2012 Record: 10-4 (7-1 in B1G)
Head Coach: Bo Pelini (49-20 at Nebraska, 12-4 in B1G)
Four Year Trend: 9.75 wins and 4 losses
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Captial One Bowl: lost to Georgia 45-31
Stadium: Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE (capacity = 81,067)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 4th out of 69 BCS teams
Toughest Home Games: 11/2 vs Northwestern, 11/16 vs Michigan State
Toughest Road Games: 11/9 at Michigan, 11/23 at Penn State
Stats to Fear: lost 35 turnovers in 2012 (last in B1G), allowed 35 sacks (11th in B1G)
Stat to Cheer: had 80 plays over 20 yards (1st in B1G)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 19th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 4, Special Teams: 0
Key Defensive Returnees: CB Ciante Evans (56 tackles), CB Andrew Green (50 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Taylor Martinez (2871 yds pass, 62% completions, 23 pass TD, 12 INT, 1019 yds rush, 10 rush TD), RB Ameer Abdullah (1137 yds rush, 5.03 ypc, 8 TD, 24 rec), WR Kenny Bell (50 rec, 8 TD), WR Quincy Enunwa (42 rec)
Inside Scoop with @BigStad24:
CFBZ: Nebraska seemed to find it offense a bit last season increase their ppg by 5.6 ppg. What were the primary reasons for the improvement?
@BigStad24: I think the single biggest factor in Nebraska’s points per game increase last season was the sudden emergence of Taylor Martinez as a competent quarterback. I have probably been more critical of Taylor Martinez than any other quarterback since I started following Nebraska when I was younger (NOTE: I do not include Sam Keller because 2007 was a lost season, and he was completely overrated from the get go, and I should have seen it coming from the start. So the fact that I was fine with him for part of the season speaks volumes to how critical I have been of Taylor Martinez in his career.). This emergence helped take a lot of pressure off an often banged up rushing corps, and lead to a more open offensive game plan. Not only did Martinez increase his yards by nearly 800 for the season, he also increased his completion percentage by six points. All of this had a big factor in why Nebraska’s point average increased from 2011 to 2012.
One thing which I think needs mentioning as a key factor in the improvement of the offense as a whole, was the confidence which Bo Pelini showed in Taylor Martinez last season. In his prior two seasons there was always some sort of “controversy” over who would play QB going into the season. In 2012 there was none of that, and it showed in Taylor Martinez overall performance throughout the season. I highly doubt anyone thought that Ron Kellogg III was going to be taking the reins from Taylor during the season. The other big factor in his confidence was his attendance at the Manning Passing Academy in the 2012 offseason. Much like when athlete’s play together on national teams I think that being around other players better than you can only help you, even if it is not by anything you are mechanically doing. The fact that you see other people around you working to get better, and sharing what they know with you can only help a player in the long run.
CFBZ: Nebraska had the top passing defense in the league but were tenth in stopping the run. Who needs to step up along the line of scrimmage for the Cornhuskers this season?
@BigStad24: Color me surprised with the improvement of the passing defense, not since the days of Coach Elmo (Phil Elmassian) and Coach Cosgrove (Kevin Cosgrove) had I been more critical of the secondary of the Cornhuskers. During the 2011 season I made multiple comments/tweets explaining my utter contempt for Ciante Evans, and this past season he became one of my favorite players to watch, and really stepped his game up. Then again, I am a fickle man, and one performance can really skew my vision of a player, good or bad. As far as the defensive line goes I am looking for a big performance this year from Jason Ankrah, as he is one of only two seniors to be in the projected starting front seven lineups this season. He is the biggest key because he the only person in the front seven who has consistently started for the Cornhuskers in the past and his performance will make a huge impact this upcoming season. Maybe I am building him up too much, but in my mind the other six starters in the front seven will look to him for leadership, and if he is stepping his game up then the rest of his teammates as well.
CFBZ: The Cornhuskers manage to avoid Ohio St and Wisconsin in conference play. What do you see as the biggest games on the schedule?
