The guys from the Missouri blog Rock M Nation are doing 2008 previews, devoting a week to each of their upcoming opponents. This week is Nebraska week at Rock M Nation, so they've asked CN a bunch of questions about the 2008 edition of Husker football. But before you get to the answers, let's understand the significance of the Nebraska - Missouri game this coming season.
It's the first Big 12 conference game of 2008 and the most important game of the season for Nebraska. Husker fans will get an idea of how the rest of the season will play out by what we do against Mizzou as their offense is typical of what we'll see for the rest of the season. If we can shut it down, you can bet that the season will turn out well. If not, well, we'll have to hope that the other Big 12 North teams beat each other up to have any realistic shot at a North title.
Missouri hasn't won in Lincoln since 1978. Rick Berns ran for a (then) record-setting 255 yards and two touchdowns, but Missouri's quarterback James Wilder countered with four touchdowns and pulled off a 35-31 upset. The loss came just one week after Tom Osborne had finally beaten Oklahoma for the first time as a head coach.
Missouri is coming off their best season in school history. Nebraska.. well, we know what happened last year. As far as what we see coming this season, read on, as answers are provided by myself, Blankman and Husker Mike.
1. Normally, I'd ask for a recap of Nebraska's 2007 season, but I'm assuming Mizzou and Nebraska fans are very familiar with each other's 2007 campaigns. So I'll ask you this, what was your lowest point from last season and what was your best moment that gave you hope for 2008?
Corn Blight: My lowest point came early in the season during the USC game. Seeing the holes they were blowing in our defensive line floored me because my expectations for the season were so high. The best moment was hearing that athletic director Steve Pederson had been fired - it was a moment of pure joy. It gave me confidence that someone was paying attention to what was going on and was prepared to do something about it.
Blankman: I think the low point for me personally was when a firing was celebrated more than a win. When the firing of an AD garners more cheers than being on the right side of the scoreboard, you know you’ve got problems.
Husker Mike: Lowest Point of 2007? Halftime in Lincoln: Nebraska 0, Oklahoma State 38. 'Nuff Said.
High Point? Sunday December 2nd, 4 pm., Bo Pelini named head coach. (2nd place: Nebraska 52, Nevada 7. Honorable Mention: End of 3rd quarter, NU 17, ut 9)
2. Expectations have been known to reach far ends of both sides of the spectrum at Nebraska. Where are you placing expectations for the first year of Pelini era and what's the long term expectation?
Corn Blight: The long-term expectation is that he gets Nebraska back to being a perennial powerhouse and wins a national title. I have low expectations for his first year and I do that to keep myself from being disappointed more than anything to do with reality. I'd say we go 7-5 or 8-4 and get to a decent bowl game and that will be enough for me.
Blankman: Cautiously optimistic. Bo’s cupboard isn’t nearly as bare as Callahan’s was and he’s got a fairly competent staff all around with guys like Shawn Watson at OC and Mike Ekeler doing heavy damage on the recruiting trail. Pelini himself needs to find his own identity. I think it’ll be closer to Jim Tressel of his own Ohio State than anyone else. His offensive coordinator will truly define the first year and every one afterwards. Watson will eventually bolt and I think your new OC is currently mentoring the running backs.
Husker Mike: Short term: Two or three times as many punt returns as kickoff returns. Long term: This is Nebraska; competing for conference championships and in the national title mix.
3. Much has been made about Nebraska's defensive struggles last season. What facets/personnel of Nebraska's defense stand to gain the most from bringing in Pelini? Was it solely a matter of motivation?
Corn Blight: I don't think it was solely a matter of motivation, I think that Bill Callahan's insecurities about being a head coach made every one of his assistant coaches crazy wondering what the hell the guy was doing and that transferred directly into the product on the field. It didn't help that former defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove had no clue about how to stop the spread offense. With the exception of Cosgrove, I hope the former assistants recover and go on to have great careers as they've spent their time in hell.
The defensive line is where we'll see the biggest improvement. We have plenty of experience there and the defensive ends in particular will reap the rewards of new strength dude Dobson who has them focusing on speed over sheer bulk and power. (The offensive line will see the same, which will lead to a return of a successful running game).
Blankman: I spoke about this a little bit, but yes, caring matters. When you just don’t care anymore and it’s still game time people can look like Heisman contenders against you. Nebraska’s defense also needs an identity badly this season as they lose a lot to injury and graduation. The front seven really need to find out who they are and I think Bo may just be able to give them an idea of that.
Husker Mike: A defense that plays hard all game long, something that was sporadic at best over the last four years. Nebraska's defense was so uniformly horrific last year that it's hard to identify one position, but I think the d-line might show the fastest impact. Was it solely a matter of motivation? Lack of motivation played a key role, but it probably was the difference between losing and getting basketball scores hung on the defense.
4. After the Keller experiment failed, Joe Ganz managed to give the Nebraska offense some life late in the year. Is there a lot of faith in Ganz as THE guy heading into 2008, and will how much of the load will he have to carry? Will there be more of a commitment to getting Lucky touches in between the tackles?
Corn Blight: Ganz is THE guy because the other guys have no experience. He's more than capable because he understands the offense. What we'll see in 2008 is more maturity, more game management and fewer turnovers. He won't have to carry most of the load because it will be carried by a deep, experienced, and talented offensive line that will establish itself in the running game. Lucky between the tackles - you'll see more of that this coming season although that's not where Lucky is most dangerous.
