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 LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -In a program where the word ``championships'' used to easily roll off tongues, the talk has turned to ``hope'' at Nebraska.
The conversation changed drastically after losses to Missouri and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks by a combined score of 86-20.
Prospects of the Cornhuskers (4-3, 1-2 Big 12) repeating as North Division champions are fading fast. The buzz around here now is about whether fourth-year coach Bill Callahan will make it to a fifth season, despite signing a five-year contract last month.
Following a 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday - Nebraska's worst beating at home since 1958 - Callahan had no clear answer when asked why anyone should believe things will get better this year.
``You just have to believe,'' he said. ``You have to keep hope alive for those kids. You can't walk away from them and point fingers and blame and do anything like that. We're all in it together.''
The Huskers' confidence on defense has been obliterated by what collectively has been some of the worst performances since the pre-Bob Devaney era, which began in 1962.
Oklahoma State, which hadn't won at Memorial Stadium in 20 visits since 1960, set an opponent first-half scoring record while getting out to a 38-0 lead. The Cowboys averaged 7.8 yards a play and finished with 551 yards, making them the fifth straight opponent to amass 415 or more yards.
``It's hard to defend a lot of things that are going on right now,'' Callahan said. ``Our players are trying. They're certainly trying. Again, it's just not enough. We make some plays, we get a team backed up in third-and-long situations, and then they convert on a screen play, whatever it may be. It's really disappointing.''
Offensively, the Huskers generated 335 yards, but Sam Keller threw for only 129 against one of the nation's worst pass defenses. Maurice Purify, who came into the season as one of the Big 12's top returning receivers, has become an afterthought. He caught just one pass for 24 yards against OSU.
The running game showed some improvement in the second half and may have a budding star in freshman Quentin Castille, who ran for 102 yards on 20 carries.
Still, Nebraska didn't make a first down until its fourth possession. The Huskers punted five times, turned over the ball on downs twice and had three turnovers.
Nebraska scored touchdowns on two of its last three series, leading Callahan to believe he has not lost his team mentally.
``They came back and competed, and I thought we ran the ball better,'' Callahan said. ``We were getting a rhythm there in the second half.''
Keller gave an impassioned monologue after Saturday's game about what he and his teammates are going through and how they haven't lived up to the expectations of the program and the state.
He pointed to his chest, saying there is a pain inside that won't go away.
``Everybody has to fall in line, the leaders have to take this over, and we have to make something of ourselves,'' Keller said.
Contrary to the view of many observers, Callahan said he believes his players are giving a good effort. He said they are pressing, afraid to make mistakes.
``There are a lot of good football players doing what you are asking,'' he said. ``I just see it and feel like we're not doing it collectively. I don't know. This is a strange game.''
M at home Saturday, then play three of their final four games on the road. Tough games at Texas (Oct. 27) and Kansas (Nov. 3) are on consecutive weeks, and the Huskers might find themselves fighting for bowl eligibility when Kansas State comes calling Nov. 10.
``Any time you are faced with a little bit of adversity - in our case, a lot of adversity - the only way we can go is up,'' Keller said.

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