2012 will be Bo Pelini's fifth year in Lincoln.
He has done a superb job in turning the Cornhuskers around from the mess left by Bill Callahan (per the Lincoln Journal Star).
Pelini has taken the Huskers from the brink of awfulness back to respectability and reestablished their place as a mainstay in top 25 polls.
It is difficult to unequivocally say that the Blackshirts are back, but in 2009, Pelini did field the top scoring defense in the country. In 2010, his defense was ranked No. 9. That is a long way from Callahan's 114th-ranked defense in his final season.
In four years, Pelini has coached the 2011 Big Ten Linebacker of the Year (Lavonte David), 2010 unanimous All-American cornerback Prince Amukamara and 2009 Mr. All-Everything, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Despite his accomplishments, one has to consider the following: Pelini has yet to get to a BCS bowl, he has yet to win a conference championship, he has yet to field a top-10 team, he has a weak record—3-12—against ranked opponents and he seems to inexplicably drop one game a year to an inferior team—2011 Northwestern, 2010 Texas and 2009 Iowa State.
Consider that in comparison to Frank Solich, who coached Nebraska before Bill Callahan (and after Nebraska legend, Tom Osborne).
Solich coached six seasons in Lincoln. In that time, he compiled a .753 winning percentage, with an .824 record in his first four seasons—Pelini is .714.
He won one conference crown—1999—and was ranked inside the top 10 three times with five appearances in the top 25. He went to two BCS bowls, and many feel his 1999 squad should have been in the BCS National Championship Game. He was 9-14 against ranked foes. He went 9-3 and was ranked 18/19 in his final season.
And he was fired (per ESPN) for that.
I am not advocating for the firing of Pelini, and it is necessary to consider that Solich walked into a good situation, while Pelini walked into a mess. On the other hand, Solich walked into a no-win situation, as the guy that follows a legend is always doomed to failure. Pelini didn't have that kind of pressure.
My only point is Nebraska fans and perhaps the Nebraska program is at a tipping point.
Pelini may yet reach the heights achieved by Osborne and fellow-Nebraska legend Bob Devaney. However, it would be a substantial feat, given how much Osborne and Devaney accomplished against all the odds that a program like Nebraska faces.
In other words, does lightening strike the same place three times? The state of Nebraska does not produce football players (per Rivals) the way California does, and the University of Nebraska does not have the inherent advantages of USC.
In the end, Pelini may be another Frank Solich—good, but not legendary ala Devaney/Osborne.
The question Cornhusker fans may have to look deep within themselves and ask is, is that good enough?
2011 Record: 9-4
2011 Conference Record: 5-3
2011 Home/Away/Neutral Record: 6-1/3-2/0-1
2011 Record vs. Ranked Teams: 1-3
Record Last Five Seasons: 43-23 (t-27th-winningest FBS program over that period of time)
Conference Record Last Five Seasons: 5-3 (Big Ten, 2011), 19-15 (Big 12, 2007-2010)
Home/Away/Neutral Record Last Five Seasons: 27-9/14-10/2-4
Record vs. Ranked Teams Last Five Seasons: 3-16
Best Record Last Five Seasons: 10-4 (2009 and 2010)
Worst Record Last Five Seasons: 5-7 (2007)
Number of Coaches Last 10 Seasons: Three
Marc "Bo" Pelini is an Ohio native that played free safety for the Ohio State University from 1987-1990.
He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa under Hayden Fry. He then spent one year as the quarterback coach at his high school alma mater. This was followed by a brief stint as the linebacker coach of the Arena Football League's Detroit Drive.
In 1994, Pelini became a scouting assistant and then the secondary coach for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. In 1995, his team won the Super Bowl.
Pelini moved to the New England Patriots in 1997, and then to the Green Bay Packers (as linebacker coach) in 2000.
In 2003, he was hired by Frank Solich as the Nebraska defensive coordinator (DC). Solich was fired before the Huskers' bowl game, and Pelini, as the interim coach, led Nebraska to a 17-3 win over Michigan State.
Callahan was given the head coaching gig over Pelini, which led him to Oklahoma, where he worked as the co-DC under Bob Stoops.
After one year in Norman, Pelini became the LSU DC under Les Miles.
Each of Pelini's defenses in Baton Rouge were top-20 scoring D's, with his No. 17-ranked 2007 D leading the way to the BCS National Championship.
Bill Callahan was fired at the end of 2007, which led to Pelini's hiring (per ESPN).
In four years as a head coach, Pelini's squads have gone an impressive 39-16. They have been to four bowl games, at which they've gone 2-2.
He won three Big 12 North titles, though he went 0-3 in the conference championship game.
As Athlon Sports recently noted, "With Pelini, you know what you are going to get," and, among other things, that does not include losing seasons or letting up 65 points in a single game. However, as Athlon Sports further asked, can "Pelini take Nebraska back to competing for National Championships and winning 12+ games a la the Osborne era?"
This season should give fans a reasonable answer, and if it's not the answer they want, again, is it good enough?
Coming next Tuesday, an overview and breakdown of Nebraska's offense.