Now it is one thing to have Nebraska ranked No. 8 preseason. Nebraska did win 10 games last year with some rather strong performances to close the season, and there also aren't very many teams out there that look great or even very good.
So if Alabama, Florida and Texas can be No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 despite losing all those players, and if Boise and TCU can be No. 3 and No. 6, I say why not. Virginia Tech and Iowa should be ranked higher, but there isn't that much difference between No. 8 and No. 10.
But it is another thing for Nebraska to be this popular choice to win the Big 12, contend for the national title, and be the talk of the town. What is the basis for it? Why all the hype and predictions of greatness? (The main college football writer in the south claims that Nebraska will beat the Texas Longhorns not once but TWICE this year.)
Yes, Nebraska has won 19 games the past two years—so has Georgia Tech, Pitt, and Oregon, and they are all ranked lower than Nebraska.
Penn State won 22 games the past two years and is ranked way lower. And incidentally, as impressive as winning 19 games over two years is, please note that NONE OF THOSE VICTORIES CAME AGAINST MAJOR COLLEGE TEAMS THAT FINISHED BETTER THAN 8-5.
Their conquests in 2008 were 7-6 Clemson, 5-7 Colorado, 5-7 Kansas State, 8-5 Kansas, 4-8 Baylor, 2-10 Iowa State, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Western Michigan.
In 2009 it was the same story: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, 8-5 Missouri, 4-8 Baylor, 8-5 Oklahoma, 5-7 Kansas, 6-6 Kansas State, 3-9 Colorado and 8-5 Arizona were their conquests.
Nebraska hasn't beaten a ranked team in two years, yet they're supposed to win the Big 12 and contend for a national title this year? Based on what?
Ah, their close game against Texas last year. That moral victory said more about their ability to exploit the limitations of an offense centered totally around Colt McCoy than it was a statement of Nebraska's greatness. In other words, it means a lot less than does getting blown out by Texas Tech, losing to Iowa State at home, and finding a way to lose to Virginia Tech for the second year in a row. Not only hasn't Nebraska beaten anyone worthy to write home about, but they aren't even "beating the teams that they are supposed to beat."
Ah, but Bo Pelini is an up-and-comer, the next great college coach you say. While Pelini's track record as a defensive coordinator is certainly impressive and the early results at Nebraska have been promising, would Nebraska fans and the media have us believe that
Pelini is a better coach than is, say, Urban Meyer? Nick Saban? Jim Tressel? Bob Stoops? Frank Beamer? Kirk Ferentz? Paul Johnson? If so, on what do we base this? For that matter, how has Pelini proven himself to be superior to Big 12 competitors like Bill Snyder? Gary Pinkel? Or even Tommy Tuberville and Mike Gundy?
I say this not to disparage Pelini, but the fact is that there are a lot of great and very good coaches in college football, and what is more a lot of those very good and great coaches have more talent than does Pelini in Lincoln.
And yes, talent is an issue. Nebraska is AT BEST the third most talented team in a Big 12 that strikes no one as being anywhere as near as deep or intimidating as it was about seven or eight years ago when Kansas State, Kansas, Colorado and Texas A&M were better.
Nebraska's talent level is nowhere near what it was during the Tom Osborne peak when they not only were putting as many players in the NFL as Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State are now, but they ran a system that allowed them to benefit from a lot of great college players that weren't NFL prospects. Nebraska hammered Florida, Miami, and Tennessee (twice) in the 1990s (not to mention being robbed of a national title against FSU by the referees) because their athletes were as good as or better than those other teams' athletes and everybody else too. Maybe in a couple of years Pelini will have Nebraska back to the Osborne heyday talent levels, but he isn't there yet, especially on offense.
So, before we start crowning Nebraska as a contender and Pelini as the next Bob Devaney, how's about letting them do something like beat a ranked team first? In the meantime, the spotlight needs to go towards teams and coaches that have already gotten it done and have a better crop of athletes coming back to boot.