Monday, August 03, 2009

College Football Previews: Nebraska

It is the first of August, and that means college football season is right around the corner. I usually do a series of preseason analyses and predictions. I start with the home teams, as it were. The joke I have with my wife is that we are a multi-ethnic family. I grew up in Knoxville as a die hard Tennessee Vols fan. My wife grew up and is a grad of Nebraska. I root for both, as I did spend a few years living in Nebraska. Nebraska and Tennessee rarely play each other, so that causes little friction in my household.

As such, I usually do individual posts devoted to preseason analysis of both Nebraska and Tennessee. My final post of the series will involve the national scene with the Archer's Preseason Top Ten. As such, I will start in alphabetical order this year and do my prediction of Nebraska. Without further ado, here goes...

I think Nebraska is a team on the upswing. Bo "My Bo'friend's back!" Pelini is coming off a stellar first year as head coach. He turned around a horrific Husker team last year into a respectable 9-4 season with a Gator Bowl win. He improved the rushing defense of Nebraska from 116th to 21st in the country in one season. The last year of Bill Callahan's tenure at Nebraska was the sorriest defense I have ever seen. So, that was no small task to turn Nebraska's defense into something respectable.

Coach Pelini did inherit an offense that put could put up incredible numbers when it got cranked up. Pelini was hired because he was a Defensive whiz. He largely worked on that last season with just minor adjustments to the offense, as he kept the previous offensive coordinator. This worked well for the most part, although the offense did sputter from time to time.

OFFENSE:
This year will be a bit of a headache for Coach Pelini on the offense front. He lost superstar QB Joe Ganz as well as Ganz' two favorite Wide Receivers. Any season where you have to break in a new QB is "an opportunity for growth" as they say in psychological doublespeak circles. They have two QBs that might do well. Zac Lee is a junior (I believe), but has only thrown 2 passes in his career. They have a highly recruited freshman QB named Cody Green who could be a force when he is groomed properly.

The bad news is the new QB has to succeed Joe Ganz, who broke just about every passing record in the Nebraska books. The good news is, this is Nebraska and passing records are still relatively up for grabs in the long term because the Huskers were a power running school for decades. But the QB situation is the major question mark for the Huskers this season.

They have two excellent running backs, however, in Roy Helu, Jr. and Quentin Castille. Still a bit young but both showed some flashes of brilliance last season. Both also showed up to spring practice about 20 pounds heavier, which was needed to bulk up a bit. The major concern for both of them last season was fumbles, especially in the red zone. I hear they worked on that fumbling issue extensively in spring practice, so perhaps it will clear up this season, but that is still a concern.

As I wrote previously, Wide Receivers are also a bit of a concern in terms of experience. The best receiver they have coming back is the Tight End, which given that they are probably going to be more running power than passing power this season works well enough. The two top returning receivers have a combines 125 catches in their careers. Passing game is a big question mark.

The Offensive line is strong, returning 3 seniors, although depth in the event of injury, which happens a lot on the line, as a question mark as well.

DEFENSE:
Defense looks pretty solid. Ndamukong Suh returns on the Defensive Line. Suh would easily have been a late first round or early second round pick in the NFL draft. The other returners on the line are solid.

The linebacker core returns two starters, but there is a very strong young talent pool for the secondary that is waiting in the wings. The Defensive backs also return 3 seniors, all of whom have plenty of experience, especially with all the Nickle and Dime packages Pelini likes to run.

The secondary overall looks pretty good, though they still had flashes last season of the Bill Callahan "we don't practice in full pads" nonsense, which lead to a lot of mental lapses in the secondary in particular. I think with a year and a half under Pelini's tutoring, the defense will be improved over a respectable squad from last year.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams is by far the strongest element for Nebraska this season, especially the kickers. All Universe kicker Alex "I beat Colorado kicking a 57 yard field goal" Henery returns, having made 26 of 29 career field goals. The backup kicker also has kicked a 46 yarder himself in a game, and his kickoffs go out of the endzone 40% of the time.

The Huskers Schedule:


OwlsFlorida Atlantic


IndiansArkansas State


Hokiesat Virginia Tech


Ragin' CajunsLouisiana


Open Date ---

Tigersat Missouri


Red RaidersTexas Tech


CyclonesIowa State


Bearsat Baylor


SoonersOklahoma


Jayhawksat Kansas


WildcatsKansas State


Buffaloesat Colorado


The Huskers, as you can see, have an easier home schedule this year that last with Oklahoma and Texas Tech both at home. They do have to play at Virginia Tech, Missouri, and Colorado. I think they can beat V. Tech this year. I think if they had played them later in the season last year, they could have beat them as well. Missouri is going to be rebuilding, so I think they can win that game. Colorado is going to be out for blood this year after getting beaten at the last minute after leading most of the game last season. That's going to be a rivalry game du jour.

I think the losses will be Oklahoma, possibly Kansas and probably Texas Tech (whom they took to overtime last year @Texas Tech during TT's homecoming.) Colorado is a toss up, depending on what they do.

THE SHORT OF IT:
I think the Defense for Nebraska will be solid, although the secondary still needs some work. The Offense is the big question mark, with a new QB/WR situation. The running backs however are solid. Special teams will score some serious points this year by kicking field goals.

Given they can win the kicking game against most of these teams if they get into a low scoring scrap, I think they can reasonably win at least 9 games, possibly 10 in the regular season.

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3.

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