2007 is a huge year for Cornhusker fans. It's the fourth year of Bill Callahan's reign, and the time that the Huskers should be coming around to greatness. We're supposed to be back in the Top Ten this year. We're supposed to win the Big 12, not necessarily because we're a better team than everyone else in the Big 12, but because it's our God-given place in the world. Dr. Tom proved that, didn't he?
Unfortunately, times have changed. In the last ten years the rules changed quite a bit - the Big 12 is not the Big Eight. We're not going to run the table on the conference every season. Even Tom Osborne wouldn't be able to do that now. Rather than being disgusted with that, maybe we should realize how special a coach he was and then look forward with some basis in reality. Now that I've got that off my chest, let's move on, shall we???
Let's look at some facts about Bill Callahan and the 2007 season:
- Frank Solich is no longer part of the conversation.
Whether or not Solich should have been fired is immaterial. It's the past. It's so far in the past that it should no longer be part of Husker fans conversations. The conversation now should be about whether or not Bill Callahan is the right coach for Nebraska. If you're still hanging on to Frank, let him go and move on to another topic. This is Bill Callahan's team, his coaches, his players, his training regime, . If you're still bringing up Solich in your conversations about Nebraska football it's time for your friends to ignore you. In fact, if you're one of those people who still denies that Nebraska is making progress under Bill Callahan it's time for your friends to ignore you and make you buy all the beer if you want to be around them this season, you of eternal gloominess.
- Bill Callahan has yet to get a signature win.
He's beaten Colorado for the past two seasons. He was undefeated in the Big 12 North last season, the first time for a Nebraska team since 2001. But he had four shots at winning a big game last year in critical situations (USC, Texas, Big 12 Championship and Bowl Game against Auburn) and he didn't pull off a single one of them.
Forget that luck didn't go our way a couple times (Texas, Auburn) - Callahan needs a signature win this coming season. He should have at least four chances this season - USC, Texas in Austin, the Big 12 Championship, or a good win against a quality opponent in a bowl game. He is 0-3 against Oklahoma and hasn't yet beat Texas.
He needs a big win this season if for no other reason than so your brother-in-law can find something new to complain about.
- We play in a pretty crappy part of a good conference so winning the Big 12 North isn't saying much.
Say "Big 12 North Champions" out loud anywhere but Nebraska, Kansas, or maybe Missouri and people are going to laugh in your face. We don't have any threatening, scary teams. Sad but true. Missouri has a damned good offense - have you seen their tight ends? Holy cow, man. They're going to be playing on Sundays. But their defense is porous. Kansas? They're good at basketball. Kansas State - too many young players to be consistently good throughout the season. Iowa State is starting over. Colorado - winning four or five games would be an improvement.
The bottom line is that even if we win the Big 12 North (and give ourselves a trophy for it), it's not saying much about Nebraska football. We have to do more than that to be a great program once again.
- Recruiting big names doesn't win big games.
We've been sold on the idea that Callahan and crew have recruited some great athletes and that greatness will come. Fact is, Callahan's crew has brought in some pretty good talent. Zac Taylor was pretty darned good. Sam Keller chose us over Oklahoma. Maurice Purify should break onto the national stage this season as a game-breaker. The offensive line resembles what it used to be - full of large guys that can dominate the line of scrimmage. The talent is back to the level were we can expect to beat Oklahoma and/or Texas as long as everyone stays healthy.
Talent isn't going to win games all by itself but it does decrease the margin for error. If national titles were decided on talent alone, Mack Brown and Lloyd Carr would have more than one apiece. Re-iterate on that 'signature win' thing. Win a big one, and it proves the recruiting prowess of this coaching staff.
- 10-2 or 7-5?
We don't know what will happen in 2007. We have a tough schedule and teams throughout the Big 12 - especially the South - are as even as they've been in years. We lost our entire defensive front four last season. Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn need to stay healthy and be a one-two punch this season. Our defensive secondary is a little bit suspect although not nearly as bad (inexperienced?) as last year. The offensive line is going to be better with more depth than we've had in a while. The linebackers are as good as any group in the nation.
It's a toss-up as to where Nebraska will finish, 10-2, 7-5 or somewhere in between. If we stay healthy at key positions (like RB), 10-2 could be a realistic projection (my full season project can be found here). With some luck things could be better (and don't kid yourself that championship teams don't need some luck to get there).
If we end up 7-5, Lord help us. All sorts of nutty things will start happening. Dark clouds will start to form around Lincoln and a truly angry rancher will figure out how to genetically mutate his herd into meat-eaters and convince everyone to invade Colorado. While it sounds like fun, it's not because sooner or later it will become book by Stephen King and then a cheesy movie on the Sci-Fi channel named something like "Cows of the Corn" and we'll have to deal with those stupid jokes for the next 20 years.
- Callahan Contract renewal
This isn't too hard. Bill Callahan and crew are bringing in some darned good recruits, but there's nothing that will scare a recruit away like a coach with a non-renewed contract hanging over his head. Whether you like it or not (I don't), the 'King' programs are signing their coaches to long-term deals these days.
This is true even if we have a 7-5 season. Nebraskans want stability, right? Well, the only way you get it is by giving Billy C a method by which to continue. I'm not much on recruiting, but if someone who denies it's existence can tell if you're signing guys that the rest of the nation covets you're doing the right thing. Re-iteration, but having talent decreases the margin for error. If you have to fire him for some reason down the road, you fire him and buy out his contract, so what's the big deal about an extension?
- And in Conclusion
We're now less than three weeks away from the 2007 season. It's a big one. We have a ton of seniors on this squad which means tons of experience. For Bill Callahan, it's a chance to disprove the naysayers and there are tons of them out there. I'd like to see it happen. The 2007 season can't get here fast enough.