Nebraska Football: The Blueprint for a Perfect Offseason
Nebraska fans are settling in for the long offseason after the conclusion of the college football season on Monday. There’s a lot that will be happening between now and the start of next season, of course, including recruiting, spring practice and fall practice.
So what should Nebraska fans be looking for in that time? How will Nebraska fans know if NU is doing well between now and Florida Atlantic on August 30?
Finishing the Recruiting Season Strong
Nebraska’s 2014 recruiting class is currently rated No. 37 nationally by 247Sports and No. 6 in the Big Ten. While Nebraska’s recruiting has been better in the last two years, getting this year’s recruiting rank higher would be a huge relief for NU fans.
With 20 commits, Nebraska still has room to finish its class strong. Landing priority targets like cornerback Kweishi Brown would go a long way toward starting the offseason with a bang.
A Tough Quarterback Competition
For the first time since 2010, Nebraska will be going into an offseason without knowing who the starting quarterback will be. With the graduation of Taylor Martinez, there will be an all-out offseason battle between sophomore Tommy Armstrong and redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton to win the starting job.
That competition by itself will be serve as a tool to develop leadership and excellence at the quarterback position. Perhaps less obvious a benefit, though, will be that offensive coordinator Tim Beck will be forced to design an offense that can work for both Armstrong and Stanton instead of being geared specifically for Martinez.
Regardless, though, a strong battle for the starting quarterback job is good for Nebraska in 2014.
Take Care of the Ball
Against Michigan State and Iowa, Nebraska was minus-eight in turnover margin and lost both games. Against Georgia, Nebraska was plus-one in turnover margin and won the game despite being a nine-point underdog.
Sure, nothing is that simple, but in this case, it might just be that simple. If Nebraska can solve its turnover problem, it can likely log an additional win or two each season. And as we have seen historically, that alone could be the distance between Nebraska and a conference title.
Get Better at Punt Returns
Last year, Nebraska was No. 123 nationally in punt returns, averaging only 3.04 yards per return (per cfbstats.com). Even more mind-boggling is when you look at punt returns another way—Nebraska was No. 112 nationally in punt returns, averaging 5.4 yards on punt returns...per game.
That’s just not good enough. Having such a puny punt return game simply gives up far too much yardage, makes your offense work that much harder and puts that much more pressure on your defense. Moving Nebraska up that list nationally has to be a priority for NU this offseason.
Find Answers on the Lines
Nebraska will lose the entire middle of its offensive line and half its defensive line to graduation after the 2013 season. Injuries created a patchwork offensive line for Nebraska at the end of last season, which could pay some dividends in terms of players getting experience that will be fighting for playing time this year.
But perhaps the biggest question that needs to be answered this offseason is how Nebraska will settle in on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Nebraska fans were relieved when two of its most important players—defensive end Randy Gregory and I-back Ameer Abdullah—announced they were returning to the team in 2014 and not going to the NFL. Not having one or both of those players available for the 2014 season would have been a big blow for Nebraska.
But offseason injuries can claim a season in the same way that a defection to the NFL can. Football is a contact sport, of course, and it would be wishful thinking to hope there would be no serious injuries this offseason.
But if Nebraska is going to have a productive offseason, it cannot afford a significant injury to Abdullah, Gregory or any other of its critical players.
Or you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.