Big Ten Breakdown: Nebraska Cornhuskers, Part 3 (Schedule and Final Breakdown)
In the past two articles, I looked at the offense, defense, specialists and the team as a whole. In this article, I will look at the incoming freshmen, intangibles, schedule and give my final analysis as to how I think things might shake out for the Cornhuskers.
As previously mentioned, this class was heavy in offensive linemen. Moreover, there are a number of true freshmen that are not only likely to see playing time, but that will be depended on to make a splash.
One of the key freshmen that will immediately see the spotlight is Texas's Jamal Turner. He might be not only the punt and kick returner, but also the Huskers' starting slot receiver. Turner is extremely talented, but he is still new to the receiver position and that could cause some growing pains.
San Antonio's Aaron Green is arguably the most talented and game ready of three true freshmen running backs. He will also vie for return duties and could be the lightning to Burkhead's thunder.
Finally, Florida kicker Mauro Bondi will try to ease some of the pain of saying goodbye to Alex Henery.
Where to begin? In a season full of intangibles, Nebraska might face the most in the conference.
First of all, there is the offense. How will it be different from last season? Will it be different from last season?
In my opinion, it had better be or Martinez/Carnes will once again be the walking wounded by midseason. And this is not a matter of scheme vs. execution. As Freud said, "anatomy is destiny." Running backs are built to carry running backs' work loads. Neither Martinez nor Carnes is built like a running back.
I am not saying the Nebraska quarterback has to become a statue. I am saying he needs to keep himself healthy and force teams to respect his arm.
Then there is the element of the new conference. Bo Pelini is from the Big Ten, and he will prepare his team accordingly. However, change is change and it's not always easy to make adjustments. There are new routines, new stadiums, new fans and new traditions.
Speaking of the Big Ten, the conference got Nebraska off on the wrong foot by doling out the toughest conference schedule it could muster. That was not a coincidence. Could there be more hazing—fair or unfair—in store for the Huskers?
The Huskers could make it easy for the conference to tilt the deck by taking penalties. Last season, Nebraska was 115th in the country in penalty yardage. In 2009, they were 102nd. In 2008—Bo Pelini's first season—they were 99th. The numbers suggest that Nebraska is going in the wrong direction.
09/03: Chattanooga. Nebraska is the heavy favorite.
09/10: Fresno State. Nebraska is the heavy favorite.
09/17: Washington. Favorite.
09/24: At Wyoming. Heavy favorite.
10/01: At Wisconsin. Slight underdog.
10/08: Ohio State. Favorite.
10/15: Open date.
10/22: At Minnesota. Heavy favorite.
10/29: Michigan State. Favorite.
11/05: Northwestern. Favorite.
11/12: At Penn State. Slight favorite.
11/19: At Michigan. Slight favorite.
11/25: Iowa. Favorite.
Nebraska roars through its out-of-conference schedule, to the point that they more than repay Washington for the Holiday Bowl loss.
The defense is predictably dominant. More surprising is the offense, which, while still run-first, is more multiple, more dangerous in the passing game and, overall, more efficient than last season.
The Huskers head into the Wisconsin game on fire, in what many experts pick as the preview of the Big Ten Championship Game.
While the Badgers are the favorites, Nebraska contains Wisconsin's vaunted running game—the first defense since 2009 Northwestern that would have manged that—and take's advantage of a couple of turnovers to win a close defensive battle.
Ohio State comes into Lincoln having just reinstated the Tattooed Four and the Buckeye offense looks a bit rusty. The Blackshirts take advantage of that and win by a touchdown.
After the bye week, the Huskers roll over Minnesota and proceed to win close games against Michigan State and Northwestern.
The Penn State game proves to be the trickiest contest of the season, pitting two strong defensive teams that still have questionable offenses against one another. Nevertheless, the Nebraska offense makes fewer mistakes, leading to a three-point win by the Cornhuskers.
They proceed to beat both Michigan and Iowa by two scores and head into the conference championship game undefeated.
They win and it is on to the National Championship Game.
Nebraska roars through 75 percent of its out-of-conference schedule. The Washington game proves to be tricky, but the long road trip and the Sea of Red do in the Huskies.
The defense is predictably dominant, but the offense is shaky at best and the special teams are a mess.
By the end of the OOC, injuries begin to pile up on the O-line, which is not good as the Huskers head into Madison.
Nebraska's defense keeps it close, but in the end they can't win the game without some help from the offense. They don't get it.
They then drop the OSU contest in what many perceive as a letdown game. This is despite a somewhat disjointed Ohio State offense.
The offensive line returns to some semblance of health after the bye week and Nebraska handily beats the Gophers. They win one of the next two to earn bowl eligibility and finish the season by losing two of the final three.
Final record: 7-5. Bowl destination: Houston, Texas, to play one of their old rivals from the Big 12.
Nebraska will have the best defense in the Big Ten. More than that, they will have the deepest defense. I am fairly certain of the first premise and positive of the second.
The issues concern the offense and special teams.
I admit that Tim Beck and Bo Pelini's coyness regarding the O rubs me the wrong way. It goes without saying they're not going to unveil the second-coming of the forward pass. Therefore, there is no reason to act like it is a grand secret. If there are changes, generally speaking, what are they?
Depending upon what the Huskers do on offense, the inexperience at receiver is worrisome. Furthermore, Nebraska's line is not good enough—ala Wisconsin—to run 70 percent of the time and impose its will on whomever it is playing that week.
I like Martinez and feel he can be successful provided he has the right players around him. I don't think he has those players yet.
In closing, I genuinely believe Nebraska can run the table if a number of things go right.
First of all, multiple true freshmen have to step up and play beyond their years. Secondly, the young line will also have to step up and play beyond its years. Thirdly, that line will have to stay immaculately healthy and keep its quarterback immaculately healthy.
Fourthly, Nebraska will need to find a game-changing return man, perhaps from the pool of true freshmen. Fifthly, the Huskers will need a dependable—he doesn't need to be automatic—place kicker.
Finally, T-Magic (or Carnes) will have to play at a level where he can beat teams solely with his arm.
These are a number of big "ifs" and I don't see them all coming to bear.
On the other hand, I am a firm believer in defense winning championships and Nebraska is set in that capacity.
I have the Huskers going 10-2, with road losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. I have them winning the western division and then losing to UW in the conference championship game.
At 10-3, they will be at the bottom of the BCS bowl-eligible pool, but the Nebraska traveling reputation will take them far, and I have them getting an at-large bid to either the Sugar or Orange Bowl.
Be sure to check out past installments of Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
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