In July, Nebraska football fans can barely wait for the summer to end and for football season to arrive. They spend their time mowing lawns, barbecuing and doing other summer activities, but all the while they are imagining what Nebraska’s 2013 season will look like.
I would like to think of myself as an optimist, so I thought I would start a two-part series about how Nebraska’s 2013 campaign will unfold on the bright side (if it’s good enough for Monty Python, it’s good enough for me).
So come with me on this thought experiment to see what happens in the best-case scenario for Nebraska’s next season.
Avoiding the Injury Bug
Perhaps one of the biggest prerequisites to a special season is for key players to remain healthy throughout the year. In hindsight, it is remarkable that Nebraska won the Legends Division in 2012 with I-back Rex Burkhead (arguably NU’s most consistent weapon) lost to injury.
Nebraska has the luxury of depth in some areas, such as I-back, to make injuries less of a concern. But if quarterback Taylor Martinez is lost for any significant time, Nebraska will be leaning on a redshirt freshman in Tommy Armstrong to digest Tim Beck’s offense and navigate NU through its schedule.
Defensively, it looks clear that defensive back Ciante Evans is the leader of the defensive unit. Particularly with the youth and inexperience that will be on the field next year, losing Evans to injury could cause a ripple effect in an already-shaky defensive squad.
Nebraska Gets the Big Wins
Nebraska’s 2013 schedule is comparatively softer than it has been in years, but there are still some mines NU must avoid.
Perhaps the most intriguing game comes in the offseason, when UCLA arrives in Lincoln for a rematch from last year’s 36-30 victory by the Bruins in Los Angeles.
UCLA arrives with dangerous dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley, who led an offense that torched the Blackshirts for 653 yards last year. But lost to graduation are tailback Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria. If Nebraska is to have a special season, a victory over UCLA is a must.
Once Nebraska gets into conference play, the slate is far less daunting than it was before. Gone from the schedule are Wisconsin and Ohio State, replaced with Illinois and Purdue. The most challenging game appears to be the trip to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines, although Northwestern’s return to Lincoln will test Nebraska.
But if the young defense grows and thrives, there isn’t a game on Nebraska’s regular-season schedule it can’t win.
Ending the Drought
Should Nebraska run the table in conference, it will almost certainly face Ohio State. Visions of Nebraska's 63-38 drubbing at the hands of the Buckeyes in Columbus last season should provide motivation for NU and could make Ohio State just the slightest bit overconfident coming into the contest (e.g. Nebraska circa 2012 versus a 7-5 Wisconsin).
Nebraska beating Ohio State seems far-fetched given what happened last year and the Buckeyes having a second year under the tutelage of Urban Meyer.
But a closer look at Ohio State reveals a few cracks in the Buckeyes’ perfect season last year.
Remember, Ohio State struggled last year to beat California at the Horseshoe. It needed overtime to beat lowly Purdue, again at home. It needed overtime again to knock off Wisconsin. It won a five-point squeaker against Michigan at home.
And all of this was with Carlos Hyde, the running back whom Meyer just suspended for being a “person of interest” in a criminal investigation. Plus, the Buckeyes in 2012 were banned from postseason play, so there was no trip to Indianapolis (and the ensuing pressure) on the squad.
I have little doubt that Nebraska—even an undefeated Nebraska—would be a significant underdog to the Buckeyes in a B1G title tilt. But it is not inconceivable to see a 12-0 Nebraska knocking off a perhaps-complacent Ohio State and finally winning a conference title.
The Big Show
If Nebraska runs the table, it would almost certainly have a place in the final BCS Championship game. For this to be a truly best-case scenario, of course, NU would have to end the season with Bo Pelini holding the shiny crystal football aloft at the end of the evening.
That would likely mean avoiding an Alabama team looking for an unprecedented three-peat title. And for that to happen, Nebraska would need two specific dominos to fall.
First, there would have to be an Alabama loss.
Given that the Tide were 12-1 coming into the BCS title game last year, that’s not unfathomable. Perhaps Texas A&M stings the Tide again, or perhaps LSU gets the better of Alabama in what has become the most consequential (if not the most attractive to watch) game of the year over the previous few seasons.
Second, there would have to be a significant undefeated representative from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference. And if we’re going best-case scenario, let’s give Nebraska fans the rematch they really want to see—Texas.
Many national pundits, including Phil Steele, think the Longhorns could be one of the most improved teams in the country. The Big XII is likely to be down compared to previous years.
And while Alabama might have an argument as a one-loss team to make a title game against some undefeated schools, there is no doubt in my mind that an undefeated Texas squad (with the backing of their partners in the Longhorn Network, ESPN) would get the nod over the Tide.
So, how likely is this best-case scenario for Nebraska in 2013?
Just imagine it. Nebraska getting a final shot at the hated Longhorns, giving Pelini the chance to avenge his “The BCS! That’s why they made that call!” moment.
This year’s BCS title game will be in the Rose Bowl, site of Nebraska’s last national championship appearance. If we assume that Nebraska has the mental strength to knock off the Buckeyes, then there should be no doubt NU has enough in the tank to beat a Mack Brown-coached Texas squad and win the national title.
Close your eyes, Husker fan, and imagine this. A warm summer night in Southern California, with confetti flying in the air. Nebraska players hugging each other and putting on “National Champion” caps that will soon be available for purchase at $35 a pop (which, admit it Husker fan, you would order that night). Pelini, his grey sweatshirt dripping with Gatorade, holding aloft the crystal football with the strains of “Hail Varsity” playing behind him.
And in the background, a dejected Longhorn squad trudging to the locker room, with Brown preparing for an interview similar to Steve Spurrier’s “Nebraska’s just way better than us” speech after the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
Seriously, Husker fan, could it get any better than that?
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