Well Nebraska fans, it's almost that time...
As another summer winds down, the calendar turns toward fall, with the crisp mornings, the beautiful autumn colors, and the cool breezes. But, something else marks the seasonal changes here in our great state.
It is about time to open another chapter and rekindle that passion, that excitement, and that energy that we all feel, for our states' son's, the University of Nebraska Cornhusker's football team.
Opening that new chapter comes with lots of questions.
Will the team continue to improve under Bo Pelini?
Will some players step up at key positons that lost major contributors?
Those are just a couple of the question marks.
I will pose a few here and then I want to know what you will be watching very closely in 2009.
1. What sort of performance can be expected out of likely first time starting quarterback Zac Lee?
Lee comes into the 2009 season having completed two passes as a Cornhusker quarterback, while not having played a meaningful down of college football since the 2006 season while at San Francisco City College.
Lee does possess a very strong right arm and the ability to make plays with his feet. By all appearances Lee might possess the best set of physical tools to play quarterback at Nebraska since before the Bill Callahan era.
Does he have the physical and mental toughness to withstand being hammered by VT's tough nasty defense? To keep getting up quickly, time after time and smiling at the surprised defender while saying, "Nice tackle." Alas, former Cornhusker quarterback Scott Frost.
Does he have a short memory to forget the bad plays and move on to the next one?
Going all the way back to Dave Humm in 1974 Nebraska does possess a history of first-time, first-year starting quarterbacks playing very well and exceeding everyone's expectations, except probably their own.
Gerry Gdowski in 1989 setting a passing efficiency mark for Cornhusker quarterbacks that still stands to this day with 19 touchdown passes to just two interceptions.
Keithen McCant in 1991 leading the Cornhuskers to a tie for the Big 8 title.
And we can't forget watching Brook Berringer RIP in 1994 coming in for an injured Tommie Frazier and helping lead the Cornhuskers to an undefeated season and Tom Osborne's first of three National Championships before he retired at the end of the 1997 season.
Can we or should we expect the same out of Zac Lee or whomever comes out of fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback?
2. How badly will Peterson and Swift be missed from 2008 and can the current group of receivers step up as a unit and soften the loss of two senior leaders?
There are still some wide receivers on this Husker roster that should be expected to step up and take leadership role's with this team.
Veteran guys like Niles Paul, Menelik Holt, Wes Cammack, and Chris Brooks are juniors and seniors that have filled roles in previous seasons. It's your time now guys. Time to step up and be the players that you know you are and can be.
These guys should provide leadership to a group of young receivers in Antonio Bell, Khiry Cooper, Marcus Mendoza, and Junior College transfer Brandon Kinnie.
Word out of seven-on-seven drills during the summer session is Kinnie has taken a leadership role and is displaying some skills reminiscent of former Husker Maurice Purify, only Kinnie is faster and the same size.
Does this group of talented, yet still unproven receivers have what it takes to mesh with a first time starter at the quarterback position?
3. Can the offensive line and running game continue to progress and take some pressure of a new quarterback and inexperience in the wide receivers corp?
Even with the loss of the right side of the offensive line in guard Matt Slauson and tackle Lydon Murtha this group is still a deep and talented group.
Will guys like Mike Caputo, D.J. Jones, Keith Williams, Ricky Henry, and Derek Meyer step up to complete a strong unit?
Will the offensive line continue to improve under the tutelage of offensive line coach Barney Cotton?
Can these guys be the hammers to lead a talented running back duo of Roy Helu and Quentin Castille?
4. Will this Pelini defensive unit start to produce the turnovers that have been trademarks of past Pelini defenses?
Although, the 2008 defense was a significant improvement over the horrific Cosgrove coached defense of 2007 there is still huge room for improvement.
This defense just wasn't as disruptive as it could have been in 2008 and Pelini knows that.
Coming into 2009, they appear to have a defensive line that should be as disruptive as any in the Big 12, possibly the nation.
Guys like honors candidate Ndamukong Suh, plus two returning starters in Barry Turner and Pierre Allen, at defensive end flanking Suh, should create problems for opposing offensive lines.
Will the influx of athletic, fast, but young and inexperienced guys at the linebacker positions help to create a bit more havoc for opposing offenses?
Will the secondary, under Defensive Back's coach Marvin Sanders show improvement over last year and cut down on the number of break downs in coverage that led to many big plays for opposing teams in 2008?
5. After a year in which no coaches left the Nebraska program for the first time in several years will it show on game day?
For the first time since I believe 2002, Nebraska has retained it's entire coaching staff from the following year.
This fact can't be under stated or ignored. This continuity within a program is so important to it's long term success. A revolving door of coaching changes helps no one.
Gone are the days of the cohesiveness of the Osborne era coaches, but coaches staying in a program for more than a year or two should help its growth from year to year.
Let me know your thoughts, Cornhusker fans.
In your mind, what are the most important factors as we head into the 2009 season?
Go Big Red!
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