on the schedule next year.
Nebraska is paying Maine $350,000, but James said the Black Bears are getting more than money out of the deal.
''It's a great environment -- one of the best in college -- and for our guys to go and experience that is a plus for our program," James said.
To compare environments, consider that the Black Bears' total attendance for five home games last season was 33,729 -- less than half the 75,000-plus who will be on hand at Memorial Stadium tomorrow night.
Ron Whitcomb, who quarterbacked Maine to its win over Mississippi State, said he and his teammates aren't coming to Lincoln to just make an appearance.
''I don't think you have to be lucky to win," he said. ''If we played 10 games against Mississippi State, we wouldn't win all 10. But we had a game plan for Mississippi State and beat them on the day we played them. Our plan is to try to hang in there against Nebraska."
Though Maine was 5-6 last season, the year was memorable because of that win over Mississippi State. The Bulldogs committed three turnovers inside the Maine 10-yard line and were shut out after scoring a first-quarter touchdown.
''We found out anything is possible if you work together," linebacker Jermaine Walker said. ''As long as we play team offense and team defense, there is definitely a chance we could beat Nebraska, because that's what happened last year with Mississippi State."
Cosgrove said he doesn't read too much into the win over the Bulldogs.
''One of the things that was pretty helpful with our game at Mississippi State is the fact we were snuggled in there kind of nice between Auburn and LSU on their schedule," he said. ''It was awful impressive for me to look at the schedule that had Auburn, Maine, LSU listed. I'm not sure Mississippi State paid a lot of attention to us."
If Cosgrove did a double-take when he saw Mississippi State's schedule with ''Maine" printed on it, imagine Maine fans looking at this year's Black Bear slate. Nebraska, in college football circles, doesn't quite fit in with the names of the Black Bears' next three opponents -- William Penn, Richmond, and Albany.
At a minimum, Cosgrove said, he wants his team to come out of tomorrow's game healthy, even if it means he'll have to fly home instead of walk. Even midlevel 1-A teams have come to Lincoln over the years and had their seasons ruined from having players hurt at the hands of the Huskers.
Depending on how the game goes, Cosgrove said, he would make coaching decisions tomorrow with an eye toward the Black Bears' following games in the Atlantic 10.
''Winning the Atlantic 10 championship is always our goal," he said.