Derek Johnson Muses

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A Husker Recruiting Thought, & Will Huskers 2012-2013 Seasons Resemble 2001-2002?

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Will they keep it going?

Have to be honest-I don’t really follow college football recruiting as closely as I used to. I know this year was a better year for the expert, and I know that part of why Nebraska hasn’t done as well the last two years is that their top recruits have left the program early (Cody Green, Todd Peat, Tyler Moore, Aaron Green, etc, etc). The success or failure of a recruiting class will depend on how many of the top recruits max out.

I’m a little surprised that Nebraska as a state doesn’t have more than one signable player for Bo Pelini. I know it’s not 1985, and that you have to import players, but it goes back to what I raised in January: does Pelini have the mentality to develop blue collar players from small high schools and get the most out of them? You don’t have to be an elite athlete to start at linebacker in the Big 10. Go out to Tecumseh and find someone who can dominate on special teams, an area where you really lagged behind in 2012.

While Nebraska football has suffered more than its share of bad losses over the last ten years, 2001 Colorado and 2012 Wisconsin both have similarity in that, both the 2001 and 2012 teams overachieved due to favorable schedules: namely, hardest games at home (Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Texas Tech in 2001; Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State in 2012), traditionally good opponents having done years (Kansas State in 2001, Michigan State and Iowa this year). So, after a devastating loss to end the year, Husker fans should wonder if 2013 will feature results similar to 2002.

Record-wise, I don’t think Nebraska will have a year like 2002 in 2013, mainly because that team lost the talent and leadership of Eric Crouch, which covered up a lot of Frank Solich’s flaws. That year also featured a tougher schedule early, tougher than this team will face with five home games to start the year (thanks, Southern Miss). But the issue of complacency remains, and for all the work that Taylor Martinez has set about improving his game, his attitude has never said, “I lead from the front.” Also, this team’s best leader, Rex Burkhead, is sadly moving on.

So, will 2013 be a let down? My personal prediction is that Nebraska will be no worse than 9-3 after they play Iowa, barring major injury of course. But should fans expect 11-1? Even if Penn State falls off the face of the earth by next November, Michigan State and Iowa will improve, and UCLA has been revitalized under Jim Mora. It’s not going to be easy.

What will determine the Huskers success in 2013 is how hungry they are in spring practice. Watch the video below for a few examples of where the Huskers may be lacking.

The Rise: Does the Big 10 Need Nebraska to Whip Everyone?

Looking in…

Steve Spurrier’s success at Florida in the 1990’s had an impact that went beyond the Gators. Yes, the fun-and-gun was one of the first passing offenses that began to take football by storm in the late 1990’s, but Spurrier’s penchant for running up the score began to raise the standards of many of the schools in the SEC, getting good coaches fired and raising the level of play in the conference to where it is today.

Yesterday in East Lansing, Husker fans saw a piece of how they may just shape the Big 10 going forward. While it wasn’t a huge win, going on the road and beating a consistent Michigan State team they hadn’t lead all day was again a sign of how Nebraska’s basketball-on-grass offense is pushing them to the front of the pack.

There haven’t been that many times  in the past ten years when Nebraska fans have been overtly optimistic. At points in 2003, fans saw the potential if they could only get better players, but that staff was soon scrapped to satisfy Steve Pedersen’s ego. Then there was the 2006 off-season, post-Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, where Husker fans hoped Zac Taylor could get them a conference title, and of course, the glow of the 33-0 Holiday bowl shutout of Arizona. The Pelini years have been good, don’t get me wrong, but now that Pelini’s gone 4-1 in a huge stretch in the Big 10, fans have reason to believe the team can be viable for years to come.

To his credit, Pelini hasn’t rested on his defensive laurels, and instead, has innovated offensively. When the Huskers moved to the Big 1o, Pelini could have justified keeping a grind-it-out, milk-the-clock offense. Instead, he brought in the spread, and now, a fan base that used to go cold at the first sign of trouble begins to believe their team can comeback when they are down two score with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. That wrinkle is how a coach buys multiple years in a place.

But the Huskers remain a paradox in and off themselves. While they deliver in the clutch, they wouldn’t even be in that position if not for penalties and turnovers getting the better of them. Yesterday, starting field position was again an issue, with only Nebraska drives starting past their own 31, and their own 42 and 45 respectively. But the bottom line is, the team doesn’t give up. They are built to come back in games, and if they are this good, imagine how good they could be if they actually got some turnovers in their favor.

Saturday was a good-to-great moment for Nebraska football. They came in off a big win, primed for an upset against a so-so team that was better than their record. There’s no question that Nebraska could have squashed Sparty in Lincoln. But the game was in East Lansing, and the Spartans got the game they needed from Le’veon Bell and their defense to stay in it. Nebraska just had a little more.

It maybe a bit premature to say that Bo Pelini is going to get coaches fired in the Big 10. Really, Urban Meyer is more likely to get coaches fired in the Big 10, with his aggressive recruitership alongside his offense. But both Meyer and Pelini bringing this exciting offense to the Big 10 is a good thing, and if they keep coming back or blowing out good teams, it’s going to be a rough go for the rest of the league.

Bo Pelini and crew are one step closer to their goal of a Big 10 crow, and the schedule is softening slightly. Penn State is a better team now than was expected, but Nebraska gets them at home. Fans should still be concerned about Pelini throwing in a charity loss to Minnesota or Iowa, but as we saw on Saturday, this crew can match anyone, and pretty soon, they’re going to get their best player back. Yes, Burkhead the Beast may return soon, but it says a lot to the leadership of this team that they’ve won all these games without him. That’s something to believe in.

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