When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, most NU fans were cautiously optimistic. While most did not expect Nebraska to dominate in year one, most also did not expect ugly road losses to Wisconsin and Michigan bookending an inexplicable home loss to Northwestern. After two years in the Big 12 title game, most Nebraska fans viewed anything other than a trip to Indianapolis as a failed season.
Obviously, the trip to Indianapolis didn’t happen for Nebraska. But here are five reasons to believe that 2012 will be a much more successful conference season for NU. You’re welcome.
Sure, it was a ready-made excuse, but there is something to be said for the argument that Nebraska faced an uphill climb in 2011. In each conference game, NU did not have the luxury of falling back on reviewing decades of scouting tape, facilities and tendency reports in preparing for its conference schedule. Every opponent and every stop along the way was new, so it was at least a little more defensible that Nebraska struggled in its inaugural season in the Big Ten.
Now that NU has a year under its collective belt, Nebraska has a better chance to be successful in its 2012 conference campaign.
The Big Ten didn’t do Nebraska any favors with the schedule. Nebraska’s first conference game was on the road in Madison, facing the defending conference champions. After a close game through most of the first half, three Taylor Martinez interceptions opened the floodgates and helped lead to an ugly 48-17 thrashing to welcome NU to the Big Ten.
In 2012, Nebraska opens the conference season in Lincoln against Wisconsin after Russell Wilson has departed to the NFL. Sure, Montee Ball still plays for the Badgers. But getting Wisconsin at home to start the conference season, and having payback as a motivational factor, could help NU get off to a much better conference start.
In 2011, Nebraska had to hit the road against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in conference play. While NU was able to knock off Penn State, the two road trips ended badly for NU and were large factors in Nebraska’s 2011 struggles.
In 2012, the Badgers, Lions and Wolverines come to Lincoln. Nebraska’s sternest road tests will be against an Ohio State team on probation and with a new coach, a Michigan State team breaking in a new quarterback and Iowa. While the schedule as a whole is challenging, Nebraska's 2012 road conference schedule is less salty than its 2011 counterpart.
I realize that, as a commentator focusing on Nebraska, I might not have the broadest of understanding about NU’s new conference home. But as far as I can tell, Ohio State seems to be the biggest fish in the pond, with Michigan a close second and the rest of the conference swimming to catch up.
Yes, I know that “Ohio” hasn’t won as many Big Ten titles as “That School Up North,” but the Buckeyes have been the class of the conference for a decade. And say what you will about Urban Meyer, but his success at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida let him walk into the Big Ten coaches power rankings at No. 1.
That makes Ohio State’s probation for 2012 more important for Nebraska. If the Buckeyes can’t play in the Big Ten title game this year, then Nebraska’s chances to win the conference (along with the other Big Ten teams) improve dramatically.
One of the best indicators of success for a college football team is whether they have a returning quarterback. Taylor Martinez will be a two-year starter coming into 2012, with a senior leader in Rex Burkhead toting the rock behind him, having plays called by second-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck. If all the returning offensive parts for Nebraska translate into better offensive production, then Nebraska could be looking at a dramatic turnaround in year two of its Big Ten adventure.
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