As Nebraska prepares to host Arkansas St. this week most of Husker Nation is still talking about the loss last week at UCLA. Most are aghast at how the Blackshirts were gashed for 653 yards last week. But didn’t Arizona’s big win over Oklahoma St. make NU’s loss feel any better? In a way it did for me (along with Wisconsin’s loss to Oregon State, Arkansas’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe and Michigan’s narrow win over Air Force).
As bad as the game was, I said to a friend of mine before the season even started that I viewed this season as a means to an end. I still would be disappointed with anything less than 9 wins (though after seeing the Big Ten’s performance in the early season there is not a conference game on the schedule that can’t/shouldn’t be won). We knew coming in to this season that Nebraska’s offense would be pretty good and the defense would be ok but not great. A work in progress due to youth and low numbers at a number of positions borne out of the move from the Big XII to the B1G.
If you look at the offense for next year, 2013, nearly everyone good will be back for year three of Tim Beck’s system; particularly at the skill positions and the all important QB position (detractors can debate whether another year with Martinez is good or bad but I’ll take three years with a Heisman moment type QB in the same system). So, it stands to reason that next year the offense will be positioned to again put up 30+ points a game. Offensive line is a bit of a question mark, particularly after some apparently hurtful transfers but NU should still be about 10 deep there.
That takes us to the defense. Right or wrong Coach Pelini seems reluctant to let young/new guys learn on the fly in games. He is historically bad about playing young guys. Unusual as it is, but not surprising given that Pelini is a defensive minded coach with a high-brow system, this is much more common on defense than offense. Perhaps more so in his system where a busted assignment by one guy leads to a big play by the other team. But, if you look at the roster you see that the guys Pelini has recruited for his style (and B1G style), particularly on defense, are very young. Curry, Moss, Valentine, Peat, McMullen, Ashburn were all recruited by Pelini for this system and will be in their second or third year in the program. The linebackers will be better too. Rose, Santos, Zaire Anderson, Thomas Brown, Pirman, Afalava are all (supposed to be) bigger, athletic LBs who can run and stuff the run. They will all be in their second or third year in the program. The secondary will be stocked with talent and experienced with Seisay, Chls. Jackson, Hvy. Jackson, Alonzo Moore, Cooper, Mitchell, Green, S J-B, and Jonathan Rose who transferred from Auburn.
In my opinion, all three levels on defense will see a big jump next year. Obviously that assumes a lot; no injuries, no bad transfers, hard work and dedication. But those are things every team deals with every year. In my opinion, NU fans should give Pelini the leeway to get those young guys snaps, live with the mistakes and reap the future rewards. Right or wrong, I don’t think he feels like he can do that.
CFB has changed. Even vaunted SEC teams and Texas teams lay some duds (See Arkansas; John L. Smith’s audition is not going so well). And they do it with (by all accounts) far superior talent and depth. Auburn is 0-2 for goodness sake.
Would NU want to be a program that values winning a National Championship and two years later going 0-2 to start the season? I’m not sure I would. Consider this quote from an article written before the 2010 season:
The Huskers have won at least nine games in every season since 1962 but six: 1967-68, 2002, 2004-5 and 2007. Just as a comparison, let’s hold the rest of college football’s historical elite to the same standard. Alabama has 18 such seasons, if you include 1993, over that same span; Georgia has 22; L.S.U. 18; Michigan 27; Notre Dame 21; Ohio State 29; Oklahoma 25; Penn State 30; U.S.C. 23, if you include 2005; Tennessee 23; and Texas 28.
I think I would prefer 9 wins seasons, competing for BCS bowls and winning a NC or two every 20 years or so. Obviously, I would prefer to be Alabama currently but before Saben got there it was up and down as much as any other program. And remember that Saben cut his teeth at Michigan State before taking the SEC jobs where he won National Championships, getting every great recruit and becoming a genius coach. It is hard to win in CFB and it’s getting harder every day.
I am very perplexed by the bad loss to UCLA but in the scheme of things I’m not sure it really matters. NU wasn’t going to win the NC this year and playing in a BCS bowl is probably not affected by that game very much as the B1G doesn’t figure to be a two bid conference this year. The UCLA game seemed to me to be the sign of a coach trying to get all the pieces to line up the way he wants so he can make a dominant run. As NU fans who lived through the 80’s we certainly should know that building an elite football team does take time. I’m still willing to give it.