Red flags with a big white “N’s” are starting to fly all over southeast Nebraska as the excitement for the Husker Football season opener continues to grow.

Nebraska kicks off its season Saturday at 6 p.m. against Western Kentucky. Even though the Huskers are predicted to rout the overmatched Western Kentucky team, NU fans say there’s something special about the season opener.

Rich Hovendick attends every Husker home game with season tickets that have been in his family for about 60 years. He said it has become a ritual to gather with friends and family at a tailgate party before the game, then attend the game, then head back to the tailgate afterward to discuss the game.

“There’s always more excitement for that first game of the year because everybody’s curious to see how the team’s going to look,” Hovendick said. “So there’s always excitement for the opener.”

Nebraska’s strong finish in 2009 has added to the excitement of 2010. The Huskers are ranked in the top 10 in both the Coaches and AP polls and ESPN analyst Lee Corso even predicted the Huskers to play in the National Championship Game this year.

“It’s nice to see the Huskers mentioned in top 10 talk and possibly National Championship talk again,” Hovendick said. “It’s been a while. It’s been slowly building since the (Bill) Callahan era and every year we seem to be getting back to where we were. It’s guarded optimism, but it’s optimism.”

Chris Belding considers himself an avid Husker fan and said he tries to make it to as many home games as he can and at least one road game. He said the fact that a starting quarterback hasn’t been named adds to the excitement of the opener.

“I try to keep up with everything that goes on during the year,” Belding said. “Finally we get to come out and see some of the freshmen that we’ve been hearing about and see how good the team is going to be.”

Randy Sandman is another local person who takes Husker football pretty seriously. He said his tailgate party usually draws 60 to 70 people and he described it as being like a family reunion. He said the tailgate cook has been preparing all summer for the first game, and said they’ll be opening with brisket chicken and ribs.

“It’s a great way to get together and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and neighbors,” Sandman said.

Sandman is also excited about NU’s potential for a good season.

“I sense a lot more excitement this year because of the attitude of the coaching staff and the depth we have this year,” Sandman said. “It should be a great season but anything is possible with injuries and other situations. So things can change in a hurry.”

Also adding to the uniqueness of the 2010 season is it will be Nebraska’s last in the Big 12 Conference. Early in the summer, NU Athletic Director Tom Osborne shook the college football world when he announced Nebraska would be joining the Big 10 Conference in 2011, creating a huge question as to whether the Big 12 would remain intact. The remaining teams in the Big 12, however, found a way to stick together and remain a conference.

“None of the Big 12 teams are going to roll over for Nebraska as we leave the conference,” Sandman said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition along the way.”

Sandman said he’s looking forward to playing in the Big 10 next year, but is also looking forward to playing all the Big 12 teams one last time.

Belding is excited about the possibility of leaving the Big 12 on a championship note.  Husker fans still have last year’s last second loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship game engraved in their memory. 

“A lot of fans would love to see us go out as Big 12 Champions,” Belding said. “Last year we were in the championship and fell just short. We have an added bonus of having Texas come to Lincoln for probably the last time ever. After last year’s Big 12 title game, people are pretty excited to get (Texas) up here in Lincoln.”