While some may consider it a faux pas to post a game-by-game prediction article after the season has started, I think there's nothing wrong with it if you already knew what the outcome of the first game was going to be.
Speaking of the Florida Atlantic game, how much fun was that to watch? I was so excited that I even tweeted that NU needs to start a Roy Helu-for-Heisman campaign.
That's right, I advocated starting a Heisman campaign off of one performance against an out-manned opponent in the season's opening game. (And to answer your inner monologue, yes, I'm embarrassed to use the word "tweeted"). Perhaps my optimism is running too high, but there was a lot to like about last Saturday's 49-3 romp.
The young linebackers played as well as you could hope for in their first start, the secondary didn't suffer any of the lapses that were so common last year (though Larry Asante apparently still hasn't learned how to catch, despite being a senior). The defensive line play was solid against a team that was in max protect the whole night, and even the younger guys (Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler) looked pretty decent in their collegiate debuts.
To top it off, Cody Green and Rex Burkhead both got into the end zone, with Green's following an electric 49-yard jaunt down the sideline and Rex showing suprising strength for a 200-pound guy fresh out of high school. I think it's fair to say that I'm as excited for Nebraska's future as hippies were for Dubya to leave office. HEY-OH!
So how does the rest of the season shake out? Obviously, had I written this article on time, the result may have been different. Before last week's games, OU hadn't lost Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham, Baylor hadn't defeated Wake Forest, and Missouri hadn't destroyed Illinois. All that aside, here's how I see the rest of the season shaking out for the Big Red.
Sep. 12—Arkansas State
Despite having the Sun Belt's preseason offensive (QB Corey Leonard) and defensive (DE Alex Carrington) players of the year, the Red Wolves aren't going to stop the Big Red. They might have had a prayer of sneaking up on Nebraska if they hadn't already beaten Texas A&M last year at Kyle Field, something that is already on the Husker's radar.
Prediction: Nebraska 45, Red Owls 10
Sep. 19—@ Virginia Tech
After Darren Evans went down in the preseason, I thought Nebraska's chances of stealing one from Lane Stadium went up considerably. However, now I'm not so sure after watching freshman Ryan Williams total 113 total yards and two touchdowns on just 15 touches, and that was against Alabama's defense.
The question here is, just what do Pelini and Watson have in their bag of tricks for this game? Against Florida Atlantic, we saw the most vanilla gameplan we'll see all year out of the Huskers, and that's on both sides of the ball.
The key will be stopping QB Tyrod Taylor and Williams from running on them. If we can successfuly do that, it will force Taylor to go to the air, and that's where we can hopefully use whatever blitz packages Pelini has saved through the first two weeks of the season. If NU can get to Taylor, he will make bad throws, despite whatever progress he has supposedly made in the offseason. Even if all this comes to fruition, can NU move the ball on Tech's defense?
If you look at Tech's loss to Alabama, the Hokies gave up nearly 500 yards of offense to the Crimson Tide. That stat is misleading in my opinion because the defense played solidly early in the game. The key number to look at here is time of possession, where the Tide held the ball for 37 minutes to 23 minutes for VT.
Nebraska's forte last season was holding onto the ball and wearing down a defense, and that's when big plays (Castille in the Gator Bowl, anyone?) started coming. The Huskers can't afford a slow start in Lane Stadium, they need to piece together long scoring drives from the get-go and take the crowd out of it, while wearing down the defense before breaking out something sweet at just the opportune time for the kill shot.
That said, if Virginia Tech can put up 24 on Alabama, what will they put up on us? Just how far has the defense really came? While my gut is telling me to put NU as winning this game, my gut has also led me astray many times.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Nebraska 21
After losing the two most prolific offensive players in school history to graduation last year, the Ragin' Cajuns are in for a rough game, but at least they can take solace in being cannon fodder for the 300th consecutive sellout in Memorial Stadium.
Prediction: Nebraska 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 10
I was pretty sold on Nebraska winning this game. That is, until I saw Blaine Gabbert torch Illinois for 313 yards passing and four total touchdowns. Pretty much everyone expected there to be some kind of dropoff after Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin left town, but the season opener was an eye-opener for anyone who anticipated that.
While Gabbert's blistering start is a cause for concern, I think everyone needs to take a step back and look at the game. First off, it was against Illinois, a team whose defense wasn't any good last year during a 5-7 campaign and whose best offensive weapon (Arrelious Benn) was sitting the entire second half due to injury, making them pretty one-dimensional. Remember, Illinois went to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago. Illinois last year was the Big 10's equivalent of Kansas State.
That said, going into Missouri on a Thursday night for a nationally televised game is something to be a little concerned about. And I'm not talking about the final score; I'm more concerned for our players safety going into Faurot Field, when the whole city will have been drinking since 10:00 a.m.
According to Pelini, the reason we got our asses handed to us last year is because the coaching staff "got cute" with it's game plan and gave the players more than they could handle, which is why you saw Maclin streaking through our secondary like The Flash.
If Nebraska wants to rebuild it's national image, it's games like this one (and obviously Va. Tech) that they need to win. The real X-factor here is that Pelini and his staff have 11 days to prepare for Mizzou thanks to a bye week. The Tigers had a problem with turnovers last year, plunging from 11th nationally to 8th in the Big 12 last year.
