As Nebraska football embarks on Year No. 5 of the Bo Pelini era forthcoming, one question pondered among media and fans alike has been, “Is this a make or break season for Pelini?” or “Is Pelini on the hot seat?”
Compared to most, Pelini is definitely safe. He’s definitely far from being in the same category as say, Derek Dooley of Tennessee (whose eat is very hot) but not in the same position as Nick Saban of Alabama or Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State. Those coaches are safe and sound.
The Pelini supporters would say that he has amassed a 39-16 record and has twice had the Huskers on the doorstep of the conference championship. The detractors would say, “Well, he’s been a success but only compared to his predecessor, Bill Callahan.” The Huskers went 27-22 in Callahan’s four seasons, which included two years without even being bowl eligible. The detractors would also point out that in Pelini’s first year, Nebraska went 9-4, which represented a marked improvement over Callahan’s 5-7 campaign in 2007 but have not done better than 10-4 since that time.
Pelini came to Lincoln with high expectations and has frankly failed to live up to them so far. Making it to the Holiday Bowl and the Capital One Bowl does not cut it at Nebraska. However, I would say it’s a make or break season only if 2012 is really bad, as in six or more losses. Pelini has built a solid foundation, both on the field and, perhaps more importantly, off as well. There is enough talent to win the conference and play in BCS, if they play well. I think it may be make or break for Taylor Martinez at quarterback, but Pelini’s job is safe, barring a total collapse.
The 2012 season represents factors that bode well for Pelini’s Huskers as well as ones that are potential stumbling blocks. Tim Beck being in his second season as offensive coordinator will be a big plus because Nebraska now has a much clearer idea of what scheme it is running. The Husker offense also figures to be more than just The Rex Burkhead Show. Well, at least the offense has the personnel to be such. Kenny Bell emerged as a big play threat at wide receiver but another key is Jamal Turner joining him. Turner started strong but faded last season and though sometimes he is a forgotten man, tight end Kyler Reed has the speed to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses.
There is much talk of how junior quarterback Taylor Martinez has spent the offseason with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun to address his mechanics. There’s every reason to think Martinez will have a breakout season but he has also had a tendency to make costly mistakes at inopportune times.
Defensively, Nebraska took a step backward last season and the pundits would point to the fact that the team is losing its three best players (Jared Crick, LaVonte David and Alfonso Dennard). While David had a remarkable season, let’s not forget that Crick only played four games after being shelved for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Even when Crick played, he was just a shadow of his former self. Dennard missed the first four games because of a hamstring injury. If the 2012 Nebraska defensive starters can stay healthy, the defense might actually be more stable even with the loss of the aforementioned threesome.
The biggest bugaboo of the Pelini era in Nebraska has been consistency. Look no further than the Huskers’ dominating 24-3 home win over eventual Legends Division champion Michigan State. One week later, Nebraska lays an egg at home against a 6-6 Northwestern team, losing 28-25. The following week, the Huskers showed enormous resolve in beating Penn State 17-14 in Happy Valley on the heels of a scandal ridden week at Penn State. One week later, the Huskers visit Michigan and lose 45-17.
The key for the Huskers reaching the Big 10 Title Game is to eliminate the inexplicable home losses like Iowa State in 2009, Texas in 2010 and Northwestern last season.
The Huskers will need to be on point because while the Big 10 does not have a dominant team, there are very few two-inch putts. While the Huskers are definitely better than their four nonconference foes, Southern Mississippi and UCLA are dangerous enough to sneak up on them.
Most preview magazines have hit the stands and have Nebraska rated from 16 on the high end to 24 on the low end. Phil Steele is the lone prognosticator that has Nebraska even reaching the Big 10 Title Game.
So how warm is Pelini’s seat?
Pelini is safe as long as Tom Osborne is the athletic director. However, if Nebraska has another four-loss season, or fails to reach the Big 10 Title Game, Pelini’s seat will certainly get warm as it pertains to fans and media.
The 2013 campaign, however, will be very crucial because the schedule is favorable – no Wisconsin or Ohio State as crossover games. If Nebraska can’t get it done in 2013, then a long and hard look needs to be taken but you also got to remember how loyal Osborne is with his coaches. He gives them a long leash, because he remembers the 1980s when fans wanted his head on a silver platter. The man started to break up at the Doc Sadler firing and was torn up about that. How do you think he'll feel having to let go of HIS pick and hire in Bo Pelini?