Blankman: Marlon Lucky is as vital to Shawn Watson’s offense as Ganz. For all of the talk against him, Lucky will have the opportunity to display everything he can do to the nation and the NFL this year. 2008 will cause Marlon to easily go 2^nd round. Ganz is a good quarterback. He can make throws when necessary but there are still concerns about the deep ball. Still, I have a lot of faith in Watson to design a system that will give Ganz and Lucky opportunities to become big-timers in the Big XII. It’s up to Nebraska’s wide receivers to answer the call.
Husker Mike: Expectations for Ganz: I'm not sure he's "THE" guy, but he's shown he can play. He'll need to cut down on the interceptions, but the offense won't be completely on his shoulders; he'll get quite a bit of help from the running game.
Expectations for Lucky: Look for a commitment to get Lucky the ball OUTSIDE the tackles for the most part. He'll see a few touches between the tackles to keep the defense honest, but the goal will be to get him the ball in space.
5. Mizzou is expected by most fans and media outlets to win in Lincoln for first time in three decades. How much of a chance do you give the Huskers against Missouri at home this year?
Corn Blight: I put our chances at 40%. Wait. Maybe 45%. Missouri had a great season last year, but they're still Missouri so they'll need to "Show Me" that the Tigers can sustain greatness. The ass-kicking the Tigers laid on us last year will inspire the Huskers to play that much better and that fourth quarter fake field goal will come back to haunt Gary Pinkel. Lincoln has been cruel to the Tigers - there is no reason why it won't continue to be so in 2008. Incidentally, I was at the last game Missouri won in Lincoln. I don't think I'll go this year so there'll be no jinx in place. Let's raise my expectation to 55%.
Blankman: About as good of a chance as they’ve had in those three decades. Nebraska benefits from the loss of Mike Rucker and Pig Brown, but they still have to take Daniel, Maclin and Coffman into account on offense. It will take a LOT to stop what I think will be an aerial assault against an inexperienced Nebraska secondary and barring an amazing day from Armando Murillo, I think Mizzou will have success there.
Flipping it over, Nebraska has more quality depth on the offensive line than they’ve had in a long time which is not what you want to hear as a team looking to claim such a historic victory in the series. If Mizzou can get pushed around, you could see something similar to Chase Daniel’s last Lincoln experience. In the end I call it 55-45 in favor of the Tigers as of right now.
Husker Mike: Missouri returns a bunch from a top-ten team, but Nebraska fans aren't just assuming defeat. Call it blind optimism that things will be better, or maybe just the realization that the Pinkel factor can only be held back for so long before the inevitable sets in. Without really knowing what Nebraska is going to be like in 2008, I'd give Nebraska a 1 in 3 shot of pulling off the upset.
6. Finish the following phrases:
- Mizzou will win if:
Corn Blight: Nebraska's young defensive secondary doesn't mature and we can't find a playmaker wide receiver. We'll need more than Armando Murillo and Larry Asante to contain Missouri's offense.
Blankman: They pass, pass and pass some more. Exploit Nebraska’s secondary and force them into a shootout.
Husker Mike: Chase Daniel has no problems getting the ball to his first choice of receivers most of the time.
- Nebraska will win if:
Corn Blight: the defense can become the physical, dominating defense that we've come to expect from the Blackshirts. Chase Daniel can't complete passes on his back.
Blankman: They can shut down the Mizzou offense. If they can lock down the offensive weaponry that the Tigers bring to the table, Pelini will get merciless after his previous encounter in Columbia and do everything he can to make Daniel and Co.’s life hell and then some for four quarters.
Husker Mike: Bo Pelini unearths a defense that was nonexistent in 2007.
7. Give us an extremely premature score for the Mizzou/Nebraska game, and give us your best and worst case scenarios for Nebraska's record in 2008.
Corn Blight: Nebraska 35, Missouri 31. The Cornhuskers capitalize on many Tiger turnovers.
Best Case Scenario - I'll agree with Husker Mike's prediction of 10-2, losing to Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Worst Case Scenario - The worst case scenario is that the offensive line and entire defense can't shake off their lack of physicality from 2007 and lose a gob of games. Even then I don't see us losing more than six games.
Blankman: Missouri 24 Nebraska 21. Missouri wins on the leg of Jeff Wolfert. He has a 54 yard long and hasn’t missed a kick versus a Big XII opponent in two years.
Best case scenario for Nebraska: 11-3 with losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma (in Norman and the Big XII Title game) capped with a win in San Antonio where Pelini started his career as a Nebraska head coach.
Worst case scenario for Nebraska: 7-7 with losses to Virginia Tech, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and some team in Shreveport.
Husker Mike: I'd love to say Nebraska 34, Missouri 31, but more likely Missouri 41, Nebraska 28. (Mizzou has scored 41 points 3 out of the last five years against Nebraska.)
Best case scenario? I've got a real wide range of thoughts. I think Kansas was a bit overrated last year, and they knocked off Virginia Tech. I'll go with 10-2, losing to Oklahoma and either Texas Tech (in Lubbock) or Missouri. We'll realize that Bill Callahan had a great eye for talent, but absolutely no clue how to develop it.
Worst case scenario? A whole bunch of holes left in the program, and this is going to take time to dig the Big Red out of this hole. Nebraska loses the season opener against Western Michigan, then only manages to defeat New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Baylor. The only sign of progress is that nobody scores more than 60 in a game as Nebraska goes 3-9.
What do I expect? Something in between, more like 8-4 or 9-3.