Finally its time.
After waiting for almost nine long months, this Saturday on September 1, Nebraska will open the 2012 season against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Memorial Stadium. Because of a monstrous storm that cancelled the Spring Game, we have not seen the Huskers in action since the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina.
Since we haven't seen them and its opening week, this Nebraska team has questions that need to be answered as they open with one of their toughest challenges in years. This game will go a long way to show if this team is on a path to a Big Ten title and a BCS bowl...or another 9-4 year.
I'm not saying that the Blackshirts were bad last year, but they certainly weren't good, especially when compared to the standard set by Coach Bo Pelini. In 2009 and 2010, Nebraska ranked as some of the best defenses in the country.
In 2011 there was a noticeable slip.
During the offseason, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini left to become the head coach of Florida Atlantic, with defensive line coach John Papuchis taking the open coordinator position. (Nebraska then hired Iowa's defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski to replace Papuchis). Then defensive backs coach Corey Raymond left for LSU, replaced by Terry Joseph who was brought in from Tennessee.
Both of these new coaches were very good at their respective schools and are loved by the players. Can these two new coaches help the Blackshirts move back to the top of the college football world?
Nebraska has a problem with mobile QBs.
Last year, Nebraska could not stop Russell Wilson of Wisconsin, Kain Colter of Northwestern, Denard Robinson of Michigan or Braxton Miller of Ohio State.
This year Nebraska faces Colter, Robinson and Miller again, plus Arkansas State's QB Ryan Aplin, who rushed for almost 600 yards a season ago in addition to passing for nearly 3,600 yards.
If Nebraska wants to win the Big Ten, it needs to solve this problem. A solution can come from multiple areas: Could be a spy on the QB (probably not a good idea) or an aggressive pass rush that can get to the QB before he can make a play with his arm or feet.
Nebraska's defense is senior heavy.
The Cornhuskers will start at least two seniors on the D-line (Steinkuhler, Meredith), three at linebacker (Compton, Fisher and Whaley) and possibly three in the secondary (Stafford, Smith and Bell).
So eight out of the 11 starters will be seniors.
But let's be honest, outside of Husker Nation, most of these players are not nationally known like Lavonte David, Prince Amukamara or Ndamukong Suh were. Aside from Damion Stafford, who among the Cornhusker defenders is known for making a big hit.
Nebraska's defense has lots of experience and depth at every position, but can these senior players—who have been with Bo since the beginning of his time at Nebraska—help the defense upgrade from good to great?
Nebraska wants a balanced offense. Bo Pelini wants a 50-50 pass run attack, and he believes its achievable with Taylor Martinez as the QB.
We have yet to see that though. Nebraska ran 904 offensive plays, with 611 being runs and 293 being passes. That's about a 68-32 run-pass ratio.
Nebraska has playmakers at every position on offense: two great tight ends in Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, a Heisman-hopeful running back in Rex Burkhead and a young and talented receiving corps in Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner.
Nebraska needs to spread it out to all of its playmakers, not just handing it off to Burkhead or having Martinez run.
If Nebraska can achieve offensive balance, then it has a great shot at a title run.
A key for having a balanced Nebraska offense relies on Martinez and his improved passing.
During the offseason (via ESPN.com), Martinez went to QB guru Steve Calhoun and then to the Manning Passing Academy to refine his technique. According to the reports, Martinez is looking a lot sharper.
That is key for Nebraska.
If Martinez can improve his passing and his accuracy, then Nebraska can spread the ball more efficiently instead of just relying on the run game.
Not many outside of Nebraska's football team have seen Martinez's improved technique, but the coaches agree (via omaha.com) that he has made strides in that area. Hopefully his passing has improved to give the offense more balance, and so we don't have to listen to the announcers criticize this aspect of his game on every series.