Note – This is the 2012 information. Please check the 2013 Nebraska page for a look at this new season.
2012 Husker Football: Finally Ready to Take the Next Step Under Bo Pelini?
Bo Pelini has had a nice career at Nebraska. Certainly, it’s been better than his predecessor Bill Callahan. His teams have been consistent – posting records of 9-4,10-4, 10-4, and 9-4. At 90% of the programs in the country, that’s worthy of a lifetime contract. At Nebraska, expectations are much higher. Up until last year, Husker fans were comfortably in Pelini’s corner. Now they’re starting to get a bit restless. They aren’t asking for his firing – yet – but if Pelini can’t get the program over the hump soon, they will be.
Excitement for football season is always high in Lincoln. But this year has a tad different feeling around town because there’s mild optimism that this will finally be the year Nebraska gets back to their dominating ways. It’s been more than a decade since Nebraska was a dominant football program. Callahan was never able to get the Big Red into the national spotlight and Pelini’s teams are doing just good enough to be somewhat relevant.
Until Pelini gets the Huskers to some BCS Bowl games and contends for a national championship, he won’t be considered among the coaching greats in Husker history. Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne, and Frank Solich all had the Huskers regularly competing for Big-12/8 titles and playing in major bowl games. Pelini has yet to win a conference title or play in a BCS Bowl. It may either be now or never for Coach Pelini.
T-Magic the Key to Husker’s Success
Taylor Martinez has a cool nickname – “T-Magic”. It’s a fitting name for a guy that can make magician-like plays out on the field. However, he’s just as likely to make a boneheaded play, especially throwing the football. Taylor wasn’t blessed with John Elway’s arm. Heck, we wasn’t even blessed with Tommy Frazier’s arm. But he is capable of making big plays with his feet and occasionally his arm when the defense gambles to stop the run.
Martinez has some help in the backfield. Experienced, reliable, and durable are 3 ways to accurately describe Rex Burkhead. Burkhead isn’t flashy. You don’t stop what you’re doing to watch him run the football. But he’s an effective back that’s been getting the job done for the Huskers the past few years. Nebraska fans won’t truly appreciate how solid he is until he graduates.
Nebraska’s ability to run the football is under concern. Pelini will be starting 4 inexperienced offensive linemen this fall. Their most steady performer is RG Spencer Long (a junior). Both Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez have started games at RT the past two seasons, but there’s a reason Pelini’s staff hasn’t decided on which one to start – neither of them are very good. LG Seung Hoon Choi is a former walk-on and was a part-time starter last season. He is Nebraska’s lone starting senior on the offensive line.
Nebraska can’t win without a dominating offensive line with this quarterback. T-Magic can make some plays when it looks like he’s going to lose yards. But he can only run around, avoiding defenders easing through a Swiss Cheese offensive line so often. If Nebraska’s line isn’t able to develop some immediate chemistry, Nebraska fans will be in for a rude awakening as early as September 8 when the Big Red travels to UCLA to take on an upstart Bruins teams.
Nebraska’s reputation of being a run-first program has always made recruiting wide receivers difficult. The Huskers have never had depth at that position. They still don’t. Kenny Bell will make some plays at receiver again this fall, but there’s a significant drop-off after him in the receiving corps. Quincy Enunwa is a better blocking receiver than a pass catcher. Tight end Ben Cotton is a big target but doesn’t possess great hands or great athletic ability. If Nebraska uses him correctly, he could become an offensive weapon, however.
Huskers Looking for Defensive Improvement
Nebraska entered 2011 – their first season in the Big-10 conference – with high expectations from their defense. Once stud DT Jared Crick went down with an injury early in the season, Nebraska’s defense never seemed to play up to their capabilities. The 2 most dominating and consistent defenders the Huskers had last year – LB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard – are gone to the NFL. That leaves the Huskers with some serious question marks, despite returning 7 defensive starters.
If Nebraska is going to win at the level Husker fans expect, the defense is going to have to find a way to improve. Someone no one is talking about in the preseason will have to step up and become a big-time impact player. The Huskers gave up 29 points per game last year. With their style of offense and lack of a great passing game, Nebraska can’t win 10+ games if they’re giving up that many points per game.
The Huskers defensive success could hinge upon finding a replacement for Dennard’s shutdown defense. CB Andrew Green is the most likely replacement to step into that #1 corner role. He’s shown some flashes, but doesn’t resemble Dennard at this point in his career. Another option could be Antonio Bell. Bell is a converted wide receiver that is still learning how to play the position. He has great athletic ability and good hands, but we still don’t know if he can cover a talented receiver consistently.
The secondary could get some help in the form of a talented defensive line – even with the loss of Jared Crick. 3 starters return on the D-line. They struggled against the run last year – ranking 64th in the nation – but could improve with experience. The linebacking corps appears to be average – led by the solid play of Will Compton. Compton is a big hitter that has a knack for finding the ball.
2012 Nebraska Football Schedule: Our Straight Picks
Nebraska doesn’t have a daunting schedule. Things set up nicely for them to make a run at the Legends Division title – and potentially a BCS Bowl. They will be favored in most games, but only by the slimmest of margins in a few games (i.e. UCLA, Iowa). If the Huskers can get past Southern Mississippi and UCLA unscathed – which won’t be easy – they should enter the Wisconsin game at 4-0.
Sept 1 vs Southern Mississippi – WIN
Sept 8 at UCLA – LOSS
Sept 15 vs Arkansas State – WIN
Sept 22 vs Idaho State – WIN
Sept 29 vs Wisconsin – WIN
Oct 6 at Ohio State – LOSS
Oct 20 at Northwestern – WIN
Oct 27 vs Michigan – WIN
Nov 3 at Michigan State – LOSS
Nov 10 vs Penn State – WIN
Nov 17 vs Minnesota – WIN
Nov 23 at Iowa – WIN
Overall Record: (9-3)
Big-10 Record: (6-2)
Games Favored: 9
Games Underdog: 3
Nebraska Cornhuskers: Final Analysis
There’s no shame in winning 9-10 games consistently – not even at Nebraska. But fans are fans. They expect more out of their favorite team than is reasonable. Nebraska fans don’t understand that College Football is more competitive now than it was back when the Huskers were running off 10-12 win seasons like winning 10-12 games was going out of style. It’s hard to accomplish consistent dominating seasons without getting Top 10 recruiting classes every year. Nebraska has never done that. They never will. They don’t have enough talent in-state.
The Huskers will always be able to recruit on reputation. Players from all over the country come to Lincoln because they love the passion of the fan base and the traditions. But it’s not so easy to get enough big-time national recruits to compensate for a lack of in-state talent. The Husker program is in good hands right now with Bo Pelini. He might not be Tom Osborne, but then again…who is? He’ll eventually get Nebraska over the hump and into a BCS Bowl. It just won’t be this year and it won’t ever happen on a regular basis. And Husker fans should be okay with that.