Friday, July 1, 2011

Expectations for 2011

Nebraska might have officially joined the Big 10 today – as in July 1. However, they mentally joined the Big 10 last summer. Whether they care to admit it or not is another matter entirely.
So, let’s put aside the arguments about former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, current offensive coordinator Tim Beck, offensive line cach Barney Cotton, etc. Lets put aside Beck’s offense and all the talk about spread and no-huddle because no one really knows what it’s really going to be like. Let’s talk about expectations.
Bo Pelini’s initial impact as Husker head coach was great in taking Nebraska from a down and out 5-7 season under Bill Callahan in 2007 to a 9-4 campaign in 2008. The Huskers went 10-4 in both 2009 and 2010, therefore not truly taking the next step as a program. Yes, Nebraska is “back” in that it is capable of beating any team on any given day. However, it is not “back” as far as being a bonafide National Championship contender.
Pelini is a very good coach who has breathed much needed life back into the program but his grace period is over. What are realistic expectations for the 2011 Huskers?
It begins with quarterback Taylor Martinez. If he’s physically healthy, he can be dynamite. When he’s hobbled, he’s pretty ordinary. Also, can he take ownership of the offense as a leader?
Watson came under brutal fire from fans and media alike so if the offense does not perform, do you blame Beck’s inexperience or will Pelni have to answer as a head coach? Pelini got a semi-pass on Watson because he was one of only two holdovers from the Bill Callahan era. Since the offense was producing good numbers under the previous regime, Pelini (at the recommendation of athletic director Tom Osborne) kept Watson. Though Pelini said good things publically about Watson, he was not a true Pelini choice like Beck (who has served as the Nebraska running backs coach since Pelini arrived in 2008).
The 2010 season ended on a bad note - the worst season in Pelini’s short tenure especially with the expectations coming into 2010. The fact that Nebraska has a returning starter at quarterback and the Big 10 is not as daunting as say a couple years ago. Hoewever, the schedule will have its landmines. Wisconsin for one. The Ohio State game looks more winnable but the Buckeyes still have some talented players on their roster.

People keep dogging Michigan but mark it down, just like Pelini taking over in 2007 immediately restored the BlackShirts, so will Brady Hoke’s presence be felt at Michigan. Their defense will make marked improvement and with shoelace that game could be a dogfight. The Penn State game could be a tossup as well but the media consensus is that Nebraska is a top-10 team and should be favored to win just about every game.
However, everything hinges on the offensive line and if they see significant improvement. Just a gut feeling but I envision Tennessee-Chattanooga, Fresno State, Washington, Wyoming, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa being wins. The games against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State I envision could go either way. Michigan and Iowa could be iffy but should be wins.
If Nebraska can split the four toss up games half and half , then a 10-2 season with a probable trip to the big 10 championship is strong possible. Winning the Big 10 Championship game would be an excellent start.
However, if the offensive line implodes like last year, then it could get real ugly such as 8-4 or 7-5. I have a gut feeling this won’t happen.
I don’t have the rose colored glasses on like I did at the beginning of last year. I have been bit too many times before thinking we go with one loss or less for the season. That being said, I think Nebraska should be pretty good.

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