Throughout this decade, it has generally been argued that Nebraska football lacks the talent to be a true player in joining the national elite.
That argument was in full force after the dismissal of Frank Solich. The Bill Callahan era brought a lot of recruiting hype but when those recruits did not materialize (translation, the coaching staff did not develop them properly), the argument became “well, maybe they are not as good as we thought” with the hiring of Bo Pelini.
Samuel McKewon of Nebraska Statepaper recently wrote that “the the presumption comes in: Nebraska overachieved in 2008, emerging triumphantly from raw clay to grind out magical victories. It is a good story, and it fits with Bo Pelini’s all-heart, all-sweat profile.” Except it is not entirely true. McKewon added that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, tight end Mike McNeill and running back Roy Helu are at or very near the top of the best at their position in the Big 12.
I mostly concur with McKewon, whom I must give take a moment to give a shout out before I go further. I know the young man because we worked together for a year at the Daily Nebraskan. I say he’s “young” because his first year there was my last. He was 18 and I was 24. Anyhow, I must say that McKewon has become an outstanding reporter. Yes, his points are governed by emotion but he is also objective. After all, who else could have thought of “Ten Successes of the Bill Callahan Era.”
On the offensive side, the Huskers had more than ample talent because the previous staff was very offensive minded in its recruiting. However, where I marginally differ with McKewon is on the defensive side. The Huskers ended up converting two running backs to defenders (Cody Glenn to linebacker and Major Culbert to safety). I doubt Pelini would have made those moves if we were oozing with talent on defense.
Anyhow, the cupboard wasn't empty, and it isn't depleting going to deplete any time soon. The Huskers just needed some good coaching to get it up to speed, along with some attitude to go with it.
The previous staff knew how to acquire talent but they did a horrific job of developing and coaching it. The biggest hurdle Pelini was going to face his first year was cultivating a winning attitude and desire amongst his players, but given his fire and ability to relate with players on a personal level and the fact that he is dealing with impressionable young men, the quick change in attitude is something that should not have come as a total shock to people.
True, Nebraska very seldom had recruiting rankings that knocked people in the Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne/Frank Solich years but the Huskers have never had much of a talent deficiency. What we did have between 2004 and 2007 was a major coaching/leadership deficiency. We have talent, but talent must be developed. Most of us have been saying pretty much exactly what McKewon pointed out for quite some time. Nebraska has athletes; the coaches have just needed some time to turn them into football players; now I look for them to turn them into a great team.This team, in my opinion, is good enough to win nine games or more in the regular season on a regular basis. If they win more, great. If they win less, well that happens sometimes. We can definitely count on great effort, progressing each week, and doing things to make themselves better for future seasons.