Injuries limited tight end Kyler Reed in 2011. But Big XII fans remember how Reed destroyed them in 2010. I expect 2012 will look more like 2010 than 2011 for Reed. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE
After discussing all of the reasons to be pessimistic about 2012, there are certainly reasons to be optimistic about 2012. Let's put things in perspective; Nebraska has won at least nine games each of the previous four seasons under Bo Pelini; coaches like Les Miles, Bob Stoops, and even Urban Meyer can't claim that. It's the classic question about the glass being half-full or half-empty; fans want that glass to be full all the time.
And frankly, I think there are reasons to be optimistic about 2012. Call me a sunshine pumper if you wish. But it's not just me; Phil Steele listed Nebraska as one of his surprise teams of this season. He refuses to believe that Bo Pelini suddenly forgot how to coach defense last year, so he's expecting the Huskers to be better this year. He also admits that takes a little bit of faith.
Well, I'm keeping the faith. I believe Nebraska can - and will be better in 2012...and here's why I think so.
Second Times A Charm
Last season, Nebraska played 11 new opponents last year thanks to the change in conferences. Each summer, I research each opponent and try to highlight strengths and weaknesses for each team, and last year's previews took the most effort ever to complete. There was only one opponent I was truly familiar with: Washington. Three new non-conference foes, which is par for the course. But eight new conference opponents is new. Sure, I watched a little bit of Big Ten football in 2010...but nowhere near as much as I watched Big XII football that season.
So last year, I had to spend more time researching opponents that I really didn't know much about. The coaching staff had to do the same...and do it for eleven opponents. Oh, and eleven new opponents without much of a baseline to work from. Sure, Pelini and his staff had to prepare for new opponents in 2008, but he had 2007 Nebraska film to work from as a baseline. 2011 didn't even have that...so Pelini admitted that he played more base defense than he had in the past. And there are other reasons for that...which we'll get into. But suffice it to say that Nebraska is going to be more prepared going into 2012 than they were in 2011.
Wait, isn't he a liability? If you listen to the ESPN guys, yeah. But one of the big offseason stories has been Martinez's work with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun. Now, nobody outside of the program has really seen it (thanks to the rained out spring game), so we have to take everybody at their word. But assuming that Martinez did actually improve his fundamentals, I think it's only logical to conclude that Martinez will be more productive. Could he complete, say 65% of his passes this season? Could that result in longer drives and more touchdowns. Would a more effective passing game take pressure off of Rex Burkhead and the offensive line?
I'm extremely optimistic about Nebraska's current roster of receivers this season. Kenny Bell proved himself to be a game-breaker as a freshman, and that was enough for Phil Steele to name him to his 2nd team all-Big Ten team. Steele ranks the Husker receivers as the best in the Big Ten this season. Let's stop to think about it; the only loss is Brandon Kinnie. Injuries limited tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed last season; I expect big things from the Husker tight ends this season. Jamal Turner showed signs of breaking out early last season, but made too many mistakes when the ball wasn't coming his way to get more playing time. An offseason of work has to help there.
Healthy Defensive Line
Last season's defensive line was a M*A*S*H unit. Jared Crick's season ended in October. By November, offensive lineman Justin Jackson had to be moved to defense and saw significant playing time. At times, Nebraska had to move defensive ends inside just to get bodies on the field. Pelini now says that everybody's healthy on the line; if that stays the same this season, Nebraska will be better up front. Better up front means a better rush defense and a better pass rush. It all starts up front.
New Defensive Coaches
I view secondary coach Terry Joseph and defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski as upgrades, not replacements, at their positions. Nebraska's secondary woefully underperformed last season under Corey Raymond, and frankly, Joseph made a splash right away. And even the comrades at Black Heart Gold Pants acknowledge the performance of Kaczenski's defensive linemen during his time in Iowa City. (Most of the hate went to his recruiting abilities...)
There are other reasons to be optimistic that I didn't go into. A lot of young talent on the offensive line. Rex Burkhead for his senior season. Will Compton as well.
Most of all, I'm bullish because I think last season turned on crucial mistakes. Defensive breakdowns and some bad playcalling against Wisconsin. Turnovers on kickoffs against Michigan. Oh, and that stupid Hail Mary by South Carolina. Games that were close turned into blowouts because of major mistakes; clean those up and Nebraska suddenly looks like a contender.
But can they do that? You gotta believe, and it's a lot more fun to think about the possibilities than worry about the negatives.