When the lights come on this Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln and the Third Largest City in Nebraska commences on its annual rite of passage in cheering on the good guys in Red, the roar of the crowd will signal the beginning of the 2013 journey and hopefully the end of an offseason with plenty of noise from all corners of Huskerland. Can Bo Pelini win the big game? Can Taylor Martinez be a great quarterback? Can the Cornhuskers be great again? The masses are getting restless, and fair or unfair, this season seems to bring some very interesting storylines to the front page. Lucky for us, this is not just about wins and losses, it's about putting pride back in the red N on the helmets. It should be one heck of a ride.
I. Case History and Opening Statement
A. Case History
If you were to describe Season Five of the Bo Pelini Experiment, there would be no more apt description than that of a Carnival Ride. There were huge thrills, incredible bouts of disappointment, higher levels of expectation than what one should have, and a general feeling of bittersweet satisfaction. For all of the successes of winning their division and proving that Tim Beck knows how to craft an offense, not to mention Taylor Martinez learning to throw a little bit better, the four losses will be at the tip of most every Husker fan's tongue. Can Bo Pelini take this team to greater heights? It's a question that not only begs to be asked, but also pushes this program to another bigger - and looming - question. How much more rope does Bo get?
With a maligned defense that showed it was not prepared for the speed and power of the Big Ten, especially at the point-of-attack, the vaunted Blackshirts defense was gashed by UCLA, Wisconsin, and Ohio State on the ground. If not for a stellar secondary, we would not even be talking about a team with potential for taking a next step, and that secondary was ripped apart by Georgia in the bowl game. This team needed a new identity this offseason and despite all the accolades that Bo has received in his career - rightfully - it became evident that he needed to make some changes. Or, at least he needed to bring in some reinforcements to the defensive side of the ball.
And that is what he did. Last year and this year are arguably Bo's strongest recruiting classes on defense and as of this morning, we are hearing a lot of noise about True Freshmen, RS Freshmen, and True Sophomores who will be the center of attention in the reworked Bo Pelini defense. Guys like Vincent Valentine, Nathan Gerry, Randy Gregory, and more will be pushed to fill a role that was missing last year - athleticism. Even Bo understands there will be some growing pains, though. As he said yesterday morning on his weekly press conference, "What I look for is execution. Do what you're supposed to do and play hard. Play with passion. If there is a mistake, I want them to understand it better be done at 100 miles per hour. That's what our expectation is. As you gain experience, you grow and hopefully you keep minimizing those mistakes."
Bottom line, there is work to be done, and only time will tell. Bo has seemed to be much more relaxed this offseason which is nice to see. From his antics in the Spring Game letting Offensive Linemen catch punts, breaking out the Compete Drill, and the best moment in Nebraska History letting little Jack Hoffman take center stage - both locally and nationally - to his penchant for pranks and his jumping on the Harlem Shake movement early, Pelini seems to be comfortable in his skin. Will it be enough?
The other part of this equation is Taylor Martinez. He of the four-year Senior status and the chance to be the most prolific Husker ever. On Sunday, Brian Towle of Corn Nation asked, "What will Taylor Martinez's legacy be?" For most fanbases, a good record and ridiculous set of stats would be a surefire hall of fame vote. In Nebraska, we seem to judge on wins and losses and while Martinez has definitely had his share of successes, his lack of bowl wins and conference championships does not help his case. Will he go out on a high note? Like I said in the beginning, the history is as murky as the future in Nebraska. Now we wait and see if the pieces come together for something special.
B. Opening Statement
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, today I ask of you to take into consideration the case for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. With one of the highest power offenses going into the 2013 season and more skill players than any Big Ten team sans Ohio State, this is a team that has potential to do something that has yet to happen in the Bo Pelini era - win the Conference Championship. However, to do so, questions on defense will need to be answered. Likewise, the leader in Taylor Martinez will need to come out. Can these pieces fall into place? Can the Huskers take the next step?
