Thursday, April 9, 2009

How much will Husker football improvement show in the win column

I was listening to various podcasts of “Unsportsman Like Conduct,” which is a sports talk program on Omaha radio state 1620 AM KOZN (The Zone). Kevin Kugler and Mike’L Severe host the program.

The impression I get from Kugler is that Nebraska could be a better team than last season’s 9-4 team in head coach Bo Pelini’s first season. Severe, meanwhile, theorized that if you have a worse record, fans are not going to believe the team is better. Severe also added that because Pelini’s staff is much better at developing talent and motivating than Bill Callahan’s staff that the team will not only improve but it will show in the win-loss column.

I see every reason why the team will improve fundamentally and developmentally, my question is how much will it show in the win column? Assuming the team stays reasonably healthy, the Huskers should at least match their 2008 record and with a break or two, hopefully surpass it. The biggest sticking point why a segment of Nebraska fans might be tempering their expectations is because of inexperience at quarterback after the loss of Joe Ganz to graduation.

At the present time, junior Zac Lee is the projected starter but mostly by default. Lee got a few snaps in mopup duty last year but most of his experience is at the junior college level (Specifically San Francisco City College). Kody Spano is a redshirt freshman, junior LaTravis Washington just recently converted from linebacker while recruits Cody Green and Taylor Martinez are going to be true freshmen. The concern is legitimate because while that group might have more raw talent than Ganz, players like Ganz are not easily replaced when their leadership garners the respect of the team.

Wide receiver is another concern because while returners such as Menelik Holt, Niles Paul, and Curenski Gillelyn are faster than Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, Swift and Peterson will be missed for their ability to catch the ball in traffic and their downfield blocking.

Offensive line should be an upgrade because there are a good group of returners but the loss of projected starting tackle Javorio Burkes could hurt. At tight end, the Huskers have the vital cogs back as Mike McNeill should have a breakout season. At running back, all the Huskers lost was Marlon Lucky, who was a nonentity by season’s end.

Defensively, the Huskers should be as good as or better than last season across the board. On the defensive line, you can defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for deciding to stay in school as a senior rather than enter the NFL draft. The Huskers might be a dominant line but you get the feeling that the coaches will maximize whatever they have.

At linebacker, the Huskers were gouged by injuries but that also allowed many youngsters to get playing time. In the secondary, all the Huskers lost was cornerback Armando Murrillo.

On special teams, I feel pretty confident about the return game being more dangerous but the coverage units must improve and it should with an increase in better athletes getting on the field.

These first two years of Pelini should play out. September of Year Three is when the critical evaluation comes. At that point, we should be in the BCS picture.

The question for 2008 is can Nebraska break through with wins over Oklahoma, Virginia Tech or Kansas? The Huskers beat the Jayhawks last season but fell short to Virginia Tech and were dominated by Oklahoma.

The big test to see how far the program has come will be the trip to Virginia Tech. Win that, and all of a sudden a 9-3 season (minimum) is pretty much a slamdunk, not to mention puts the Huskers in the conversation for a BCS bowl game. Nebraska gets Texas Tech and Oklahoma at home. Cynics would argue that Nebraska gets Baylor and miss South teams like Oklahoma State and Texas. However, I do not see Okie State putting together seasons like last year’s 9-4 campaign on a consistent basis. The Huskers might get Texas in the Big 12 game anyhow if both teams get they get there so missing Texas could be moot.

My early projection, and I could change my mind, is for a 9-3 season with 10-2 being a possibility.

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