Nebraska Football: 10 Reasonable Goals for the 2012 Season

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent IApril 9, 2012

Nebraska Football: 10 Reasonable Goals for the 2012 Season

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    “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”—Yogi Berra

    How can you tell if Nebraska is getting better under Bo Pelini? The obvious answer is to look at the win-loss record and look at the trophy cabinet. And while those are the ultimate tests for a coach, there are plenty of benchmark goals to assess Nebraska’s performance along the way. Here are 10 goals which are reasonable for Nebraska to achieve, and will lead to the ultimate successes NU fans are hoping to achieve.

Nebraska Will Be Top Half in Penalties

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    By top half, of course, I mean that Nebraska will have fewer penalties than half of the teams in college football. Throughout Bo Pelini’s tenure in Lincoln, penalties have been a huge bugbear for Nebraska, giving opponents free yardage and making victories that much harder to achieve.

    In year five of Pelini’s tenure, and in year two of Nebraska’s transition to the B1G, it’s time for that particular act to get cleaned up and for NU to stop beating itself with the yellow flags.

Decrease Fumbles by 25 Percent

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    In 2011, Nebraska had 32 fumbles. In 12 games. That put Nebraska at 117—out of 120—in national rankings, and is a large part of why NU struggled offensively.

    In 2012, though, Nebraska will have its second year in Tim Beck’s offense, meaning there will be more opportunities to focus on the fundamentals. While it’s fair to say there’s not much room to go other than up, expect to see Nebraska do a much better job holding on to the ball in 2012.

Taylor Martinez Will Have a 60 Percent Completion Rate

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    It seems like a daunting task, but remember that Martinez had a 56.3 percent completion rate in 2011, and a 59.2 percent completion rate in 2010. So getting to the magical 60 percent number is not a huge stretch for a 2012 goal.

    When you add in the consideration that Martinez will not be learning a new offense for the first time in his career, that he has now had two years to mature and has put in work with an outside quarterback coach this offseason, getting to a 60 percent completion rate in 2012 might even be too conservative of a goal to set.

The Same Players Will Start at Corner for at Least 10 Games

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    One of the reasons Nebraska struggled defensively in 2011 is because the cornerback position was never settled. Between the injury to Alfonzo Dennard and the poor performance of any number of starters, Nebraska had a bit of a cornerback carousel throughout the middle of the season.

    Junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay will likely win one of the starting cornerback positions, and Andrew Green played well enough at the end of 2011 to have a head start on the other starting position. Barring injury, Nebraska looks set to have more stability at the back in 2012.

Rex Burkhead Will Get Less Than 65 Percent of the Carries

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    Burkhead’s importance to Nebraska’s offense in 2011 could not be overstated. Coming into 2012, Burkhead will be looked to as the unquestioned leader of NU’s offensive squad. But Nebraska also saw how Burkhead began to wear down under the work load put on him at the end of 2011.

    With Tim Beck having another year in the system, with Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah having another year in the system and with the addition of power backs Imani Cross and Mike Marrow, look for Burkhead to be less of the offensive focus and therefore fresher as the 2012 season wears on.

Wide Receiver Drops Will Decrease by 50 Percent

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    Sure, Taylor Martinez isn’t the most accurate passer in the conference. But he didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers when he did get the ball in their vicinity. At critical junctures, all of Nebraska’s receivers had crucial drops that killed drives and ultimately cost games.

    Don’t think that has been lost on the receiver corps, which loses only Brandon Kinnie to graduation. Expect ball security from the receivers to be a point of emphasis, and to see drops decrease significantly in 2012.

Nebraska Will Add 5 Offensive Plays Per Game

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    When Nebraska’s offense was in rhythm last year, the no-huddle, check-with-me offense put opposing defenses on their heels and allowed Nebraska to dictate both tempo and personnel matchups. It became a very effective offensive weapon.

    Unfortunately, Nebraska was not in rhythm nearly enough in 2011 to make that weapon effective. In year two of Tim Beck’s offense, look for NU’s comfort level on offense to improve. That will allow the offense to run more plays per game, get into a better rhythm and ultimately score more points.

Nebraska Will Not Lose a Game at Home It Shouldn't

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    By now, you all know the disturbing trend. 2009 against Iowa State. 2010 against Texas. 2011 against Northwestern. In the last three years, Nebraska has dropped a game at home against a team it shouldn’t lose to.

    In 2012, there are three serious candidates to be Nebraska’s spoiler team—Southern Mississippi, Arkansas State and Minnesota. If NU can navigate those waters 3-0, its chances to reach its broader goals for the season increase significantly.

Nebraska Will Increase Sacks by 50 Percent

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    In the Pelini era, one thing Nebraska was known for was harrying opposing quarterbacks. That’s why, of all the defensive regressions from 2011, the disappearance of Nebraska sacks was so mystifying. Some of that can be explained by injuries, particularly to Jared Crick on the interior of the defensive line.

    Look for quarterback pressure to be a point of emphasis going into 2012. If Nebraska can heat up opposing quarterbacks, it will be able to make its entire defense look better.

Nebraska Will Win the Big Ten

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    “Hey, your headline says REASONABLE goals, can’t you read?”

    See, I wrote your comment already, no need for you to take the time.

    But hear me out. Remember that Ohio State is ineligible to play in the B1G title game, so the Urban renewal in Columbus won’t be a threat for the conference title this year. It also makes Nebraska’s game in Columbus far less damaging to lose.

    Nebraska gets an opportunity to avenge losses to Michigan and Wisconsin at home. Michigan State lost Kirk Cousins and a number of other talented players to graduation, making Nebraska’s trip to East Lansing less daunting than it would have been a year earlier. Penn State will be rebuilding under a new coach and still digging out from the fallout of the Joe Sandusky scandal. Minnesota is still quite a ways away from respectability. Northwestern and Iowa could prove tricky road games, of course, but should be winnable for Nebraska if it is firing on all cylinders.

    So, yes, the schedule (and Ohio State’s postseason ban) set up for Nebraska to establish a conference title as a reasonable goal for 2012. Given that NU hasn’t lifted a conference crown since 1999, the Children of the Corn will look at this particular goal as one long overdue.

    If you would like to contact me directly to schedule an interview, ask a question or to get my recipe for a killer peach cobbler, you can send an e-mail to patrickrunge@gmail.com. (DISCLAIMER: Peach cobbler recipe might not be all that killer.)

    Or, you could always…

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