Nebraska Football: What the Cornhuskers Must Do to Win a National Championship
1997, the last of Nebraska's titles, isn't quite yet ancient history, and the Children of the Corn are yearning to see NU get back on the stage and compete for the shiny crystal football.
So how far away is Nebraska from that lofty goal?
What has to happen for the Huskers to bridge that gap and return to Nebraska's glory days?
Here are a few ideas of things that would need to happen.
Clean Up Your Act
Certainly, Alabama’s stifling defense was the primary reason why they dominated LSU and won the shiny crystal football. By the end of the game, one look at LSU's sideline showed how much fight had been taken out of them from Alabama's performance.
But a big part of why LSU was so beaten, even when down by only 12 or 15 points, was how flawlessly Alabama executed its game plan. The Crimson Tide committed only one penalty, for five yards, and did not turn the ball over. By not beating themselves, Alabama kept up a relentless pressure and forced LSU to make plays.
In other words, playing smart and sound football means a team gets to maximize the team's athletic talents.
What would a Nebraska team that played smart and sound football look like?
Have a Good Enough Quarterback
Be honest: Before the game started, did you know A.J. McCarron was Alabama’s starting quarterback?
If you didn’t, don’t feel bad; McCarron was not exactly the focal point of the Crimson Tide's offense going into the game.
He played very well, winning the offensive MVP award for the game (although kicker Jeremy Shelley could rightfully feel robbed by that decision). But McCarron also played within himself, keeping the chains moving with accurate throws and not making the big blunder.
LSU had the opposite problem; Jordan Jefferson had a horrible game both in terms of execution and decision-making. When asked to throw, he wasn’t accurate enough. When asked to run, he wasn’t fast enough to get the edge against Alabama's defense.
This isn't to say that Martinez can't be the quarterback who can lead NU to the promised land. Martinez in 2011 was a much smarter and more efficient quarterback than he was in 2010.
However, he still has the Bad Taylor in him, as his "pass" to Kyler Reed in the Capital One Bowl showed. If the Cornhuskers are to get where the Children of the Corn want them to go, NU needs performances like McCarron's from the quarterback position.
Kick the Ball Well
What was the difference in the two games Alabama and LSU played?
In Tuscaloosa during the regular season, Alabama went 2-for-6 in field goals, while LSU went 3-for-3. In the national title game, Alabama went 5-for-7 in field goals, while LSU—well, the punter got a lot of work.
But even as well as Alabama's defense was playing, it was Jeremy Shelley putting points on the board again and again that helped Alabama wear down and eventually break the will of LSU as the game wore on. That type of consistent pressure that comes from good execution is the differential between good teams and great ones.
Play in the SEC
What a season.
These guys had an 11-1 season, with one tough loss to a top-notch conference rival.
They had a player who was good enough to be a Heisman Trophy finalist.
And their reward was a spot in the National Championship game.
Heck of a season for Stanford, wasn’t it?
Of course that’s apocryphal, but it illustrates a larger point.
Even though Alabama had one loss and was the only one-loss team to have suffered its defeat at home, it still got the nod for the BCS title game over Stanford and Oklahoma State. And while solid arguments can be made that Alabama was the most deserving of the three teams to take the spot, the SEC's reputation (hard-earned, from six straight BCS titles) did nothing to hurt Alabama's chances to recover from their loss.
While this goal almost certainly isn't going to happen—although, as Missouri and Texas A&M demonstrated, anything's possible—it does highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages teams have based on the conference in which they play.
Get Better Players
When Barry Switzer's Oklahoma teams would lose, Switzer would shake his head when asked about the loss and say they, "just had better players than we did."
Nebraska secondary coach Corey Raymond, in a quote from the Omaha World-Herald, said as much about NU's talent level. In comparing Nebraska’s players to South Carolina's, Raymond said, "Look at them, look at us. It's pretty obvious."
While the wisdom of saying something like that out loud can be questioned, ultimately Raymond was right. Nebraska doesn't have the talent level to compete at the highest echelons of college football.
Until it does and until it plays in such a way that it doesn't have to overcome its own mistakes, NU fans will have to content themselves with being disinterested spectators to the BCS title game.
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