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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Taking Stock in the 2011 Cornhuskers - The Conclusion

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By Ryan Donohue
After examining both the best and worst outcomes for Nebraska, let’s try to nail down a definitive vision of what 2011 will bring using the summer as our sundial.
It’s been a standard Nebraska summer – hot, humid and full of storms. The weather’s been as predictable as your favorite summer drink be it lemonade or Iced tea. I always go for red Kool-Aid. It has Nebraska roots after all, calling Hastings home just like Tom Osborne.
Summertime isn’t usually eventful for Husker fans. The depth chart doesn’t change much, position “battles” exist only to motivate all-but-anointed starters and the schedule tells us only home or away what we’ve known for years in which teams Nebraska will play. Yes, summer is often quiet in Lincoln, but not this year.
This summer hasn’t been the calm before the storm – it’s been a whirling, howling mess. A twister made up of equal parts lost tradition, new conference, a foreign schedule, heightened national media love, and a depth chart more tenuous than the United States’ current credit rating.
What does this all mean to Husker fans? Unless you’ve been around for a while, Nebraska has switched conferences entirely for the first time in your life. That may seem like old news, but it still isn’t. Sure, the Cornhuskers made the announcement over a year ago, but that was just the engagement. October 1 is the wedding. Nebraska will play eight new conference foes. Eight fresh faces gunning for Big Red. Will the Cornhuskers get cold feet?
There’s some déjà-vu in having eight teams with such a big bulls eye on the Big Red, but Nebraska’s done it before, even last year, so they’ll be okay, right? Remember when the summer Kool-Aid was flowing in 2010? Double-digit wins in the regular season, one loss would dot the schedule, but certainly not to Texas and a surefire return to the BCS bowls. No, not everyone was saying this out loud, but Husker nation was generally confident about winning the Big 12 crown.
Another 10-4 season then humbled Nebraska. There’s no way Husker Nation would set itself up for disappointment this year, right?
Switching conferences is a painful process. The new guy doesn’t plan on winning it all during their first year, do they? Well, Texas did it in year one of the Big 12, but they were defending Southwest conference champions and playing many familiar foes. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999. The Big Ten certainly isn’t a cake walk. Just ask Penn State’s Joe Paterno about his adventures during the 1990s. Should Nebraska expect a ho-hum 8-4 season?
Don’t tell that to the national media. Many preseason polls have Nebraska just outside of the Top 10 or in the thick of it. The Huskers are the fashionable pick to win the Big 10. Does this seem right? Some highly scientific research was conducted by asking five Husker fans if Nebraska is ranked too highly. Four of the five said no and one suggested a higher ranking.
Are these the same folks from last January? The ones guffawing at the 2011 Husker Gauntlet–er, schedule. Nebraska’s first Big Ten assignments did them. A road opener against Wisconsin, a home opener against Ohio State and back-to-back road games against Michigan and Penn State.
The brutal schedule wasn’t the only reason to pump the brakes on high hopes for 2011 earlier this year. Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore were quietly shuffled out of the coaching lineup. Taylor Martinez was allegedly transferring and Cody Green did. The Huskers were in a state of flux completely independent from conference realignment.
Last year, Nebraska finished No. 19 and 20 in the coaches and AP polls, respectively. Could anyone have honestly dubbed them Top 10 material then? Using th same research panel as before, Husker fans would have put the Big Red outside of top 15, well away from the top 10. Now, fans and media alike agree. What changed?
In 2010, an NFL-caliber defense couldn’t overcome an offense that lacked identity. There was a young, jittery, injury-prone quarterback, unproven receivers, and a young offensive line with little depth.
New offensive coordinator Tim Beck may be just what Nebraska needs. His philosophies appear different, but he’ll still have to roll the dice with Taylor Martinez for up to 14 games. Those most excited about Beck know how bad the offense has been. That is Beck’s mess to clean up immediately.
While there’s room for optimism, there’s no reason to believe 2011 will be an easy transition. The most popular argument for Nebraska to succeed right away is the Cornhuskers’ speed versus the perceived sloth of Big Ten teams. Remember Denard Robinson?
Simply put, Nebraska has six regular season games that that they could very well lose: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa. If Tim Beck can get the offense back to competency and the defense avoids injury, Nebraska wins half of those games.
2011 “Real” Projection: 9-3
Speaking of weather, Nebraska’s ready to feel the heat of their new conference. 2011 looks to be a white-knuckled ride with equal parts elation and disappointment. Will Nebraska reach new heights or drop back into disappointing territory. Being the new kid is tough and winning nine games might seem good enough for year one, but is it? There’s only one way to find out and we’ll start the journey in…oh, about an hour.
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