Nebraska Football: Is 2012 a Make-or-Break Year for Bo Pelini?

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIMay 26, 2012

After four seasons coaching the Nebraska football team, is it time for head coach Bo Pelini to be put on the hot seat?

The moment you realize Pelini's record (39-16) and the fact that he hasn't won less than nine games in all four of those years, most people would scoff at that notion. Yet, the idea has been passed around since the end of the 2011 season, which was capped with an error-laden 30-13 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.

It's no secret that while Cornhusker fans are some of the most passionate and educated in the game, they also carry some of the highest expectations.

This two-edged sword worked in Pelini's favor for the first couple of years, but slightly disappointing (or heavily disappointing, depending on whom you ask) 2010 and '11 campaigns have caused some unrest in Big Red Nation.

As I said before, Pelini has yet to win less than nine games in one season. But the other side of the story is the failure to win more than 10, not to mention a conference or national championship, despite having some very promising teams that had the look of a championship contender.

Though the Huskers marched to the Big 12 Championship on the back of superstar Ndamukong Suh in Pelini's second season, the team has since lost some of its luster. That year, the Huskers had the top-ranked scoring defense in the nation and came within one second of beating the heavily-favored Texas Longhorns, but the team hasn't overachieved since.

The Huskers went into both of the next two seasons thinking conference championship, but both times they came away empty-handed. What was more aggravating was the plethora of penalties, fumbles and bad losses.

So is it time to put Bo Pelini on the hot seat and make 2012 a make-or-break year for the polarizing head coach?

Before we even consider that, let's take a step back and look at where the program came from and where it is headed.

Nebraska is nowhere near the powerhouse it was back in the glorious decade of the '90s, but it's also not wallowing in mediocrity like it was during the Callahan years.

It seems that a lot of fans are too focused on the team's recent hiccups to remember that Pelini has won 12 more games than Bill Callahan did in the same amount of time. That's three more wins per season.

And while nobody in their right mind would compare Tom Osborne to Pelini at this point, something else that always seems to be lost in the shuffle is the fact that Osborne didn't win an outright conference championship for eight years, nor did he make it to the national championship until his 10th season.

On top of that, you have to consider the uptick in national parity among college football teams.

In his book, "Beyond the Final Score," Osborne recounts a story of when he had to win a bowl game—the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl against Texas Tech in 1976, a 27-24 final—to keep his job.

That's right—if Osborne's Husker squad had lost that game, Osborne would likely have been fired after just four seasons as head coach.

That tale sounds all too familiar to Pelini's situation—not because Pelini has ever been in danger of being fired, but because the fans were so worried about immediately being nationally relevant that they almost drove the athletic department to make a decision that would have prevented the sheer dominance that ensued over the next 21 seasons under Osborne.

I'm not saying the Huskers are going to return to the '90s under Pelini, but if he is given some time, I believe he can build a program that wins championships.

It's not surprising that Pelini is in this potentially precarious position; in a day and age where patience is anything but the norm, "the process" is highly undervalued. Fans take one look at Alabama under Nick Saban and want their program to do the same thing.

Not only is that unrealistic in most cases, but it's likely that 'Bama's reign will come to an end at some point, and it wouldn't surprise me if that came in the form of recruiting violations, a coaching switch (Saban isn't known for his loyalty) or something of the sort.

And that's not an accusation or indictment of Alabama; that's just something that has become part of the game.

Those types of situations are why getting a coach like Pelini is so much more valuable than many people make it out to be. Though Pelini has yet to win a championship, he has run a clean program (aside from this ridiculous violation involving books) and displayed loyalty to the program despite worries that he would defect to multiple different coaching destinations, whether he was ever considered for the job.

Those things must be taken into account when evaluating the team's performance.

And though Pelini himself would be the last person to make excuses about his team's on-field shortcomings, there are a number of very legitimate reasons as to why that was the case in 2011.

The Huskers were breaking in a new system with a rookie offensive coordinator, and they were trying to run that system with a sophomore quarterback and a plethora of underclassmen in various different roles.

On top of that, the defense was more shaky than we may have ever seen from a Pelini defense—all while trying to adapt to a new conference.

A year in the system for just about every major offensive player and coach should do wonders, and the struggles on defense were hopefully just flashes in the pan.

There will always be ways to rationalize losing, and that's not what I'm here to do. The Huskers must fix major problems that have plagued them throughout the Pelini era, most notably costly penalties and turnovers. They also must avoid losing to teams that they shouldn't (Iowa State, Northwestern) or getting blown out by teams with similar talent (Wisconsin, Michigan, South Carolina).

But for all the criticism Pelini has gotten over the past couple of seasons, I can't say half of it is warranted. Overall, he's done a great job so far, and I am still 100 percent behind him.

So is 2012 a make-or-break year for Bo Pelini?

Nah. If my fellow diehard Husker fans will just have a little bit of patience, 2012 could be just the beginning.


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