Nebraska football '08. What should people expect? Well after last year's ugly debacle of 5-7 and being embarrassed by even the most average of teams one could reasonably conclude that the outlook for '08 really isn't much brighter. Some of our own fans are even thinking that another 5-7 or 6-6 season is very likely. Most Nebraska fans who consider themselves to be "realists" think 7-5 or 8-4 and a trip to the Independence Bowl, Texas Bowl or the Dirty Water Toilet Bowl is about the all we can expect. The reasoning goes last year sucked, there is a new coaching staff in Lincoln, bad memories from last year still haunting the players, no real talent-comparative to the likes of USC, Oklahoma, Texas, etc. I said hogwash to that noise starting the moment I heard confirmation that Bo Pelini was hired to be our new head coach. Bo Pelini, the guy who came to Nebraska in 2003 and turned a 55th rated defense in 2002 into the 11th rated defense in 2003. Bottom line Bo worked his magic once before and he can do it again. Coincidentally, 2003 was the year Nebraska's secondary led the nation in interceptions. But that was 2003, this is 2008 and there's the nightmare from '07 still fresh in our minds. To this point Nebraska has played three games, all on pay-per-view, and I forked over the 29.95 all three times-naturally they were all three wins.
This brings me to the current situation in Lincoln. The Huskers are sitting fairly pretty at 3-0 but really, how good is this team? How many wins can we expect? Is that 3-0 mark an illusion? Can the Huskers expect to compete in the Big 12? What are their strengths? Weaknesses? And what area(s) need the most improvement? Well that's a load of questions no doubt so let's get the the answers.
This Nebraska team can be as good as they want to be the sky is literally the limit. In college football: attitude, determination and belief are every bit as important as coaching, scheme and talent. Walk-on redshirt freshman CB Lance Thorell, who has played quite a bit this season, is from Loomis, Nebraska, and he summed up Bo Pelini's defense when he said, in effect, "All you have to do is read your keys, execute your assignment and you'll be in a position to make a play." Nebraska's defense last year versus this year has literally been a complete 180. Guys are flying to the football, gang-tackling and playing with the kind of energy, passion and intensity that used to be the hallmarks of Cornhusker football which was sadly lost under the former coaching regime.
How many wins can we expect in '08? I don't know but I do know one thing, Nebraska still has five more home games and with the way the Huskers play at home, the Bill Callahan years notwithstanding, five more wins should be in order so there's 8. This leaves four road games: Texas Tech, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Kansas State. There's no real reason in my mind why the Huskers can't go 2-2 at the minimum. If it pans out the way I think it will 11-1, with Bo Pelini being named National Coach of the Year is a distinct possibility. The key though, is winning all the home games. At the other end of the spectrum, worst case scenario, I think the Huskers could finish 8-4 or 9-3-which would still be a huge improvement from '07. Then again, going 5-7 but losing those 7 games by a combined 12 points would also be a huge Improvement but I digress terribly. I think that Nebraska, despite playing a soft early schedule is just now starting to realize their potential. I'm looking at this team and I'm seeing a squad that is really starting to gain confidence. They're gaining confidence not only in the coaches but in themselves. Doubt, uncertainty and no confidence are a football player's worst enemies. Look for this team get better each week which is the tell-tale sign of a great football team.
Nebraska's strengths this season is, at least on paper, the offense and in particular the OL and RB's. It is critical for the Huskers to run the ball better as they get into Big 12 play. Running the ball allows QB Joe Ganz to more effectively manage the game. Ganz is the type of QB who is at his best when the ground game is clicking and he can pick and choose when to throw. Running the ball also wears down the opposing defense and keeps the Husker defense off the field and rested for the 4th quarter which could come in handy in a tight game. The two toughest games conference games Nebraska has to play in the north division; Kansas and Missouri both have to come to Lincoln. I believe that if they can beat Missouri they'll have an inside track to the Big 12 title game as the representative from the north and once they get to the title game anything can happen.
Nebraska's biggest weakness thus far has been mental errors on both sides of the ball. Missing key blocks on runs, blown coverages and communicating with each other. The defense was a weakness last year but it's more of a question mark to this point. How will Nebraska's defense react when they are facing teams like Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, etc that have players just as big, fast strong and good as the Huskers have? Also, sloppy tackling occassionally rears it's ugly head on defense. I believe though that Bo will get these problems fixed.
Overall, after three games, the biggest areas for improvement needed is a more consistent running game and generating a pass rush with the front four on defense. RB Marlon Lucky also needs to step up his performance big time. Lucky is a senior and he has been getting out-played by sophomores Roy Helu and Quentin Castille. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mendoza is also in contention to see quite a bit of playing time this year. One player that has been a pleasant surprise this year is senior Cody Glenn. Glenn spent his first three years toiling away at running back essentially wasting away on the bench. In comes Bo Pelini, Glenn asks to be moved to LB and thus far he's been a solid play-maker. Speaking of the defense, executing basic fundamentals, like wrapping up on tackles, need just a tad more work/improvement. However, the defense is way ahead of what/where they were last year at this time.
In conclusion, Nebraska should hit the 9 win mark at the minimum and if a few things go their way 10, or even 11, wins is possible. Going to a bowl game shouldn't be a problem. Which bowl game remains to be seen. Hopefully it'll be the Fiesta Bowl as Big 12 champs.