The 2011 Nebraska football team is not being counted out by any means and is projected by many to win the Legends division in its first season in the Big 10.
In fact, with the trials and tribulations of Ohio State, some are saying that the Huskers could win the Big 10 title outright. Keep in mind, Nebraska’s last conference title was 1999.
To refresh your memory on Ohio State, on March 8, head coach Jim Tressel was suspended by the university for two games, and fined $250,000 for not informing the university and the NCAA that he had information that five of his players received improper benefits from a tattoo shop in downtown Columbus. Among those those players, including Mike Adams, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas, Jordan Whiting, was quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The five players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. Pryor has since decided to enter the supplemental NFL draft.
Tressel’s suspension was also later increased to five games by the university. The NCAA filed a letter of allegations in late April 2011 with Ohio State alleging that Tressel lied to the NCAA in December, 2010 when he claimed to have no knowledge of the players activities with the tattoo shop. Furthermore, he is alleged to have knowingly used ineligible players during the 2010 season. On May 30, Tressel resigned as head coach.
Nebraska and Ohio State meet in Lincoln on Oct. 8 and could potentially play on Dec. 3 for the first ever Big 10 title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In 2009, Nebraska went 10-4 but won six of its last seven games. The last two of those contests included a controversial 13-12 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game and a 33-0 flogging of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.
That strong finish had a lot of Husker zealouts (including this one) sipping the Kool Aid in the form of thinking Big 12 title, BCS bowl bid and potentially a shot at the National Championship.
Those aspirations looked realistic when the Huskers opened the season 5-0 and moved as high as No. 5 in the polls with quarterback Taylor Martinez having a Heisman Trophy candidate season. Then Martinez was banged up in the second half. The Huskers had three close losses (20-13 to Texas, 9-6 to Texas A&M and 23-20 to Oklahoma). Nebraska then took Washington lightly in the Holiday Bowl and lost 19-7.
Even though Phil Steele’s magazine, which has been the most accurate preseason predictor the last 13 years, picked Nebraska to meet Oregon in the Rose Bowl, this preseason of expectations has a “under the radar” feel compared to last year.
On the surface, the Big 10 schedule makers did Nebraska no favors in its maiden voyage in the conference. The Huskers face what most tab as the top three clubs in the Leaders division (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State) but despite just 12 starters returning, Nebraska has a better-than-average chance to win the Legends division. Michigan State might have a say in that matter but the good news is the Spartans have to come to Lincoln on Oct. 29.
Much of the fate of Nebraska’s season will come down to the return to health of Martinez. When he was healthy, Nebraska’s offense averaged 38.9 points per game but when he was banged up that scoring average dropped to 22.7. The other half of the equation will be how soon does new offensive coordinator Tim Beck find a scheme he wants to settle in with and develop. Keep in mind, that was the ultimate downfall of his predecessor Shawn Watson, who changed schemes about as often as most people change underwear.
On defense, despite losing quality players like CB Prince Amukamara, S Eric Hagg, S DeJon Gomes and DE Pierre Allen, Nebraska has more than enough quality talent defensively. Keep in mind some consider Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini as bright of a defensive mind as Alabama head coach Nick Saban even though Pelini is not in Saban’s class as a head coach.
The Huskers definitely do not lack for talent on defense because DT Jared Crick, LB LaVonte David and CB Alfonso Dennard are among the best in the nation at their respective positions.
Even though preseason hype is not where it was entering last year, look for Nebraska to be better than certain people think.