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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Championship Saturday Game Day Thoughts

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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The Husker Locker staff will be presented a number of questions addressing various aspects of each week's game all season long.

This week:
Did the 2011 regular season unfold about how you expected?
Brian: Yes and no. Nebraska expected and should be playing in Indianapolis tonight. The fact that the Huskers aren't doing that marks, to me at least, a disappointing season. You come to Nebraska to win conference titles and compete for national championships, not finish third in the Legends division.
Nebraska wants to be considered one of the heavy hitters in college football. To do that, you must be able to win the games you should, most of the games that can go either way, and at least keep the games you’re supposed to compete in close.
While looking like world beaters against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Huskers looked pedestrian at best against Wisconsin, Michigan and a Northwestern team that will be ecstatic going to Yankee Stadium.
James: Yes and no. I expected Nebraska to be around 9-3/10-2. I also expected the Huskers to win the Legends Division, which they unfortunately did not accomplish. I expected a loss at Wisconsin and at Michigan, as well as one trap game loss.
I was also disappointed with the staff checking out on recruiting during the season. Having six recruits not named Cotton on December 3 is inexcusable. Maybe there is a silent commit or two, but it's still frustrating.
The biggest disappointment of this season was the Blackshirts. From No. 8 in the country in 2010 to No. 58 is pretty horrific, especially when our head coach was hired for defensive acumen. With Carl Pelini taking a dead-end FAU job that barely pays more than what he makes now, you wonder if his increased responsibility as well as the defensive slide are the reasons for his departure.
That said, there were some pleasant surprises: the offensive play-calling of Tim Beck was downright inspired at times. He was no Tom Osborne, but showed he could be creative and you could tell he had a feel for the pulse and rhythm of the game. A couple Shawn Watson moments aside (looking at Wisconsin and Northwestern here) call me optimistic for the future.
Brandon: Honestly, I’ve yet to meet a college football season that has turned out the way I thought it would. In the age of parity, I think that’s a near-impossible feat. Even with how dominant LSU is right now, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them lose tonight or in their bowl game.
Regarding the Huskers, I expected a far better defensive performance even without Dennard or Crick in, but the youth and inexperience showed early and often. I surely didn’t expect to have such success offensively.
I’m pretty sure everyone and their brother could’ve called Burkhead carrying the team, especially down the stretch, but nearly every position has stepped up. Tim Beck’s got a solid playbook and I’m excited to see what he can do should he continue to grow along with the entire offensive roster.
The Northwestern loss didn’t surprise me so much as how it was lost. Sloppy, uninspired football will cause you to lose to a Pat Fitzgerald-coached Wildcat squad every time. I was pretty worried about Wisky and certainly saw the potential for a loss at Michigan, but not a first class beatdown.
Overall, there were more points hung on the Blackshirts than I expected and the offense impressed, but if you told me Nebraska would win nine games through the regular season, I’d have believed you.
Right now, it appears that Nebraska will either be attending the Capital One, Outback or Gator Bowl, all versus SEC opposition. Which bowl would you like to see the Huskers play in and against what upper-tier SEC school?
Brian: Either bowl to me is fine. The one matchup that wouldn’t be good for us is against Arkansas. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, while being the type of quarterback that a Nebraska defense feasts on, has several stud receivers to throw to. The Cornhusker secondary has improved as the season has progressed. However, this is a matchup that wouldn’t be beneficial.
Either South Carolina or Georgia would be a favorable game. Don’t believe the SEC defense legend, either. All three teams can give up points. That doesn’t mean that Nebraska will hang 40 on any of them, but lets see them take on Rex Burkhead and Nebraska's offensive line when healthy.
James: If you're going to be the best, you've got to beat the best. The Capital One Bowl is the premier non-BCS Bowl game, it's so well-branded it has an entire week named after it. Let's see how the Huskers compare in a one-game showdown with a top SEC team.
I'd love to see Arkansas, especially if it gives the offense a chance to pick on former Husker commit Tevin Mitchell. On the flip side, playing South Carolina and the Old Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) would bring back some blissful memories of 1995 (though I doubt the score would be anywhere near what it was for that Nebraska - Spurrier showdown).