If you are to answer, "yes," to these questions, you have to believe that the offense can carry the defense along this season until they completely gel and the young guys get some playing time. Fortunately, Nebraska is as loaded a team in the nation on offense and you need to look no further than the fearsome trio of WRs that Tim Beck will roll out this season. Wide Receiver has not been a known strength to the Nebraska Cornhuskers throughout the years, but with Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, and Jamal Turner, the Cornhuskers boast the best tandem of receivers you will see in the Big Ten this season. They block, they catch the ball - even when Martinez is throwing it - and they have the speed to make you pay for overplaying anything.
There has been talk around these parts that Nebraska may have their best offense ever. This has yet to be proven, but with teams like 1983, 1995, 1997, 2001 and such, it's hard to imagine that we can even have the conversation - and believe me, it's at least a fair consideration. Nebraska also returns a talented young back in Ameer Abdullah who has grown up as the leader in the backfield along with his beast of a backup, Imani Cross. Adding highly recruited reinforcements in Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby, and you can start to see a picture of a dominating offense. Pelini has said this is his strongest line ever, and with All-American Spencer Long leading the way, excitement for an explosive offense to lead this team somewhere special is easy to get behind.
This team has a lot to prove still, but there seems to be a special vibe coming from Lincoln this year. The talent is there. The experience - at least on offense - is there. It's time for this Nebraska team to make some noise and bring it all back to Lincoln.
A. What We Learned this Offseason
B. What We Can Learn from Pop Culture
But when we wake
It's all been erased
And so it seems
Only in dreams
Look, I am not so good at these pop culture references. I, like most Nebraska fans, am woefully stuck in the 90s. But here's the thing, similar to the Cornhuskers, Weezer also used to be the best band in the world. The capstone to the great Blue Album that stands the test of time - like the 1995 Huskers - was Only in Dreams. The longest song I could sit through as an adolescent not-so-cool kid.
And while the connection is just an easy joke at the behest of me and all of Husker nation for a moment, this season's hope does seem like a bit of a dream. On its surface, there is potential for some great things. We dream of national championships, dominant defenses, and a place where Taylor Martinez doesn't fumble the ball. Of course, once play starts, we wake up and realize that our dreams aren't always reality. Still, one can hope, right?
Oh, and seriously, Rivers Cuomo used to be amazing.
III. Emotional Plea
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have asked you in the past to root for Nebraska in hopes of rooting against the rise of the Big Two. I have asked you to look into your hearts and root for the new guy. I no longer come before you in hopes of getting sympathy or support, but rather ask you to believe in Nebraska because Nebraska is a team that is fun to believe in. This is a team with an offense worth watching, a coach who can provide theatrics, a quarterback with both a flair for the dramatic in a positive light and a flair for the dramatic in the, "OMG HE JUST THREW THE BALL TO THE OTHER TEAM AGAIN!!!" Rooting for Nebraska is rooting for the return of one of the bluebloods, and a hope for a better future.
In an era of playoffs, a declining midwest presence on the national scene, and dissenters of all types ready to write off the B1G, I ask you to cheer for the Cornhuskers as they redefine what tradition in the heartland looks like. While I would never ask you to swear off your allegiances, I do ask you to set aside your hatred and believe in Taylor Martinez. These players have one final chance to right the wrongs of the last regime. These players have the opportunity to cash in on the check that the Big Ten offers. With a little help from the defense, Nebraska can go far this season, and in doing so, they will give the B1G another chance at its former glory.
And so, think about what this great conference was built on. Think about history colliding with the present, and moving us into an uncharted future. Think about the Big Red Machine rolling down the field once more. Think about Nebraska as your Big Ten Champions. I think this is something that is worth thinking about.
IV. Verdict (Staff Predictions)
Well, it looks like OTE thinks Nebraska's schedule lines up pretty great this season - and they will probably be right. The predictions are all on the 9-3/10-2 line with Graham giving the Huskers a 7-1 conference record, but probably a dropped game against UCLA and Jon, Ted, Brian, and Aaron thinking this team could go down three times in conference. Honestly, this schedule is a good a setup for the Huskers since they started this whole B1G thing, and trading Wisconsin and Ohio State for Illinois and Purdue is pretty fantastic. If Nebraska can get to 10-2, I will be a happy camper.