With the final whistle blown in Orlando, the Huskers' season comes to an end, finishing 9-4 and 5-3 in the conference. It's an identical record to Bo Pelini's first year as the head coach back in 2008. At least Bo is keeping up with Tom Osborne's tradition of at least nine wins in each season, but unfortunately Bo has also had four losses in each season.....that's not good.
The season started with promise, as running backs coach Tim Beck was promoted to offensive coordinator and promised us an Oregon-style offense. The defense was going to be outstanding with three All-American candidates on defense, DL Jared Crick, CB Alfonzo Dennard, and LB Lavonte David. The schedule was considered difficult for the new guy, with Nebraska playing all of the Big Ten's top programs right off the bat. Still Nebraska was seen as the favorite to win the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
The season began with Chatanooga, with your typical beatdown of an FCS team by a FBS team. The second game did not go as planned, as Fresno State led most of the game and it took a strong fourth quarter to put away the Bulldogs. However this did not cause much alarm, as the Bulldogs are known as giant killers and one of the top non-AQ teams.
The Bulldogs' QB simply rolled out of the pocket so the D-line couldn't get him. Nebraska would this again and got their revenge against Washington with another beat down—if not for a fourth quarter collapse the Huskies would have been blown out. During this time, Nebraska's secondary got shredded until Alfonzo Dennard returned for the Wyoming game, but he wasn't back to his old self for a while. Finally the Huskers rounded out the non-conference with a slow start but crushed Wyoming.
The Big Ten season began with much fanfare, as College Gameday came to Madison. Corso even donned a Corn Head in support of Nebraska. After a promising first quarter, Nebraska collapsed when Martinez ended three drives with interceptions.
After the Wisconsin loss, Nebraska returned home to face sanction/suspension ridden Ohio State. The Huskers got crushed in the first two and a half quarters before completing the biggest comeback in school history. But in the process, they lost star defensive tackle Jared Crick for the season. After that, Nebraska easily crushed Minnesota and upset Michigan State to take control of the Legends division. Things were looking up for Nebraska.
Then everything fell apart when Northwestern upset Nebraska in Lincoln, costing Nebraska the Legends division lead. Nebraska won against the scandal-ridden Penn State, but almost blew it in the fourth. Mental mistakes including two fumbles on kickoff returns allowed Michigan to walk all over Nebraska, ending Nebraska's shot at the title. Finally Nebraska dominated their border rival Iowa on Black Friday, during which Rex Burkhead broke the single rushing attempt record for Nebraska with 38 carries.
The end of the regular season marked the first time under Pelini that Nebraska did not win at least a share of the division title. When the bowl game came around, Nebraska started off hot, sacking the South Carolina QB twice in the opening drive and surprised the Gamecocks with a deep pass for a score. But again mental errors like turnovers killed the Huskers. Ameer Abdullah fumbled in the red zone, Martinez threw right to a defender for a pick, Maher missed an easy field goal, Alfonzo Dennard got ejected for fighting with a South Carolina player (who also got ejected), and the offensive line had four penalties in one drive, holding followed by several false starts. The did not look prepared in the Capital One Bowl.
Just like last season, the Huskers finish with a disappointing end. Now they will start the 2012 season without defensive coordinator Carl Pelini. Carl took the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic, and D-line coach John Papuchis was named defensive coordinator. Nebraska hired away Iowa's D-line coach, who has done a great job at stopping mobile QBs, so hopefully that will help.
All in all this was a disappointing season, but one that could have gone much worse. Nebraska should be happy getting nine wins with so many things going wrong this season, from the defense miscues to injuries. So Nebraska fans should be happy, because it really could have been worse.