At times, Nebraska Football seems like an entity unto itself, a self-perpetuating beast striding across history. But of course, that beast is merely an organization, made up of people making decisions that shape the course of the program.
The Nebraska football program has had many important people throughout its history, and attempting to list them all would be difficult to do without slight. So to make the project more manageable, we're just going to look at the people currently involved with the program.
It's still difficult to narrow the list to 10, but at least it makes for a good starting point for discussion.
Yes, I know he’s not part of the Nebraska program. But Nebraska joining the B1G Conference is the most monumental decision the program has made since the hiring of Bob Devaney.
And the B1G as it is currently constituted, with the power and stability it possesses, exists in large part because of Delaney’s power and guile in running the conference.
The Chancellor of the University of Nebraska has had his clunkers in the past, but his maneuvering last summer in getting Nebraska out of the Big 12 and into the B1G is a decision that covers a multitude of sins.
Remember that at the time Nebraska was staring down the barrel of Texas threatening to leave the conference and take six teams with it, leaving Nebraska holding the bag.
Perlman, along with Tom Osborne, quickly struck a deal with the B1G and secured Nebraska’s future.
When Bo Pelini was hired to repair the smoking crater left behind by Bill Callahan, it was his job to fix an anemic defense. He did so with gusto, but offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was still a Callahan holdover, and his offensive struggles likely cost Nebraska a shot at two BCS bowl games.
In steps Tim Beck, now with one season as offensive coordinator under his belt, to forge an offensive identity for NU that fits with Bo Pelini’s worldview.
How he is able to mesh the skill sets of all the talented young players on offense will go a long way in defining Pelini’s success at Nebraska.
Still the most enigmatic player Nebraska has seen in some time, Taylor Martinez is still the ultimate key to Nebraska’s success.
In 2012, Martinez will still only be a junior, but it feels like Nebraska fans have seen him forever. In 2010, we saw the explosive player who could take your breath away but was also a turnover-machine who could do as much damage to his own team as to his opponents. In 2011, Martinez gave up the play-making role and became more of a facilitator for other offensive talent on the field.
If Martinez can find a way to bring the best of 2010 and 2011 to bear in 2012, Nebraska’s offense could be a force to be reckoned with.
Bear with me on this one.
If you were giving an award for overall MVP for Nebraska in 2011, my vote would go for Lavonte David. His play-making ability in the middle of the field on defense kept Nebraska alive in games where the rest of the defense was struggling mightily.
Without David, more than any other player, NU would have been lost.
David, of course, will not be on the field in 2012. It is Will Compton, who at the end of 2011 began to show flashes of the promise he brought in his recruiting, who will be asked to help fill the void left by David’s graduation.
Nebraska’s defense will be looking for an anchor in 2012, and Compton is one of the players who will be asked to be one of those anchors.
It seems as if Nebraska will elevate John Papuchis to fill the defensive-coordinator position that was left open when Carl Pelini took the Florida Atlantic head coaching job.
While many Nebraska fans (including one very clever one) had hoped Bo Pelini would go outside the program, it appears that Pelini will once again hire in-house and keep his core staff intact.
If Papuchis is the new defensive coordinator, his responsibilities in rebuilding the Blackshirts after a sub-par 2011 will be daunting. While NU will likely not have the kind of growing pains it did on offense with a rookie coordinator last year, the fact still remains that Papuchis will have to hit the ground running to keep Nebraska competitive against another challenging B1G Conference schedule.
Yeah, OK, he’s probably not one of the most important ones, but you’re missing the boat if you’re not following him on Twitter.
Plus, you’ll get about as much information from @FauxPelini as the real one regarding questions about Mike Caputo’s eligibility for the Capital One Bowl.
As the season wore on, it became increasingly clear that Rex Burkhead was the foundation of Nebraska’s offense. Superman was asked to do it all, including breaking Nebraska’s single-game record for carries against Iowa with 38.
And this is coming off Burkhead’s freshman season when he featured prominently in a wildcat formation—prominently enough that the question could be raised if Burkhead was more effective under center at the end of 2010 than Taylor Martinez.
In 2012, Burkhead will be a senior and the unquestioned leader of Nebraska’s offensive unit.
If the rest of the offense takes on Burkhead’s attitude and work ethic, NU could have a very special unit to work with.
Since his return to the program, Ron Brown has been an inspirational leader on and off the field. His work with the running backs has paid dividends—just look at the development of Rex Burkhead and the freshman running backs under Brown’s tutelage last season.
But it is Brown’s off-field leadership that gains him the most attention and puts the Nebraska program in the best light. When Nebraska went to Penn State in the aftermath of the sexual-assault scandal, it was Brown that was asked to lead both teams in a prayer before the game.
Whatever you may think of the mixing of church and state at such an event, Brown’s influence on his players and the community cannot be overstated.
It goes without saying that Tom Osborne, building on the foundation laid by Bob Devaney, built a college football institution in Lincoln. His success as a coach established Nebraska as one of the premier programs in college football, guaranteeing NU a place amongst the giants of the sport.
But his work as an athletic director has arguably been more important.
It was Osborne that came in and was able to put things right after Steve Pederson’s disastrous mismanagement of Nebraska’s athletic department. It was Osborne that hired Bo Pelini, recognizing the critical need to restore the Nebraska community that had been strained and divided with the firing of Frank Solich and the technocratic regime of Bill Callahan.
And it was Osborne, along with Harvey Perlman, that was able to quickly and deftly respond to the existential threat that Nebraska faced from Texas to guide NU into the safe harbor of the B1G Conference.
It all comes down to the head man, though.
Nebraska fans desperately wanted to believe that Pelini was right when he said that “Nebraska’s back, and we’re here to stay” after the 2009 Holiday Bowl. To get there, though, Pelini has replaced an offensive coordinator and (apparently) a defensive coordinator with internal promotions rather than searching for talent outside the program.
Regardless of how great a defensive mind Pelini is, it will be decisions like that, along with his ability to attract and retain great talent, that will define how “back” Nebraska will be in the years to come.
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