Did Move to Big Ten Doom State of Nebraska Football, or Is It Just Bo Pelini?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IDecember 7, 2013

Nov 29, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini leads his team onto the field prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Memorial Stadium. Iowa won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

If you're a betting man or woman, putting money down on Nebraska to lose four games is a pretty solid one. After all, it has happened every single year of the Bo Pelini era. 

With the move to the Big Ten and its Legends Division, the Huskers were expected to be immediate players in the conference. 

It hasn't exactly happened that way, though, and it has some wondering if the move to the Big Ten was the right one, or if the lack of championships is more about Pelini himself.

Sure, Nebraska reached the Big Ten Championship Game in 2012, but a five-loss Wisconsin team crushed the Huskers, 70-31. 

Over the past five years, something is different about the Nebraska program. The theories as to what is contributing to the Huskers' lack of double-digit win totals are many. 

Is it recruiting and a lack of major names coming to Nebraska? Has it been coaching and changes in the coaching staff?

On the recruiting trail there is no doubt that Nebraska has had to make a shift in some of its philosophy. 

Nebraska has had to turn its focus from south and west of it toward the east and south. Ohio, Pennsylvania and the Southeast have become increasing targets for the Huskers. 

Additionally, there's the fact that Lincoln, Neb. isn't exactly a bustling metropolis. There's no doubt its location is starting to affect how it recruits players. 

Recruits are committing on an earlier and earlier basis, and that means visiting on their own dime. Getting to Lincoln isn't the easiest of things to do, something Nebraska linebackers coach Ross Els told ESPN.com earlier this year:

The problem is we aren't going to get a ton of commitments, obviously, until we get kids on campus. And because of our small population base around here, it's hard to get kids to come visit us right away when we're not paying for it. It's expensive.

As for getting the talent in Lincoln to compete and win championships, the Huskers' past five classes have been interesting. 

Nebraska Recruiting Rankings Under Pelini

Those aren't exactly bad recruiting classes, especially when you look back in history for the Huskers. In Frank Solich's final two years, his recruiting classes ranked No. 40 and No. 42 by Rivals.com and finished the seasons 7-7 and 10-3, respectively. 

During the Bill Callahan era, Nebraska had the classes ranked No. 58, No. 5 and No. 20 by Rivals.com and finished 5-6, 8-4 and 9-5 from 2004 to 2006.

Having recruiting classes inside the top 25 should be enough to have success at some level. 

The question then becomes, what kind of success should we be expecting? Is winning your division good enough, or do championship trophies need to be put in the trophy case? 

Pelini has taken all of the talent that the recruiting services see as pretty darn good and gotten them to four conference championship games, including one in three years of Big Ten membership. 

Yet, he is 0-4 in those games, and he hasn't won a bowl game in three years. 

In the three years of Nebraska's Big Ten membership, the Huskers have finished third, first and second in the Legends Division. 

Once again, close by just not good enough every year. Pelini has put his team in a position to have success nearly every year, but the Huskers haven't gotten over the hump. 

It could lead one to say that coaching is the issue, not just Pelini, but the staff in general. 

One clue to that being part of the equation is the changes that have occurred on Pelini's staff since his first year at the helm. 

As the Huskers completed their time in the Big 12 and looked to enter the Big Ten, Pelini made a switch on the offensive coaching staff—firing offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and promoting Tim Beck from running backs coach. 

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 30:  Assistant Coach Tim Beck of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers looks on from the sideline during the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl against University of Arizona Wildcats on December 30, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cali
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The 2010 offense that got Watson fired averaged 30.9 points a game, 247.6 yards rushing and 150.6 yards passing. 

Under Beck, the Huskers are averaging 32.2 points a game, 230.7 yards rushing and 189.8 yards passing. 

The biggest difference has come in the passing game for sure, going from 13 touchdowns to 24 and 23 over the past two years. 

The fact that offensively and defensively, things have stayed relatively the same no matter who's coordinating could be an indicator that something is wrong with the staff in general. 

Making changes should result in dramatically better results, but offensively the Huskers haven't seen that really happen under Beck. 

No matter what has taken place in the past, one thing we do know is that Pelini will be given at least one more chance to break that barrier and show the world the Huskers are Big Ten Championship material.

If things don't change soon, though, the one common denominator in all the questions being asked—Pelini—may be the change Nebraska needs to make.

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens


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