Nebraska’s debut season in the Big Ten was met with much hype and even bigger expectations by the Cornhusker faithful. After all, this was a 10 win team from 2010. The three regular season losses were by a combined 13 points.
The 2011 season started off well enough for the Huskers, running their record to an undefeated 4-0 in non-conference play. The most impressive of the four wins was a 51-38 shootout over an underrated Washington Huskies team. A humbling 48-17 loss in Madison was followed by three straight wins, including a 21-point triumph over Michigan State.
With that stretch it looked like Nebraska was now the team to beat in the division; yet, a stunning home loss to Northwestern on the first weekend of November suddenly made the race a lot more interesting. Two weeks later, Nebraska would get blown out again, this time in the Big House , falling to 8-3 (4-3) and out of the Big Ten race. A senior day win followed by an ugly bowl loss to South Carolina wrapped things up for the Big Red.
So how does a team with so much hype fail to deliver in its biggest games (Wisconsin, Michigan and the bowl), as well as come up short against Northwestern? Easy, they don’t have a quarterback. Sure, Taylor Martinez is listed as a quarterback, but he is a glorified running back who can kind of throw the ball. He barely passed for 2000 yards, averaged just over 7-yards a pass, only had 13 TDs and was picked off 8 times. His completion percentage also dropped from 2010 to 2011.
Thankfully, the running game came to the rescue. Not only did Martinez chip in nearly 900 yards and 9 TDs on the ground, but the Huskers also had Rex Burkhead. Burkhead was well over 1300 yards and had 15 touchdowns. Also returning for the 2012 season are leading receivers Kenny Ball and Quincy Enunwa. If the passing game is to improve, Taylor will need some targets and Kenny/Quincy are more than capable of providing that.
Another factor for the drop-off from 2010-2011 was Nebraska’s defense. They were 42nd in the nation a year ago, giving up 23.4 points per game. That won’t cut it against the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, or nationally, especially not when your offense is 50th in the nation. Granted, they had some injuries to key players, such as the departed Jared Crick, but they certainly didn’t use that as an excuse last year and neither will I. Simply put, both units have to improve if Nebraska wants to reach double digit wins again.
- Best Case represents best case record following each game.
- Worst Case represents worst case record following each game.
- Prediction represents predicted outcome of the game, and what their record will be following each game.
Best Case (1-0): So, Miss lost a lot of talent and their head coach. This program plays with a lot of pride and is one of the best in C-USA, but this one is a tall order.
Worst Case (1-0): Rex rolls an ankle and it nags him the rest of the year.
Prediction (W 38-14, 1-0): Like I said, the Eagles lost a lot, but at the same time they know how to play in big games like this. They could make it interesting for the first quarter, even the first half, but not much longer than that.
Best Case (2-0): UCLA has been a circus the last few years, including 2011’s oddity of going 6-8, and somehow still making a bowl game. Is it time for the six-win bowl eligibility rule to change? People talk about their talent, but they still don’t have great results, stats wise or in the record. Nebraska is a much more of a sure thing and Burkhead should be able to pound against a defense that barely cracked the top 100 last year.
Worst Case (1-1): You never know how things will shake out against BCS competition on the road. Despite being UCLA, they still pull in rather decent talent. There is a slim chance UCLA could score the upset here. I don’t think it’s very big, but it exists.
Prediction (W 31-17, 2-0): UCLA has the talent to keep things interesting, but I’m not sold on their coaching yet, or team chemistry this early in first year head coach Jim Mora’s regime.
Best Case (3-0): Gus Malzahn is one of the most respected men in the game, and now he is a head coach? That is frightening for Sun Belt teams, not necessarily Nebraska-caliber teams.
Worst Case (2-1): Injury bug bites Nebraska again in an easy win.
Prediction (W 42-21, 3-0): ASU is going to be a fun team going forward, if Gus stays, but they still are a ways away from being that team no power program wants to play.
Best Case (4-0): The Bengals were 2-9 (1-7) in FCS Big Sky play. Enough said.
Worst Case (3-1): “And Burkhead again comes up lame with that ankle.” “You know Bob, that thing just hasn’t healed since week one against Southern Miss.” “Oh you said it Ken, gee-wiz.” That was Bob and Ken, the play-by-play guys for Nebraska. Side note, I have no idea who the play-by-play guys are for Nebraska, and I did not feel like googling it.
Prediction (49-6, 4-0): With two 50-yard field goals, the Idaho State kicker becomes that random player Nebraska fans talk about for years to come. “Hey Ken, remember in 2012 when Bobbie Bobson of the Bengals boomed two fifty yarders?” I’ll stop now.
Best Case (5-0): Nebraska gets some sweet revenge, coupled with the fact that new Badger QB Danny O’Brien isn’t nearly as good as former QB Russell Wilson and Wisconsin takes a step back.
Worst Case (3-2): The running game is still so amazing that O’Brien doesn’t have to be as good as Wilson.
