I've heard it mentioned in recent days that Vegas bookies have set the over/under at 8.5 for Nebraska football victories in 2012. That number surprised me. What surprised me is in some sports-talk circles, some people were taking the "under" on this, and others said that 9-3 would be a "good season" for Nebraska.
That talk kind of floored me. It disappointed me. And to a small extent, it angered me.
I haven't finished reviewing all of Nebraska's opponents yet; we're just getting started with that task. But I do have a few general perceptions, and that is, I think Nebraska can win more games than that. Significantly more. I look at last year as my base. Nebraska lost three regular season games: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Northwestern. Two of those were on the road, and in Lincoln, I think at least one of those games is winnable. Nebraska held forth with Wisconsin for the first 20 minutes in Madison before turnovers and defensive breakdowns flipped the game. I think Nebraska's secondary will be better in 2012, and I don't think Wisconsin's offense will be as potent with former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien as it was with Russell Wilson. That's a game that I think Nebraska can win.Michigan will be tough, but again, that game really turned on two fumbled kickoffs. Michigan definitely had the lead throughout, but the nail in the coffin were the fumbled kickoffs. It gave Nebraska no chance to win the game. The Northwestern game is one that just makes me shake my head. There's no way Nebraska should have lost that game last season...but they did. Northwestern just came into Lincoln and outplayed the Huskers. I don't believe that will happen again...though just believing that it couldn't happen again doesn't mean squat. Iowa can't seem to figure out how to beat Northwestern lately either.
Nebraska does have a couple of tough road games. Michigan State loses a lot, but should still have a stout defense. Ohio State is an unknown at this point; in the horseshoe with Urban Meyer, you would think that the Buckeyes would be favored. Plus, Joe Bauserman doesn't have any eligibility left. (That being said, just attributing Nebraska's comeback last season to Bauserman lets Ohio State's defense off the hook for not showing up in the second half.)
In the end, it comes down to Nebraska needing to break out of their doldrums. Nine wins used to be the standard for Nebraska football, but that was with an 11 game season. With a 12 game season, it really should be 10 wins. And frankly, when you think about Nebraska the last time Nebraska won a conference championship (1999) or made a BCS bowl game (2001), Nebraska is overdue to break out of that funk.
I don't blame prognosticators, odds makers, or college football followers for slotting Nebraska as an eight-win team. They have their reasons why, and it's just conjecture at this point. But the Husker fan in me says it's time to make that move to the next level. Eight wins is definitely not enough. Nine wins isn't enough either.
I'm not setting any demands as to how many wins Nebraska must have. Weird things may happen, and I believe you can only judge teams after the season. I just know that in the last three years, Nebraska has had far too many disappointing losses that are tough to accept. Iowa State, Texas Tech, Texas, Texas A&M, and Northwestern among them. Maybe Wisconsin as well, though Wisconsin could have still beaten Nebraska if the Huskers had played well last season. So I get people who expect it to happen again.
I'm just saying it shouldn't be happening anymore. It's year five for Bo Pelini. Being better than Bill Callahan's teams isn't enough for Nebraska football.