Nebraska’s Pelini Matures in the Role of Huskers’ Head Coach
By Will Cummings
For anyone clinging to the possibilities of the Nebraska Cornhuskers winning the 2010 Big 12 Football Championship and having a shot at the 2011 BCS title game–you may have to temper those hopes a bit. Unfortunately for the diehard NU football fans–up to this point–the 2010 edition of the Huskers football team has definitely posed more questions than answers as to how they can accomplish the task of bringing home this year’s conference championship trophy:
The most pressing concern for NU will be in regards to their quarterback situation, and this does not bode well as quality performance from this position is critical to the success of any championship team. Last season’s returning senior QB, Zac Lee, completed over 59% of his passes and lead the team to a 10-4 record, including a Holiday Bowl victory. This spring Lee is still recovering from the surgery he had over the winter to repair his throwing arm. As a result Lee was unable to gain valuable repetitions and further confidence in his abilities during spring drills. This development produces a significant threat to any hopes of the Huskers making a title run this season.
Sure, this spring the Huskers saw improvement from backup sophomore QB Cody Green and the rise of redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, but Green is still raw and saw limited action last fall, while Martinez is yet to play a down of college football. There is nothing like having a seasoned, war-hardened and healthy senior QB at the helm. And if Lee is unable to return to form it could make for a rocky 2010 season for the Huskers.
Huskers Offense Shows a Lot of Promise
On the hopeful side, the Huskers offense will field enough high caliber athletes to compete with any team in the country. The O-line is suffering from some rep time losses for former Omaha Burke lineman Ricky Henry (injured shoulder) but it still has enough experience and high quality beef to produce the space necessary for the likes of senior Roy Helu Jr., and sophomore Rex Brurkhead to rumble through the carnage in bunches.
By all accounts, senior wideout Niles Paul, from Omaha North, had an excellent spring and has become more consistent with his hands and routes. Paul and TEs Mike McNeil and Ben Cotton, and WR Will Henry and others make up one of the top returning receiving corps in the conference. But again–will there be a QB capable of consistently getting the ball to this talented crew?
Husker Defense: Life Without a Boy Named Suh
On defense the Huskers come out of the spring looking a little shaky. Gone is heralded ALL-WORLD DT Ndamukong Suh—the kind of dominant college-lineman that only comes around to a program like Nebraska’s every decade or two. Without his presence the Huskers will be a lot more vulnerable on defense. There is no doubt that the junior DT from Cozad, Nebraska, Jared Crick, ranks high among the nation’s best interior defensive lineman. However, you must account for the fact that he greatly benefited from having Suh take the lion’s share of attention from opposing offenses. Of course for that matter the LB’s and secondary were also beneficiaries of having both of these two studs wrecking havoc upfront. At present, the secondary–with the loss of senior playmaker Matt O’Hanlon–is shaping up to be the weakest link in the Huskers’ defensive armor. As the Defensive line still looks to be solid despite the loss of Suh and the LBs should at least be very competitive.
Huskers Have the Overall Talent to Win the Big 12 In 2010
Across the board the Huskers have all the horses to be a legitimate Big 12 champion contender. Whether or not they will arrive at the destination in 2010 will all hinge on three factors: (1) Their play at QB, (2) the development of the defense and (3) team chemistry–will the type of leadership emerge that will carry the team through to victory at critical points in a game.
Pelini Sending the Right Message
If Bo Pelini’s demeanor and comments at his post Spring Game press conference serves as any indication as to his team’s success in 2010–a lot of things will have to get markedly better between now and kickoff on September 4th. That being said, the Huskers are going to benefit by having a couple of soft games to open the season, which will help them to get things together before they head out to the West Coast to face Washington on September 18.
Maybe Pelini’s post Spring Game attitude and the statements he made (which I thought may have been his best oratory presentation to date) is exactly the kind of demeanor, words and motivational ammunition that his players and staff need to recieve to get them into the right gear to approach what is certainly an obtainable goal. More and more Pelini seems to be maturing into the kind of head coach that can deliver a championship program. Now that he has the horses–the rest will be up to fate.
The Huskers with a healthy Zac Lee at the helm have a better than a 50% chance of winning the Big 12 Conference Championship in 2010. Without a healthy Lee in the picture the Huskers chances for a title diminish considerably. In this event–more than ever–they will have to rely on the orchestral skills and motivational abilities of their maturing head coach, Bo Pelini. And the latter is my reason–over any other–for picking the Huskers to win this year’s Big 12 Football Conference Championship.