Prediction (W, 24-21, 5-0, 1-0): Nebraska nips them at the end in an instant classic. Giving the nod to Nebraska, and they typical Vegas 3.0 scoring line for home teams, because this one is in Lincoln.
@ Ohio State
Best Case (6-0): The OSU rebuild/remodeling doesn’t go quite according to plan. To top it off, Braxton Miller still can’t throw.
Worst Case (3-3): Some of those injuries continue to be a pain, plus a physical game the previous week against Wisconsin makes for an even tougher road trip.
Prediction (L 14-21, 5-1, 1-1): Nebraska’s worst games were on the road last year and the Shoe is as tough a place to play in as any stadium in the country.
Best Case (7-0): After last year’s upset, Nebraska isn’t taking this team lightly at all. Big Red pours it on.
Worst Case (4-3): I know, I know, NU won this game last year, but could they do it again? Yes they could, but at the same time if Nebraska starts 0-3 in league play, such as in this hypothetical situation, don’t you think they’ll be playing with desperation? With the edge in talent, the Huskers are still able to beat the ‘Cats.
Prediction (W 35-21, 6-1, 2-1): Some sweet revenge for the upset, but also a way to get back on track after the first loss of the year.
Best Case (8-0): Michigan has to play MSU the week before, that game could take a lot out of them physically and mentally, thus allowing Nebraska to feast.
Worst Case (4-4): Martinez’s worst game last year was against Michigan and we all saw how that went.
Prediction (L 21-35, 6-2, 2-2): Michigan played some of its best football in weeks following losses last year. I have the Wolverines dropping the MSU game, and if the trend continues, they’ll be firing on all cylinders against Nebraska.
@ Michigan State
Best Case (9-0): MSU has the toughest schedule in the Big Ten this year, and one of the hardest nationally. This late in the season there is a good chance MSU will be pretty beaten up.
Worst Case (4-5): A stout MSU defense bottles up Martinez’s passing and NU becomes even more one-dimensional. This is when the talented Spartan defensive line takes over and Nebraska can’t get anything going offensively.
Prediction (L 14-21, 6-3, 2-3): I’m not very high on Nebraska, as you can tell by my digs against Martinez and how inconsistent this team was a year ago. I think those factors will remain, but will get magnified in this game for a few reasons. It’s on the road, MSU is better to begin with, and MSU should be fired up after the ugly loss last season.
Best Case (10-0): The Rex and Taylor Heisman campaign is actually struggling because they are splitting the Midwest vote.
Worst Case (5-5): Nebraska won this game a year ago, in Happy Valley, when Penn State had everything to play for (first game after JoePa’s firing). This time, NU is at home and PSU has lost several important players.
Prediction (W 28-21, 7-3, 3-3): What I said in the worst case pretty much sums up how I believe this one will go. Nebraska won it on the road a year ago, against a much scarier (on paper) Penn State team.
Best Case (11-0): After playing the two Michigan schools, followed by Penn State, Nebraska gets to enjoy a cupcake as Minnesota limps in with nothing to play for.
Worst Case (6-5): A surprising bowl bound Gophers team comes to Lincoln with a hangover after clinching a bowl birth in the previous week. Nebraska, who is still looking to become bowl eligible, takes care of business on senior day.
Prediction (W 35-13, 8-3, 4-3): The Gophers just have too little talent in year two of the rebuilding project to seriously contend in hostile Memorial Stadium. Nebraska takes full advantage.
Best Case (12-0): All the changes on the staff at Iowa lead to a season full of struggles. Meanwhile in Lincoln, they are celebrating a trip to the title game and possibly much more.
Worst Case (6-6): The complete opposite. Iowa is the team that puts together a magical season and Nebraska is on the receiving end of Iowa’s fury.
Prediction (W, 24-21, 9-3, 5-3): This game has the markings of a pick-em match u,p but I give the nod to Nebraska in August because of how this game played out last season. Iowa threw everything they had at the Huskers. Nebraska seemed to have Iowa’s D figured out after the first possession. With not a whole lot of difference in the roster from a year ago, I can’t see much changing in this years contest.
With Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, you can identify one aspect that they are great at. Michigan can score early and often. Michigan State has a world-class D. Wisconsin can run the ball better than anyone in the nation, with the possible exception of Oregon and a handful of teams that run the option. Nebraska doesn’t have that. Burkhead is a talented player, but still had less than five yards per carry. Martinez is not a true duel threat. The defense is also good, but not great. The D singlehandedly cost them the Northwestern game a year ago. That is the rub on Nebraska right now. They are a very solid team, but they aren’t elite yet. Until they can prove that they are in any facet of the game, it’s hard to see them improving on last year’s 9-3 mark.
Best Case/Worst Case/Predictions
- Illinois Fighting Illini
- Indiana Hoosiers
- Iowa Hawkeyes
- Michigan Wolverines
- Michigan State Spartans
- Minnesota Golden Gophers