Nebraska enters 2013 in kind of a tenuous position. Sure, last year could have been a lot worse, but fans are kidding themselves if they feel all that wonderful going into this year. A great Spring Game with positive press, including little Jack Hoffman stealing the show and winning an ESPY proving that Bo Pelini isn't Satan despite what most people would like to believe, has kind of blunted the pessimism, but there is some reason for concern. Still, what would College Football be without a little uncertainty, right? So follow along as we dive into all you need to know when you find out your boss went to Creighton and is the biggest Nebraska fan you've ever known.
About Last Season
The Good News:
In 2012, the Cornhuskers returned to the Conference Championship Game, and despite two early season losses, the team showed focus and poise in the clutch to rattle of six straight wins. The offense showed up at the beginning of the season, and in kind of a strange twist, Taylor Martinez showed up as a competent passer. Nebraska rattled off a touch over 460 yards per game last season and showed that Tim Beck seems to know exactly what he is doing as Offensive Coordinator. Bottom line, the offense was pretty awesome to watch in 2012 and that led to some wins.
The Bad News:
Welp, the team also lost four games, got blown out in losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin, and ended up looking terrible in breakdowns in defense against both UCLA and Georgia. While we touted the beauty that was the Nebraska offense, that overlooks 35 turnovers, most in the B1G and not too great nationally. When Senior leader Rex Burkhead went out, Sophomore revelation Ameer Abdullah stepped in, but ball security continued to plague the Cornhusker offense. That ignores the atrocity that was the Punt Return unit that all Husker fans can agree was a heart attack waiting to happen. Yes, Nebraska was division champion, but the B1G Championship Game could not end fast enough. The only bright spot on defense was the secondary all season, but bowl woes continued for the Huskers as Georgia passed early and often right over the confused Nebraska defensive backfield. Bottom line here? Sure there were ten wins, but I'd be surprised if you found one Husker fan happy about last year.
The Good News:
The good news is that Nebraska's offense is more or less in tact going into 2013. There are seven returning starters including QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, and WRs Quincy Enunwa and Kenny "Best Fro in College Football" Bell. Add All-American Guard Spencer Long and Nebraska's Swiss Army Knife in Jamal Turner, and you have a pretty exciting and experienced Nebraska lineup that is poised to carry the team while a newer and younger defense gets its feet wet.
Also worth noting, last year Taylor Martinez spent the offseason with QB Guru Steve Calhoun and it showed. Martinez' form seemed to get better, and his passing stats jumped considerably. In another attempt at getting even better, and a show of dedication that is a breath of fresh air for Husker fans, Martinez spent time with Calhoun again this summer. All comments out of the Husker camp seems to think that Martinez is even more locked in and improved and the Senior Captain will look to be the X-factor for Nebraska this season. It's a good feeling with a four-year Senior under center, and that should sustain a shaky team.
Finally, I would like to start the Kenny Bell for 1000 watch. Nebraska has never had a WR get to that 1000 yard mark, but I think he might just do it. He has the ability to make the circus catch and to just straight out burn past DBs not paying attention. I look forward to him doing work this year and can't wait for him to take his spot as Nebraska's best WR ever. Of course, he will be pushed this season by Captain Quincy Enunwa and the previously discussed Jamal Turner, not to mention a wealth of riches behind them in Taariq Allen, Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and more newcomers than Beck can use. This is a deep team.
The Bad News:
Depth is always a bit of concern for teams like Nebraska. Behind Martinez, there is only young talent with very little experience. Between Sr. Ron Kellogg and Redshirt Fr. Tommy Armstrong, there are some guys who have been in the system, but neither is a guarantee. Also, True Fr. Johnny Stanton is a scary good athlete who is probably the best pure passer of the bunch. Still, no experience there obviously. This team will rise and fall on the arm and legs of Taylor Martinez.
Also worth noting, this team is thin at RB. Ameer Abdullah looks to be the workhorse this season, but with the transfer of talented Braylon Heard, Nebraska will be looking to human bowling ball Imani Cross and a bunch of new guys. Thankfully it looks like there is talent left with incoming RBs Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby and walkons looking to get established like King Frazier and Graham Nabity. Like QB, the lack of experience is a little scary.
Even scarier is that this team has a turnover problem. As we previously mentioned, Nebraska gives the ball away at an incredible clip. The past three seasons were 24, 19, and 35 turnovers respectively, and that is an incredible piece of bad news. Now, it has been proven that turnovers are a mix between bad play and bad luck, but 35 is a number that is hard to even fathom. If those turnovers do not get taken care of, this team will fall early and often.
The Good News:
Uh, Ciante Evans is pretty good?