@BigStad24: The first game I see as being very important is the rematch with UCLA. Last season, the UCLA offense thoroughly embarrassed the Cornhuskers defense to the tone of 653 yards of total offense being put up. To put this in perspective, even in Nebraska’s 70-10 loss to Texas Tech in 2004, the Red Raiders “only” put up 523 yards of total offense. Need another example? In 2007 the Kansas Jayhawks defeated Nebraska 76-39, and in that game they “only” managed 572 yards of total offense. To put it bluntly, this game was an utter train wreck, and I look for an extremely motivated Cornhuskers team to avenge this loss. Even if it isn’t a “blowout” per se, I still look for a win to get some sort of revenge for 2012’s early season defeat.
The next game on my list for importance is probably the game against Northwestern. Since Nebraska has entered the Big 10 in 2011, Northwestern has been able play Nebraska tough, and in my 2011 season preview for this very site, I pinpointed that game as a potential stumbling block, and Northwestern managed to beat the Cornhuskers. This season I look for another close game, but hopefully not to the degree that it was in 2011 (a loss), or last season when Nebraska really had no business winning the game.
The next two games are combined into one for me, and those are the Michigan and Michigan State games on 11/9 and 11/16 respectively. These are big games because they will likely decide the winner of the Legends Division, and who will represent the league in the championship game. With Ohio State being the front runner for the league championship, this could also decide a potential Rose Bowl berth if Ohio State ends up in the National Championship Game.
There is also the Iowa game in the final week of the regular season.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
@BigStad24: The thing which will make the 2013 season a success is to get over the hump finally. I am not looking for a National Championship Game berth which I, oddly, predicted on this site back in 2010. (NOTE TO EDITOR: DESTROY THIS COLUMN.) I am looking for a Big Ten Championship, even though that may be tough this year with Ohio State being projected to be as good as they are. What I am looking for is a step in the right direction. When Bo Pelini took over this program back in 2008, all signs seemed to be pointing toward that “right step,” but since then the football program has just kind of been sitting in a pool of good, but not great water. Since 2008, the Nebraska program has gone either 9-4 or 10-4 each season, and while it was great after the Callahan regime ended, it’s become a bit of a joke, and there needs to be some sort of change in things. Last season, I predicted that the clock was running on the Pelini era, and I think that is still true, but winning 9 or 10 games a year may be enough for people, but it’s been a “bad” 9 or 10 win season. Nebraska hasn’t managed to win a big game in years which include regular season, conference championships, and bowl games against teams which are better than them.
Unfortunately, this isn’t like a professional sport where a team can “bottom out” and look toward rebuilding through the draft. In college sports (football in particular) it’s very much all or nothing. My problem is that Bo Pelini may not be the person to get Nebraska to that next level, as much as I wanted him to be the guy to do that after he was hired. The successful part of this season to me will be if Nebraska can remotely look like a team which could make a leap in the next year or so, or if they fall flat to their typical 9-4 or 10-4 season which we (as fans) have become so accustomed to.
There is a lot to like about this Cornhuskers team and a lot of reasons to believe that for the second straight year they will play for the Big Ten Championship. Last year, Taylor Martinez finally broke through and started to become the player that many thought he would become at an earlier stage of his career. Martinez has some weapons at the skills positions with Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Quicy Enunwa. The OL also has experience with 78 career starts returning. The offense looks like it should continue to improve.
Whether or not the Cornhuskers can get over the hump will be decided on defense. Despite playing for the Big Ten Championship last season, the defense ranked just 9th in points allowed and 7th in total defense. The Cornhuskers will lose their top five tacklers and eight of their top ten tacklers so this will be a fairly young group that Pelini puts out there on Saturdays.
One reason to really like this team is their schedule. Over the last two years they have played very well at home in Big Ten games (7-1) and I would expect that to continue this season as the toughest home tests are Michigan State and Northwestern. The toughest road games are Michigan and Penn State. Ohio State and Wisconsin are noticeably absent from the schedule. If they can get past UCLA on 9/14, the odds are that this team will be 7-0 heading into November and from that point anything can happen. If the defense comes together, this team could be a fixture in the top ten in Taylor Martinez's final season.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: