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Dreaming Big in 2009

As Florida Atlantic left the turf in Memorial Stadium, Husker fans everywhere felt pretty good.  A 49-3 victory was nothing to complain about.  Sure there were some breakdowns here and there, and quite a few things to improve on, but overall, it was a nice opening game.  After the game, Bo Pelini sounded fairly upbeat in his post-game comments: 

"I saw some good things out there. I’m disappointed with some things. It was a good start."

By the Tuesday press conference, Pelini's tone changed noticably:

"We won the football game, but we didn't play to the standard that we wanted to play."

Anything positive?

"I can't say anything in particular that I was overly thrilled with."

What changed?  Part of it, I'm positive, was reviewing the video and getting a better perspective of his team's performance.  Even though the score was lopsided, the statistics weren't, and that obviously was a concern.  But I really wonder if Bo Pelini's opinion wasn't also affected by other games on the schedule.

Looking at the 2009 season, most preseason prognosticators had Nebraska winning eight to maybe ten wins.  (Your CN bloggers included.)  But the opening week of the season raised eyebrows because the two games that most people wrote off suddenly don't look the same.

In the Georgia Dome, Alabama defeated Virginia Tech 34-24.  That score doesn't look out of line, but just look at the stat sheets.  Beamer Ball was in full force with the Hokies scoring on a 98 yard kickoff return.  But aside from that, the Hokies were dominated on both sides of the ball.  First downs:  Alabama 22, VT 11;  Rushing yards;  Alabama 268, VT 64; Passing Yards: Alabama 230, VT 91.

Under Jerry Jones new monster television set, BYU upset Oklahoma 14-13.  The Sooners offensive line simply couldn't replace the four starters that graduated last season, and the Sooner offense sputtered to only produce 265 yards of offense.  What's worse is that Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was left exposed by a faulty line, suffering a shoulder injury that will keep him out of the next several games.  Yes, he likely will be back by November, but stop and think about this situation for a moment.

Could Nebraska go 12-0 in the regular season?  Suddenly that doesn't look quite as outrageous anymore.  Nebraska will likely be underdogs against both the Hokies and Sooners, but  they aren't the invincible Top Ten opponents folks expected in the preseason.  Does Bo Pelini see an opening for the Huskers to upgrade their game to be able to compete with the Sooners and Hokies?  Certainly Pelini may have smelled blood and wants to drive his team even harder to take advantage of a perceived weakness.

In any event, Nebraska will need to improve their performance dramatically to have a chance in those two games.  Nebraska struggled with the Hokies at home last year; this year, the game is at Lane Stadium, which Rivals ranks as the biggest home field advantage in college football.  Oklahoma dominated the Huskers last season from the opening kickoff; it'll take a tremendous improvement by the Huskers to merely overcome last season's blowout.

It's just not the potential of those two games that could be driving Pelini to push his team harder.  Missouri opened the season in impressive fashion, blowing out Illinois 37-9.  Blaine Gabbert's first performance was stellar, as were many of the new Tigers.  (Of course, perhaps it was just because Illinois, like the rest of the Big MAC conference just isn't very good...)  Baylor also scored an impressive road victory, beating Wake Forest 24-21.   Certainly both of those opponents raised their games; it make take some impressive performances to win those two road games.

If Nebraska could find a way to go undefeated, it would create quite the parallel between Bob Stoops and Bo Pelini.  Stoops went undefeated in his second season at Oklahoma, cleaning up the mess left by his predecessor.  The parallels between Nebraska's struggles in this decade and the Sooners problems in the '90s have been made several times.  Could lightning strike twice for the Cardinal Mooney alumni?  If Pelini can drive this program to the next level, things could be setting up just that way.