Yeah, it was that kind of year last year. But I would be lying if I said Nebraska didn't do anything well last season. As a general rule of thumb, teams had trouble passing against the Blackshirt secondary with Nebraska leading the B1G in both YPG Allowed and Opponent Completion Percentage. There was probably a very close race between the Spartans and Huskers in who had a better passing defense and the aforementioned Ciante Evans was a huge part of that. He returns as a Senior Captain and that's a huge relief for a front seven that most likely will be leaving the secondary on an island more often than not. [Ed. Note: Forgot to say passing defense above. Changed that for clarification. I do not think Nebraska and MSU are even remotely comparable defensively except for passing defense. Sorry if you feel offended by the previous statement.]
And even though there are only four returning starters this year, there is an infusion of athletic talent, which is kind of a good thing. The two-deep will be a veritable youth movement with names like Avery Moss, Aaron Curry, Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen, Thomas Brown, David Santos, Jonathan Rose, Michael Rose and Max Pirman dotting the two-deep as Freshman or Sophomores. Add in newcomers like Randy Gregory and a scary fast Juco transfer who got hurt last year in LB Zaire Anderson, there is definitely speed, size, and talent as reinforcements. Husker nation has reason to be excited, and while this talent is untested, it definitely gives a ray of sunshine in a really bad way.
One final note on the good news, last year's recruiting was pretty good. Four Star Linebacker Marcus Newby will be asked to come in and compete for playing time immediately and Jared Afalava, Josh Banderas and Courtney Love have the ability to show up and play from day one as well. Coach Pelini is on record as saying that the reinforcements will be given a chance to play immediately and contribute to a defense that was lacking playmakers. Will that be enough? It's hard to say, but the youth movement is exciting!
The Bad News:
/Wisconsin Scored Again
//No Seriously, I'm pretty sure that just happened.
Look. Can Pelini get this defense in order by Game 1? That is the million dollar question. I just named off pretty much the entire two-deep and it was all guys who are good names, but nothing proven. Literally, with the exception of Ciante Evans, one might wonder if there is any knowns coming into the new year. Even so, Nebraska showed so many cracks last season that it might not even matter. I could go on and on about how bad the defense was last year, but it is well documented... Oh and, uh...
/Wisconsin just scored again
Special teams should be fine. Sure, Nebraska loses another chapter in the, "One of the best Kickers in the Conference" but looks to be fine with Mauro Bondi, Sam Foltz, and incoming talented transfer Pat Smith embarking on a heated battle for PK and Punting duties. Most likely, Nebraska will continue their consistency in this department. Why? Well, why not, right?
As for the return unit, Nebraska has said they intend to throw out more combinations this season, but Husker fans still remember Ameer Abdullah killing it a couple years ago. Look for him, Kenny Bell, along with some new blood to give the Huskers another threat with all the speed they have at their disposal.
Statistically, Nebraska was 3rd in PR and 6th in KR last season, and I really have no idea if they'll be better or worse this year. With the offense the Huskers have, that seems to be the least of their concerns. Of course, conversely, I do hope that Nebraska last in the B1G in opponent PR. Nebraska has a Special Teams Coordinator who is also the Recruiting Coordinator. Ask Salt Creek and Stadium how he feels about that and you pretty much understand that it's kind of a crap shoot to talk about Special Teams. Usually they are good or bad in spite of coaching, you know?
On the Schedule:
So here is the deal. Nebraska's schedule should be great going into 2013. They trade in Wisconsin and Ohio State as crossover games and get Purdue and Illinois in their stead. Nebraska will open up with five home games to get this young team ready for the B1G run, and with the exception of an early test against UCLA - who did beat the Huskers at night last year - the Huskers look poised to be 7-0 going into an early division test against Northwestern at home. Even with games on the road against Michigan and Penn State, the Huskers should be in contention for a trip to Indy for most of the season. Anything less than 9 wins this year would be a severe disappointment with many fans expecting 10 or more. That's just how this works in Year 6 of the Pelini experience.
If You're Talking to a Husker Fan...
FIVE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, Good Taylor Martinez, How Awesome Tim Beck is, Spencer Long, #TeamJack, Northwestern Home Silent Counts, that time Nebraska beat Michigan and Wisconsin last season, young talented defensive players, Runzas, College Football Hall of Famer Tommie Frazier, FIVE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, and the awesome new Memorial Stadium Expansion including the Concussion Research facility.
That time Wisconsin Scored Again and Again and Again, Ohio State Scoring Again and Again and Again, UCLA scoring Again and Again and Again, Georgia Scoring Again and Again and Again, The Greatest Fans in all of College Football, Stevie P, Billy C, Fumbles, Barney Cotton, Kentucky, Vince Marrow, Angry Bo Pelini, Taylor Martinez' inability to pass, Wisconsin Scoring Again, no Conference Championships in forever, and the AAU.