We all remember the thumping that was the Big Ten Championship game. All Nebraska fans ask the same question. Why is it that on the biggest stage, on national television, that the Huskers continue to get dismantled?
We remember the Ohio State game, too. Why does it have to be the Blackshirts that make a slightly above average Braxton Miller look like a Heisman Trophy contender?
I’m going to rewrite an epic quote from one of my favorite movies, which pretty much sums up what some Nebraska fans were thinking in regards to Bo Pelini after last season. This quote does not reflect my sentiment toward Bo, but sums up pretty well what I’ve seen on social media, message boards, etc.
“Why in God’s name would I wanna keep supporting a coach whose central preoccupation is yelling at players and refs on the sideline? I mean, ya gotta grow man. Don’t you ever want anything more for yourself? I know the rest of Husker nation does. I look into their sorry doe eyes and I just, I see a fandom crying out. They’re crying out, “When Lord? When can your servants ditch this foul-mouthed little chucklehead to whom we are a constant victim of his folly? When, Lord when? WHENS GONNA BE MY TIME?”
I wrote continuously in my Husker Monday Marinade last season that I support Pelini, the process toward perfection, and the fact that I think its criminal that we toss coaches away so easily (see Gene Cizik). Especially given that this is Bo’s first head coaching gig. If you knew, when he was hired, that this was going to be a four-year learning process for a first-time head coach to learn his craft, with improvements to follow, you should be willing to wait for your patience to be rewarded.
So fear not, Husker fans. This is your time. And here is five logical reasons why Nebraska will win the national championship this year.
First, let’s tease and remind you a bit about the potential.
Nebraska returns the vast majority of an offense that ranked 15th in total yards, eighth in rushing and 20th in total scoring. Every skill position on this side of the ball has a productive upperclassman.
Taylor Martinez is a senior and has a great chance to be a 3,000-1,000 guy. Runningback Ameer Abdullah, a junior, will carry the majority of the rushing load and could top 1,500 rushing yards. With the added punch of Imani Cross, and the third dimension of Martinez running, Nebraska will have a top corps this season that will allow them to control games.
Here is something I never thought I would see … the Huskers have the best receiver group in the conference, perhaps top five in the country. Senior Quincy Enunwa leads a group that also includes juniors Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. If ever there was a 100+ reception 1,000+ yard guy on the Husker roster, this is the year. Their offensive line is the best and most seasoned since Pelini’s arrival and will open doors for all the above.
Nebraska scored nearly 35 points a game last year and there is talk they could average above that this year. It will surely be a talented, dizzying offense that will relentlessly attack.
It’s a good thing the offense could be so potent, because as we saw in some high-profile games last year, the Nebraska defense had some issues. The Big Ten Championship game was an anomaly, as I explained last year. Wisconsin came in with a circus mentality and it worked, and made the Blackshirts look like clowns.
Earlier in the season, Ohio State undressed Nebraska, a game that put Braxton Miller on the Heisman radar. In the Capital One Bowl, Georgia just outgunned the Huskers.
Yet, follow me down this rabbit hole. Let’s take the Ohio State, Georgia and Big Ten Championship games out, and Nebraska allowed less than 19 points per game, which ranks them 13th in points allowed. Don’t forget, Nebraska held Wisconsin to 24 points in a win early in the season. The core wasn’t bad.
In 2009 and 2010, the Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick days, Nebraska and Pelini had a top ten defense. It’s not as if Pelini forgot how to coach defense, but given some embarrassing stat lines, why would anyone Bo-lieve anything has changed?
The defense is rumored to be faster, hungrier and eager to prove Pelini’s recruiting prowess. Other media are taking notice as Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten network wrote an extensive report of the Huskers defensive front and said “Overall, this was one of the best-looking fronts I have seen on the tour.”
The secondary is the anchor of the defense this year, laden with juniors and seniors. Ciante Evans will lead this squad to new heights. Nobody is expecting that this will be a defense of 2009-10, but they certainly won’t be the reason Nebraska loses games. I believe this has been fixed.
