As Nebraska football fans watch the calendar turn toward the holiday season, thoughts turn to checking off the gift lists for their loved ones. So as the festive season nears its conclusion, spare a thought or two for Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini as he prepares his team for the Gator Bowl.
2013 was not particularly kind for Pelini, so getting some good loot under the tree would be a nice way to celebrate the season. I have not included a grey sweatshirt in this list, partly because it’s too obvious and partly because, c’mon, don’t you think he has enough already?
While there were a number of things that went wrong for Nebraska in 2013, the central challenge was an injury to senior quarterback Taylor Martinez in the first game of the season. Martinez, tough guy that he is, tried to play his way through the injury with limited success, and in his hampered state he was a big part of losses to UCLA and Minnesota.
And once he was out for good, Nebraska was forced to throw redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and career backup Ron Kellogg into the fire—both running an offense that was tailor-made (pardon the pun) for Martinez’s unique skill set.
This spring, Nebraska could have one of the most interesting and entertaining quarterback battles as Armstrong faces off against Johnny Stanton coming off his redshirt year as well as Ryker Fife. But whomever wins the job next August, Pelini will be hoping for some stability from his signal-caller.
Most people expected Nebraska’s defense to struggle at the start of the 2013 season. But not like that. Not like 602 yards to Wyoming.
But a funny thing happened as the 2013 season unfolded. Nebraska’s defense got better. Sure, some of it was because it was facing some pretty bland offenses. But some of it was because the young players on defense (Nebraska was replacing and entire linebacking corps and started a freshman at middle linebacker, for cryin’ out loud) began to get it and start playing well.
Nebraska looks to be getting a boost with some junior college help on the defensive line next year. But Pelini will be hoping that the lessons of 2013 will be translating into success in 2014 for his young defensive unit.
Nebraska has been having a solid, if not spectacular, recruiting season to date. NU’s 2014 class sits at No. 36 nationally according to 247Sports.com, buoyed in part by the commitment of Terrell Clinkscales at defensive tackle.
With 19 current commits, Nebraska certainly has room to bring some additional players into the fold and boost the national recruiting number. Signing a cornerback looks to be the top priority, as well as landing a second quarterback in case Zack Darlington’s concussion history prevents him from playing for Nebraska.
Pelini has a history of closing strong and having a flurry of commits right at the end of the recruiting process. Continuing that trend of leaving it late would be very helpful this year.
It wasn’t so much Nebraska’s loss to Iowa that had many convinced Pelini had coached his last game in Lincoln. It was the manner of the defeat, including the hat-swipe that cost his team 15 yards and the mind-boggling fake punt into Iowa’s base defense that stink of desperation and panic.
And it was the press conference, where “Coach Chickenbleep” reared his head, cursed on national television, blamed everyone but himself for his failings and all but dared Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst to fire him. After that performance, it seemed Eichorst would almost have no option but to give Pelini the sack.
But Eichorst declined to do so, leaving Pelini in charge. That decision was seen by many as an early holiday gift in and of itself. Everyone, Pelini included, has to know that such cartoonish displays of impatience and frustration are bad for the coach, the team and the institution as a whole.
So maybe an anger management CD (or at least some soothing music—Yanni, perhaps?) to listen to on the drive to work might be the way to go this holiday season.
Pelini’s defenders have pointed to other coaches who have exhibited bad behavior and been retained, even celebrated. Longtime Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight was legendary for his incendiary rants and chair-throwing antics when he was upset.
Of course, that behavior did ultimately cost Knight jobs at both Indiana and Texas Tech. But he was an institution in Bloomington for decades, even with all the shouty behavior. Why?
Because he won. It’s amazing what kind of nonsense a fanbase and a university will put up with when there are banners hanging from the ceiling. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999. If Pelini gets this particular gift—which, let’s face it, would be a pony and Ralphie’s Red Rider BB gun all wrapped up into one—then all of Pelini’s other problems become a lot more manageable.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.