Earlier today, running back Quentin Castille was dismissed from the Nebraska football team for a "clear violation of team rules", and whatever that means, doesn't matter now. I'm sure many Husker fans will have that same attitude towards the situation - that it doesn't matter and that another back will step up and take Castille's place. Human beings, especially football fans in August, are good at rationalization, if nothing else.
And perhaps that's not a bad attitude to have - after all, that's what's going to have to happen if the Huskers are going to proceed to their goal of winning the Big 12 North and having a shot at the Big 12 title. Sad fact is, Castille will be hard to replace. He came of age in last year's Gator Bowl against Clemson and showed that he could be a starter. This season he would have been a great complement to Roy Helu Jr, providing a bigger, more powerful back to Helu's breakaway speed.
With Castille gone, Helu is clearly the number one guy. He has an incredible amount of potential and showed it late last season, as we pointed our in our SB Nation Nebraska team capsule. The downside to Helu is the injury factor. He struggled with injuries early last season, and again during spring ball when he had a hamstring injury. He's sat out part of fall camp.
This leaves the Huskers with the need to find at least two running backs who are going to have to step up. The candidates are:
- Rex Burkhead - true freshman - nicknamed "Superman" in high school because of his playmaking and his versatility. Bo Pelini stated Saturday that Burkhead had moved into the number two position behind Helu.
- Lester Ward - redshirt freshman - good size and speed, more athleticism than Okafor with a good set of hands. More of a breakaway threat than Okafor.
- Collins Okafor - redshirt freshman - probably more in the mold of Castille, a powerful running back with a straight North-South running style than Ward.
- Austin Jones - walk on sophomore - looked decent in the past two spring games, but is most likely at the bottom of the depth chart at running back.
- Dontrayevous Robinson - true freshman - another back in the power mold, again more like Castille than Helu.
The bad news - all of these guys have yet to take a snap in a college game. No one knows what they're capable of, nor how they'll react to playing in front of 80,000 people. That fact alone makes it wishful thinking that Castille will be easily replaced.
The good news is that we start with two home games against Sun Belt teams. The first of those teams, Florida Atlantic, has had a tough time defending against the run the past several seasons and this year should be no different.
The Huskers were faced with replacing a record-setting quarterback, the all-time reception leader, the right side of the line, and another receiver who was a major part of the 2008 offense. Now we're faced with replacing a talented, experienced running back. That's a pretty steep hill to climb.
Earlier this year, I pointed out that 2009 Nebraska might resemble Virginia Tech. With Castille's dismissal, that prediction looms even larger. If the Huskers are to win the Big 12 North, it will have to up to the defense to create more turnovers and score non-offensive touchdowns. It's a distinct possibility, given last season's low turnover output and Pelini's progression with the defense.
That's the "safe" way to look at the upcoming season. Makes me feel better just thinking about it.