Nebraska finished dead last in fumbles lost last year. Last! And 73rd in interceptions, leading to a -12 turnover margin, 108th of 124 teams. This is the worst finish in that category since 2008 where Nebraska again finished 108th. Coincidentally in that season, the Huskers also suffered blowout losses, to Missouri (52-17) and Oklahoma (62-28).
That amount of turnovers put the defense at a disadvantage often last year, with Nebraska turning the ball over 16 times in their own end. Nebraska won despite this.
In all, 14 teams had 30+ turnovers last year. The Huskers were one of three with a winning record, the other two went 7-6. The Huskers’ best defense will be an offense that holds on to the ball.
This turnover margin can’t possibly continue. The law of averages, if nothing else, dictates that. There has been a rabid dedication in practice this fall to curtail this from being an epidemic.
Much has been made about the weakness of Nebraska schedule this year, and it’s all true. It’s the type of line up that would make the Jones Brother proud, and the Huskers will use it to their advantage. Vacant from the 2013 schedule are all the ghosts of blowouts past. No Wisconsin, no Ohio State. Early lines I’ve seen (for research purposes only) have Nebraska favored in almost every game (the Golden Nugget has Michigan -4). Bleacher Report has Nebraska at 10-2 in their breakdown of every 2013 game, with none of the 12 games listed as a “won’t win”.
Bottom line is that this team is too talented and mature to lose to a one-dimensional Michigan State team, or scrappy Northwestern team. And if Appalachian State can win in the Big House in Ann Arbor, these Huskers will too.
Lack of Competition
I hate to be the one that says it, considering I know how many of you this may alienate, but the Big Ten sucks. They sent the per-requisite one team to a BCS Bowl last year as Wisconsin “represented” in the Rose. There has not been a Big Ten team of any national relevance in many years.
Ohio State fan will now start squawking about how they went 12-0. Well, here’s your crown, king nothing. The Buckeyes were good last year in the same way Notre Dame was good. The Buckeyes beat a bunch of nobodies, and some of them just barely. Their wins include a seven-point win over Cal (3-9 record last year), one-point win over Sparty (7-6), three-points over Indiana (4-8), and overtime wins over Purdue (6-7) and Wisconsin (8-6). I’m impressed …
Now you’re going to invoke that Braxton Miller is a Heisman candidate. Get real. Miller completed 58.3% of his passes for just over 2,000 yards, good for 105th in the FBS in passing yards per game. This stat line is eerily reminiscent of Taylor Martinez in 2011 and does nothing to prove Ohio State is any good.
Nebraska should cruise to the Big Ten title game as their only real challenge is at Michigan. Ohio State has to play both Wisconsin and Michigan, let alone an Indiana team that nearly shocked them last year, and a Penn State team that can’t play for a title, but can certainly prevent the Buckeyes.
Ohio State will lose two of these games and, in a fortunate break for Nebraska, not even play for the conference title. The title game becomes a Nebraska vs. Wisconsin rematch that the Huskers win.
This will complete an undefeated year for Nebraska and a shot against Stanford, not Alabama in the title game. Another lucky break for the Huskers, as Alabama would pound them. However, Standford, off their Rose Bowl win, gets into the championship by running through the Pac-12 and going undefeated. Starting the season ranked No. 4 they control destiny against Oregon and are left to hope Alabama loses (they will).
Stanford is a team that the Huskers match up well against, and Martinez goes from being the Landry Jones of Nebraska to being as heralded as Eric Crouch. Martinez doesn’t get the Heisman, but gets the crystal ball.
Is Nebraska the best team in the country? No. But media-types still believe the Big Ten has some cache and thus the BCS can’t keep an unbeaten Big Ten team out over a one-loss SEC team. There are probably a ten teams better than Nebraska this year, but the Husker offense and defense will be good enough to get them through their soft schedule and into the title game. All teams better than them will have eliminated each other. In the end, its Nebraska over Stanford. Seems logical, right?