Brandon: All signs point to the Capital One Bowl which isn’t too surprising considering how many times their representatives showed up to check Nebraska out. I’m a big fan of the game as it’s usually entertaining. Last year’s stomping of Michigan State by Alabama aside, of course. I’d expect the committee to go with one of three opponents for Nebraska: Georgia, Arkansas or South Carolina.
Out of these three, the Huskers should hope for the Gamecocks and I think there’s a solid shot they get them. The teams are pretty evenly matched and the Spurrier vs. Nebraska story is almost too good to pass up. On the other hand, you’ve got a rebounding Georgia squad that would give Nebraska a run for their money.
Arkansas’ a sexy pick thanks to Bobby Petrino and his offense vs. Bo Pelini’s defense. While seeing the Old Ball Coach on the opposite sideline would be fun, I think Nebraska draws the Razorbacks.
There’s an offer on the table for Carl Pelini to take over as head coach at Florida Atlantic. What do you think of this move?
Brian: Good for Carl. It’s time for him to finally get his own gig that, while not at a BCS school, is a great opportunity. FAU was ranked No. 119 in FBS offense this year, and that’s against only two defenses in the Sun Belt that were ranked above No. 50 in total defense. Carl can give it his all and finally get out of his brother's shadow. Good luck to you, Carl.
James: Exciting as a Nebraska fan. The defense clearly needs a shake-up. Bo needs to be free to look at the big picture and not have to gameplan the defense himself. Carl probably isn't the best planner/defensive coordinator, but he knows what it takes to win and has a good opportunity to build a staff down at FAU.
There are also some premiere defensive coordinators on the market right now. Mark Stoops, Ron Zook, and Tom Bradley would all breathe fresh blood into the coaching staff. I'm partial to Zook myself, as he can take the organizational elements off of Bo's plate, while also instantly being the best recruiter on the staff.
Brandon: It’s a great opportunity for Carl to add to his resume. Expectations aren’t going to be extremely high, but Schnellenberger was enjoyed by many despite his reputation among many Husker fans. Boca Raton’s not a bad place to cut your teeth as a head coach and being in the heart of an area rich in talent should only help Carl especially since his last name should gain him some clout amongst recruits.
If things become official with Carl to FAU, how should the staff situation be managed heading into 2012?
Brian: Interesting question. There is a great defensive coordinator in Larry Johnson Sr. available from Penn State. Assuming he’s clear of anything in the Sandusky case, I couldn’t see anyone being a better addition not only coaching but in terms of recruiting.
James: Hire the best recruiting defensive coordinator you can find. It doesn't matter how they are schematically, Bo can handle that element, but Nebraska needs someone who can break down defenses, assist with building out the gameplan, and breathe some life into a rough recruiting effort.
Aside from that, maybe if there are some coaches not working out, Carl can bring them along to Florida for a fresh start. It might be time for Barney Cotton to step into more of an administrative role, as the emergence of John Garrison and intern Brendan Stai seems to be behind the offensive line resurgence. With any new coaches, finding organized and spirited recruiters is key. This staff is woefully behind the competition in that regard.
Brandon: Well, it looks to be a done deal, so we’ll assume he won’t be around. I could see this going one of two ways. Bo could simply assign himself the defensive coordinator title and hire a quarterbacks coach to assist Taylor Martinez and some very inexperienced backups with rapid development or a replacement could be found.
Mike Stoops’ name has come up as a possibility, but I don’t see him at Nebraska as I can’t help but think he heads to Oklahoma or Urban Meyer snags him. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ron Zook pick up the defensive coordinator mantle as he stocked the cupboards for Meyer’s title runs at Florida.
While things didn’t work out at Illinois, he’s a fine assistant coach and already has Big Ten connections. The Huskers need more homerun hitters in recruiting and Zook brings some serious wood to the plate.
Follow the panel on Twitter:
Brandon: @eightlaces
Brian: @btbowling
James: @jamesstevenson
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