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Hoegher's 2012 Previews: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Sorry, this is just a placeholder for now. I've been traveling for work over the last couple days (I got a job! Which is nice, because I realized I'm in debt and I need beer money), and then today I just wanted to play Ultimate, drink beer, and lounge around/help my roommate with her new computer.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a reminder for me to sit down and actually write the Huskers preview and stop putting it off. It'll be up tomorrow afternoon (Sunday).

Done! Hey, better late than never, right? Anyway, let me say that I'm very glad that we in the Big Ten can consider Nebraska as part of our fold now. That said, they are still new, and even for this football fan (who didn't really start paying attention to college football until my freshman year), Nebraska is somewhat of an unknown entity. 1997, hell even 2001 was over a decade ago. This is not the Nebraska of yore.

Early impressions, however, have been promising. I have picture hanging just above me now of Nebraska's Big Ten debut (given as a graduation present). Fond memories of that one... well, for me at least. Probably not for Huskers fans as much. Ideally, Nebraska can soon return to something near(ish) its 1990's form* so that tales of that don't seem as far fetched to younger minds.

*SIDENOTE: So due to the wonderful resources here [LINKY], I've been putting past years into my rankings and just seeing where the teams lined up. I've got back to 1994 now, and as expected 1995 Nebraska ranks near the top of the ~2000 teams I've got. 3rd to be precise. 2nd is 2001 Miami (okay, no real issues there) and 1st is... 1996 Florida. Steve Spurrier is a dick.

Big Ten Football May Be A Poor Chant (Nebraska Performance 2005-2011)

Figure 1: Nebraska Yearly FBS Rank (2005-2011)

Figure 2: Nebraska Yearly Adj Off, Def Rank (2005-2011)

Figure 3: Nebraska Yearly Win % and Luck (2005-2011)

Ndomakong Suh, you will be missed. That 2009 defense was quite fierce with him at the helm. And ya know, Nebraska may not be the juggernaut that ruled the 90's, but at least Bo Pelini has given them some consistency over his tenure, consistently around the 80th percentile of the FBS ranks, and 9-10 wins/year like clockwork. Unfortunately, that consistency in recent years has been marked by an improvement on offense and a regression on defense for a net zero gain. Not exactly a stellar endorsement.

Positives though? Whatever the benchmark that earlier Huskers teams have set, Nebraska has been consistently above average on offense and defense for the last several years (2007 aside, but we won't hold Pelini responsible for his predecessor's faults). I don't know that there is a lot to give confidence that the current level of performance is going to be surpassed, though. IT seems to me that something has to change for Pelini's team to break through to the next level.*

*That, or less generous clock operators, circa 2009.

FIX YO DEFENSE (Nebraska 2011 Season)

Lost Capitol One Bowl vs South Carolina (13-30)

I suppose that title is a little unfair. Nebraska had a decent offense and a decent defense in 2011, and measured against the rest of the FBS, they were roughly equal in stature. The thing is, the offense has been improving the last few years (and with so many young players on last years squad, they should continue to do so), whereas the Nebraska defense has been regressing. Furthermore, they lost their best players from last year in Jared Crick, Lavonte David, and the Cop Puncher Alfonzo Dennard (I was really sad when the Vikings didn't take him in the later rounds).

Overall, the offense and defense (though certain games would skew that perception) were pretty consistent. The biggest outlier would be the Michigan State game, which congrats you won the game, Husker fans. I guess I'm hesitant to give too much weight to the inevitable "Sparty crapping the bed" game they had to have, which is why I'm down on your defense last year (take that game out, and the defensive rankings falls ~15 spots).

So We're Due for an Upswing, Right? (Nebraska 2012 Preview and Projections)

Avg Opp Rank: 48.8 (Avg Non-Con: 76.2, Avg Conf: 35.1)

Final Record: 7-5 (3-5), Avg MOV: 7.0 pts, Bowl Prediction: Insight Bowl

First off, sorry about the rough prediction for wins. As you can see, Nebraska has a TOUGH conference schedule, so y'all may want to temper your enthusiasm a bit for the coming season. Yeah, Michigan State faired decently last year with their Murderer's Row, but

1) Michigan State had Kirk Cousins, dashing prince of quarterbacks. Nebraska has Taylor Martinez, whose more of a court jester [OBLIGATORY LINKY]

2) Michigan State had a great defense, Nebraska's will probably be just okay.

Y'all aren't as annoying as State fans though, so there's that!

Offensively, I expect Nebraska will be just fine. As I said above, their team was young last year, with their most important playmakers (Martinez, Burkhead, Kenny Bell, Kyler Reed) all underclassmen. Hell, even their special teams players are returning and I can tell you that those things are not to be taken for granted. Just ask Oregon State [LINKY].

Ideally, Taylor Martinez will improve his throwing. Yeah, we all probably hate on him more than is deserved, but let's not pretend he's actually good. 56.3% completion, 7.3 YPA, and 13/8 TD/INT do not a champion make. I have my doubts at his supposed improvement over the spring, but hey: we all suck before we improve. Junior year's as good of a time as any to do so.

