Nebraska’s fall camp kicked off August 7th and Bo Pelini was in rare form. The third-year coach told reporters, “It was fine. It was a typical first day. I thought the effort was good.” While this past Saturday may have been typical in terms of what the coaches expected to see from their charges, 2010 is anything but typical for Nebraska.
It’s the Big Red Farewell Tour as the Cornhuskers will call the Big 10 home next year. The October 16th game against Texas in Lincoln is circled and underlined, whether both sides like it or not. Staff and players are wearing wristbands with the word “Finish” on them in reference to last year’s Big 12 Championship Game.
Add a No. 9 ranking in the preseason Coaches’ poll and you have the making of something that Nebraska fans haven’t been able to fathom in many a season: A run at the National Championship.
Here are the pieces to the puzzle:
1.) Ndamukong Who?: Many national analysts knock the 2010 version of the Blackshirts simply because of the loss of one man and rightly so. It’s hard to believe even Head Coach Pelini when he says that, as a unit, his defense will be even better without Suh. Fortunately, for Nebraska, they do have some talented young men to try to fill the shoes of #93.
Jared Crick, whose name is found on several early season award watch lists, will step into Suh’s role. Baker Steinkuhler will look to compliment Crick as well as Jared did the departed decorated lineman. Cameron Meredith has been impressive during his time on the field. He and fellow defensive end Pierre Allen look to complete a potentially dominant defensive front four.
The defensive backfield appears to be packed with talent from Prince Amakuamara, who some NFL draft experts have predicted as a first round selection, to Alfonzo Dennard, Dejon Gomes, and Eric Hagg. All have been groomed to the point where passing on Nebraska is likely a feat easier to suggest than execute.
The linebackers will need some time to get their feet wet after losing perhaps the least-heralded departed defensive superstar, current New York Giant Phillip Dillard. Still, the defensive unit as a whole should remain salty.
2.) First Downs: The 2009 campaign in which the Huskers finished 99th in total offense was as a disaster. However, I have maintained that due to a youth movement on the offensive line, a bevy of running backs, and a healed Zac Lee will change such paltry production. While injuries took their toll last year, offensive line rotation can be counted on this season. Such standouts as Brent Qvale, Jeremiah Sirles and the ever-intimidating Jermarcus “Yoshi” Hardrick help to add depth not seen in nearly a decade.
Roy Helu, Jr., Rex Burkhead and Dontrayveous Robinson give the Cornhusker running game speed, power or, specifically in the case of Burkhead, a little of both. Finally, in an area that has plagued Nebraska for a couple of seasons, wide receiver Niles Paul appears to have taken a leadership role. Brandon Kinnie and recently converted tight end Mike McNeil look to provide the Huskers with at least a serviceable passing attack.
3.) O Henery!: A likely factor in every game will be kicking sensation Alex Henery. The 175-pounder needs only 99 more points to surpass Houston Texan Kris Brown as Nebraska’s all-time leading scorer. He should hold claim to that fame come season's end.
Alex’s big boot could be the difference in some of Nebraska’s likely defensive struggles this season. His 57-yard kick versus Colorado in 2008 comes to mind immediately. Don’t let his size fool you. Henery is a huge gear in the big red machine.
4.) A Sunny Schedule: A road trip to visit Heisman candidate Jake Locker waits in September, but other than that, Nebraska has a favorable road to hoe. Missouri and Texas both visit Lincoln, but trips to Stillwater and College Station could test the Cornhuskers’ mettle. Coach Pelini’s success on the road thus far in his tenure has made such visits to unfriendly confines more favorable for Nebraska as of late.
5.) A Little Blind Luck: Let’s face it, any national champion is going to require a little luck. Even the Cornhuskers themselves can point to 1997 and the “Flea-Kicker” game versus Missouri. Last year’s champion, Alabama, can attest to things being a little too close for comfort as they managed to stave off rival Auburn 26-21.
Former Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne was always quick to point out that luck was a key element to his team’s success, let alone winning the ultimate prize. Truer words have never been spoken. Only a select few national champions can look back at their season and say that a bounce of the ball or an inch here or there wouldn’t have made or broken it.
It may seem like a long shot, but these Huskers don’t take kindly to the idea that they can’t possibly be in Glendale, Arizona playing for it all. It’s BCS or bust.
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