I'm sure that the NU staff will "get cute" again with it's game plan. The difference is that this year, our defense actually knows what they are doing, and I think we'll get 3+ turnovers. And that, combined with a stronger special teams (the Tigers lost the most accurate kicker in NCAA history to graduation last season), will be the difference for Nebraska escaping Faurot with a win.
Prediction: Nebraska 24, Missouri 17
Oct. 17—Texas Tech
Last year, the Huskers took a Red Raiders team that was ranked in the top 10 at the time to the brink—in Lubbock—only to lose on Joe Ganz's interception in overtime. This year, without Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, it's going to be much tougher for Tech to get a win.
I know, I know, Taylor Potts is already becoming the next guy in the Tech quarterback assembly line, but I still think that losing Crabtree will be a bigger loss than anyone is saying yet. Also, the Red Raiders have to come to Lincoln this time. Still, I could see a nail-biter developing.
Prediction: Nebraska 35, Texas Tech 31
Oct. 24—Iowa State
Win. Best of luck to the Cyclones against the Hawkeyes this weekend, though.
I'll admit, this is a tough game to call so early in the season. The Bears are coming off a win over a pretty good Wake Forest team, and Robert Griffin has solidified his passing skills to go with his world-class speed. While I'm impressed with Baylor's improvement, I still don't think they have the horses to keep up with the Huskers, especially given Nebraska's continuing improvement on the defense.
Prediction: Nebraska 35, Baylor 14
So much could happen between now and this game. Will Oklahoma shore up their pass protection? How will Sam Bradford recover from his AC joint injury? Will Nebraska still be healthy at that point in the season?
While I certainly believe this will be much more competitive than last year's massacre in Norman, I still don't know if Nebraska can knock off OU. This is what makes predictions hard, because my head is telling me that Oklahoma is the smart pick, but my heart is telling me that NU will win.
To be honest, I don't know, I really do think this game could go either way. How much faith does Pelini and company have?
In the summer of 2008, Pelini went on Jim Rome's radio show. Rome asked if he should buy tickets for this game, still over a year away at the time. He was basically asking if that by then, would Nebraska be back to where they need to be and in a position to beat Oklahoma. Pelini's response, simply put: "Buy the tickets."
I hope Bo's right. Because I'm buying tickets, even if the outcome isn't what I hope for.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 17
This game will be the most pivotal in the season for Nebraska. Coming off a letdown against OU, they have to travel to Lawrence to battle a very good Kansas team. While the Jayhawks have to work with some inexperience on the offensive line, you'd think that they'd have everything figured out by mid-November. Same goes with replacing their three starting linebackers from last year.
That said, I think the difference in this game is Pelini and the coaching staff. In the past, maybe NU tanks this game after a letdown against OU. I don't see Pelini and company letting that happen. They're going to force the Huskers to snap out of it and be accountable, and I think that's why NU will win this game and regain their momentum going into the end of the season. Reesing, Briscoe, and Sharp are good weapons for the Jayhawks, but by then we'll have faced plenty of good players, and if we beat KU last year, there's no reason to think we can't do it again.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Kansas 21
Nov. 21—Kansas State
While it'll be interesting to see if Bill Snyder can revive the program for a second time, that's going to take a little while with the talent left over from Ron Prince, who loved JUCO players like fat kids love cake. And that opening 21-17 win over UMass doesn't bode well.
Prediction: Nebraska 42, Kansas State 7
While some people picked the Buffs as a potential sleeper in the North, I wasn't sold on it, and I'm still not. I don't look at the loss to Colorado State with as much disbelief as some did, mainly because I'm a big believer that anything can happen in a rivalry game. Still, I don't think CU is going to get to the 10 wins that coach Dan Hawkins promised. I think Nebraska uses this as a springboard into the Big 12 title game.
And it won't be the barnburner it was last season, either. The real question is, how much debris will get thrown on the field when Nebraska wins?
Prediction: Nebraska 35, Colorado 15
Dec. 5—Big XII Championship Game
That's right, I'm predicting a Big XII North title for the Huskers, where they earn the right to play spoiler against Texas. The Longhorns should be in position to grab a national title berth if they win this game, which, if they are healthy, will happen. Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley will be too much for the Huskers.
Prediction: Texas 34, Nebraska 14
The bowl game is tough to call. What if Oklahoma loses to Texas AND Oklahoma State? What if Okie State crumbles for a couple games before beating OU? We could be headed to anywhere from the Alamo Bowl to the Cotton Bowl, but in my opinion, our conference is too deep for us to end up in the latter.
My guess, much like the rest of the pundits nationwide, is that Nebraska will end up in the Holiday Bowl, most likely against the likes of Oregon or Oregon State. I'd rather face the latter, to be honest with you, despite Oregon's loss to Boise State.
Either way, I'm predicting a Nebraska win in the Holiday Bowl, which leaves the Huskers with a record of 11-3, and a springboard into national title contention in 2010, when we'll have 18 starters back and a shot at the whole thing. Don't look ahead, though, guys, this season's ride promises to be one you don't want to miss.