And er... not to be a negative nancy or anything, but I think Rex Burkhead is over-rated. Sorry. I think he's a fine workhorse back, offers a good receiving option (177 yds, 8.43 YPC), and even apparently tries to throw the ball every now and then (Montee Ball says to up your game, son). But he's not flashy, isn't going to wow you, and probably has hit his ceiling (4.8 YPC is fine, but not awesome). Again, just personal opinion, and there's nothing wrong with a workhorse back that churns out the yards and gets your offense moving (every Wisconsin back ever says hello!).

That said: this is the college game, and Nebraska's offense is doing its thing just great, thankyouverymuch. So maybe I should just keep my thoughts to myself. On defense, they have some more issues (due to the aforementioned attrition), and hopefully they figure that out before the conference season starts because Wisconsin, Ohio State (with Urban Renewal!), Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State (all in a row to start) will not be kind to a lacking defense.

On that note: the schedule. Just brutal, brutal, brutal. The non-conference doesn't look awful at first glance, but they still face two returning conference champions in Arkansas State and Southern Mississippi, both of whom were pretty good last year (though Arkansas State definitely benefited from a weak Sun Belt). That's not to mention the Pac-12 South Division Champions in the UCLA Bru- HAHAHAHAHA. Oh my God, sorry. Yeah, that team sucks. I don't care that it's at the Rose Bowl (though Nebraska should get a nice view of the place, because they won't be returning there for at least a year). Idaho State is Idaho State.

The real trouble is the conference schedule, which opens with a rough stretch against some decent to great offenses. Even the "should-be-a-win" in Northwestern was a game that the 2011 Huskers lost to (IN LINCOLN), so that's really not that much of a breather. I've got 5 losses listed up there, and I honestly don't think any of those are that surprising.

Best case scenario for Nebraska: They take the games they are supposed to take, opening with a 4-0 non-conference record and taking Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa during conference play. The other five games (the listed losses) are all toss-ups and the most difficult tests (Michigan and Wisconsin) are at home. We'll say they take 3 of those 5 (hey, they're all listed losses), only losing to WISCONSIN, WOO GO BADGERS probably Michigan State and Michigan. That's a 10-2 (6-2) record, which would probably be good enough for a BCS bowl.

Worst case scenario for Nebraska: Honestly, it's simply what I have listed right now, 7-5 (3-5). The listed losses are close enough that it would be hard for me to see them going 0-5 in them, but I could see them dropping a game they should win against Iowa or Northwestern (which are away). 7-5 just doesn't scream NEBRASKA to me, so I'll say that's the worst case scenario for now. Ask me again when half the season's through, though.

Final Thoughts: What does Bugeater mean, and why is that a nickname? I'm mystified.

Glossary and Explanation of Terms!

For a more in-depth explanation of everything see my primer here. I've also included a direct link to my 2011 Rankings [LINKY] for those that really want to see the nitty gritty details. Otherwise, the below should serve as a quick reference.

For the purposes of this section, I will refer to Average State University (ASU). ASU scores 25 pts/game on offense, gives up 25 pts/game on defense, and has an Adj Off, Def of 1.00 and 1.00, respectively.

Adj Off - a measure of a team's scoring offense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Off of 2.00 would be expected to score 50 pts on ASU. A team with an Adj Off of 0.50 would be expected to score 12-13 pts on ASU.

Adj Def - a measure of a team's scoring defense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Def of 2.00 would be expected to give up 50 pts to ASU. A team with and Adj Def of 0.50 would be expected to hold ASU to 12-13 pts.

Adj Eff - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjEff = AdjOff/(AdjOff + AdjDef). A perfect rating would be 1.00, a perfectly bad rating would be 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.50. This rating tends to reward teams with good defenses more than good offenses.

Adj Marg - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjMarg = AdjOff - AdjDef. A good rating would be > 0.00, a bad rating would be < 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.00. This rating tends to reward teams with good offenses more than good defenses.

(NOTE: While I list both Adj Eff and Adj Marg as measures of overall team strength, the "official" rankings are Adj Marg, as I find it tends (usually) to be a slightly better predictor of game results than Adj Eff.)

Opp Rat - the average rating of a team's opponents, as determined by Adj Marg. A relatively difficult schedule will have OppRat > 0.00, a relatively easy schedule will have OppRat < 0.00, a perfectly average schedule will have OppRat = 0.00.

Luck - the difference between a team's expected winning percentage (based on schedule and expected scores) and their actual winning percentage. Luck > 0.00 indicates that a team won more games than they were expected, Luck < 0.00 means that a team won less games than they were expected.

Projected Scores - these are based on a team's Adj Off, Def and their opponent's Adj Off, Def. I won't bore you with the math or reasoning, but suffice to say that expected scores align uniformly with the Adj Marg rankings. The expected score differential is proportional to the Adj Marg differential.

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