Nebraska Football: 5 Things Standing in the Huskers' Way of a National Title

Patrick RungeCorrespondent IApril 16, 2013

Nebraska Football: 5 Things Standing in the Huskers' Way of a National Title

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    Nebraska football fans remember last March, when quarterback Taylor Martinez said, “If we don’t go to the national championship game, I’ll be disappointed” (per the Sporting News). Obviously, Martinez and the rest of the team were disappointed when Nebraska finished 10-4 with a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.

    But hope springs eternal. And there are a lot of reasons to be bullish on Nebraska coming into 2013. So what is it that stands between Nebraska and winning the national title next season? Here are five hurdles Nebraska will have to overcome.

An Inexperienced Defense

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    In the last two years, the Nebraska Blackshirts have been much more the problem than the solution. Nebraska’s national ranking in scoring defense (per cfbstats.com) has gone from No. 9 in 2010, to No. 42 in 2011, to No. 58 in 2012. While Nebraska’s offense has certainly gotten better under offensive coordinator Tim Beck, the increasingly sieve-like defense has turned winnable games into losses.

    In 2013, Nebraska will have at best four returning starters on defense. That can be seen as a good thing, as the players who were on the field in the last couple of years for the Blackshirts have been clearly underperforming. But it's also a big ask for kids with little playing time, including a number of heralded but untested true or redshirt freshmen, to grasp head coach Bo Pelini’s complex defensive structure and be able to consistently perform at a high level.

    So if Nebraska is to compete for the shiny crystal football in 2013, the new Blackshirts will need to earn their stripes in a hurry.

Turnovers

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    Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and quarterback Taylor Martinez have turned Nebraska’s offense into a fearsome machine. In 2012, Nebraska was No. 28 nationally in scoring offense and No. 8 in rushing offense.

    But turnovers doomed Nebraska, as they have in recent years. Nebraska’s turnover margin (per NCAA.com) was No. 62 nationally in 2010, No. 67 in 2011 and No. 105 (!) in 2012.

    Again, the optimist would say that because Nebraska’s ball security has been so poor, even a small improvement should lead to significant change. Fair enough, but given the history of the team with Martinez at the helm, it’s not unfair to go Missouri (sorry, all you Big 12-loving holdovers gritting your teeth at a Mizzou reference) and ask Nebraska to “show me.”

    The bottom line is, if Nebraska is going to compete for a national title, its turnover margin has to improve dramatically.  

A Soft Schedule

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    2013 is the last year of the BCS determining a champion in college football. Starting in 2014, a four-team playoff will be instituted, which should eliminate some of the beauty contest that is the BCS.

    But this year, we’re stuck with the BCS. And if Nebraska is going to compete for a national title, it may be arguing that it should get a title shot over other teams with identical records. If that’s the case, one of the ways to impress the judges is by showing how tough of a road you had to go through.

    And that may be a problem for Nebraska. NU’s schedule certainly is no cakewalk, with a road trip to Michigan, home games against UCLA and Michigan State, and a Big Ten title game against (most likely) Ohio State.

    But it’s also not the strongest schedule in the world. And the B1G has suffered in terms of perception compared to other top-flight conferences. Hypothetically, if a one-loss Nebraska is in the mix along with a one-loss Pac-12 team or a one-loss Big 12 team, NU’s relatively weaker schedule and the poor national perception of the B1G could shut it out of the final BCS title bid.

A Coach Who Has Never Been There

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    It seems like Bo Pelini has been around forever. But we should remember that Pelini is entering only his sixth season as a head football coach. While he has been in three conference title games, Pelini’s teams have never gotten over that line and won a conference trophy.

    There is value in experience, particularly when it comes to winning games at the highest level. Without question, Pelini has been learning, growing and maturing as a head coach throughout his tenure in Lincoln. But his inexperience when it comes to title games (conference or national) could put Nebraska at a disadvantage if it finds itself fighting for a BCS title.

Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer

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    For Nebraska to play for a national championship, it will have to win the B1G. (Nebraska from 2001 and Alabama from last year notwithstanding). And while Nebraska avoids Ohio State in the regular season, it is almost a certainty that Ohio State will win the Leaders Division and would be NU’s opponent in the B1G title game.

    And that’s a big ask. Ohio State went 12-0 last year, humiliating Nebraska 63-38 in Columbus. Had Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, not allowed the Buckeyes to play in the Sugar Bowl the previous year, it is likely that it would have been Ohio State facing Notre Dame for last year’s national title.

    Urban Meyer will be in year two of his reign in Columbus, and his players will be well versed in his systems and philosophies. Oh, and the second-best recruiting class in the nation (according to 247Sports.com) will be on campus and making an impact on the Buckeyes’ depth chart.

    Braxton Miller will be a junior next season and will be coming off his sophomore campaign where he put up 2,039 yards passing and 1,271 yards rushing. With Miller in year two of the Meyer offense that gave Tim Tebow to the world, it’s not unreasonable to expect big things from Miller in 2013.

    So, all that stuff about Nebraska having a soft schedule? Nevermind. Ohio State has a coach with his name all but written in the Hall of Fame, a quarterback who will be on the short list for next year’s Heisman Trophy, a roster stacked with talent and a team that hasn’t lost a game since Jan. 2, 2012. If Nebraska wins the B1G, it almost assuredly will have to beat Ohio State in Indianapolis.

    If Nebraska beats the Buckeyes (absent catastrophic injuries), then NU will have earned a place in the BCS title game.

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