Why Nebraska will lose:
This one is easy. No experience on the offensive line, very little experience at UNL for most of the coaching staff and after last year's showing, this team doesn't have the talent, speed or heart to make a real stab at getting NU back to where they are accustomed.
Plus, they have Jammal Lord.
In a point/counterpoint look at why NU will or won't get back to their winning ways, the point towards why they won't seems to be littered if not flat-out jammed up with just a ton of reasons.
Looking at last year, what NU didn't do right could take longer to talk about than the season itself, but for the sake of argument, let's just look at what people are saying is going to carry over from last year to this year as NU isn't seen as anything but in the midst of funk, destined for at least one more season of losing before anything turns back towards the positive.
I remember someone once talking about a Kansas Jayhawk team quite a few years ago that was bringing back around 20 starters for the following year. As a loyal Jayhawker, they seemed happy, but still didn't seem to beam with confidence at the thought of so many coming back, seasoned and ready to go. Their philosophy for this lack of confidence was simple: "Why should bringing back 20 guys that managed to lose just about every game last year be a good thing?"
You know, he's right.
There is no value that can be put on what experience means to any team, but you really have to wonder just what kind of value that is.
When you look at Jammal Lord, he will easily be the most scrutinized player on the team this year, as he was the most criticized last year. Throwing for less than 50% on the year and proving just how consistently inconsistent his passing-game was, he was the center of attention, most of the time, that attention being just plain bad.
From seemingly impossibly perfect passes on one play to passes where you didn't know who the intended receiver was the next, Lord's game was as up and down as a Hollywood marriage. Lord at times seemed to shine, but most of the time, he struggled to gain some sort of confidence, because it seemed clear that most of his problems were entirely of the mental variety.
His offensive line wasn't helping.
In fact, they may have been one of the biggest reasons for Lord's lack of confidence, Jammal finding himself with a sparse comfort-zone, if any at all. When you are looking for confidence and have a tendency for "happy feet" in the first place, an offensive line that can't block is not going to bode well for times when you need the QB to stick back in the pocket to deliver a pass.
And that defense that seemed to be good at times was gaining detractors for reasons that seemed impossible at NU. They had no heart? They had no speed? They didn't have more than just one playmaker in the bunch?
Are you kidding me? At Nebraska?
Yep, at Nebraska, the critics came out of the woodwork, chiding the recent recruiting efforts of Solich and company that added up to an NU team that was not only not deep, but the talent and speed they had on the starting roster wasn't anything to brag about, especially if you are in the Big XII conference.
No more Mike Browns. No more Jason Peters. No more Grant Wistroms and the list went on and on. NU apparently lost every good player they ever had, leaving nothing but a bunch of poor imitations in their wake.
The only bright sides were a couple of stars amidst the entire team, one of them being the kicker, Josh Brown. That's not good.
DeJuan Groce was easily the most consistent player out of everyone on the team, he single-handedly keeping NU in games and he even won at least one for the Big Red all by himself.
When everyone was so relieved that Nebraska wouldn't again rely on their QB to do as much running as Eric Crouch did the year prior, Lord actually surpassed Crouch in just about every running category there was, carries per game included.
With Groce gone, Josh Brown gone and some of the reasons for NU's dismal efforts last year still intact, there should be no reason whatsoever that experience could help that much, especially considering how bad NU was beaten in a few of their contests.
And, pointing back to the offensive line, a lack of experience that seemed to be the problem last year will again be an issue this year as Richie Incognito seems to be the only real positive returner for the team, there being some uncertainty as to whether Erickson can keep his spot and whether Vili Waldrop should even be on the two-deep at his. A new center and possibly two new guards and a new right tackle, Nebraska could possibly be worse on the offensive line this year than they were last season.
At Rush End, you will have two new full-time starters, though Trevor Johnson got a ton of experience starting last year thanks to Chris Kelsay being out for a little under half the season with an injury. The other side will be most likely, Benard Thomas, who though touted since he came in, still hasn't shown just what he can do.
At cornerback, Fabian Washington has proven himself to be remarkably talented, aggressive and very fast, but he got burned enough times last year to torch a national park. Most of that was from his aforementioned aggressiveness and of course, the inexperience that goes with being a true freshman facing the likes of Rashaun Woods and Roy Williams, so there is a silver lining to this cloud at least. Well, other than the fact that both Woods and Williams are back.
At the other corner position, nobody knows who's going to be there and honestly, nobody is that confident in whoever is available right now. The entire depth chart on that side is thought to either be not healthy enough or simply not good enough to cover some of the guys that NU has to face game in and game out in one of the best conferences around.
On special teams, well they aren't expected to be all that special as half the reason for their success last year in that department went to the NFL. Only Josh Davis and Kyle Larson are shoe-ins for their positions and kick-returning and punting respectively, but after that, it gets really sketchy. While Sandro DeAngelis has stated that he has paid his dues, some might wonder if they should raise the rates because up to this point, opportunistic but untested Dale Endorf is actually giving him a run for his money.
Though Josh Brown wasn't perfect all the time, the field-goal unit for Nebraska will be followed a lot more nervously this year than in any year perhaps in the last decade. A typical strength to NU has just become a major question mark.
Oh yes and what about that in-coming talent from this last recruiting class? Ryan Schuler who seems to be getting a lot of early praise. Donald DeFrand who's getting equal accolades along with Wali Muhammad and of course, Joe Dailey. So many potential stars, but not one with any Division 1-A experience and say what you want for a team that has experience and did bad, they at least have a real sense of what "true" game-speed is at this level and there is no replacement for that.
Face it, if you are relying on brand new guys to be the reason your team makes it back, you have more talent and speed issues than you can overcome.
And finally, coaching. Sure, this lot of coaches has came in with considerable hype, a lot of hope, a couple with NFL experience and one that actually turned down the NFL to go to NU, but that means exactly what?
It means you have a guy here or there that hasn't coached at the collegiate level before, a guy that has coached little at all and you've got an average tenure between all of them of exactly...........well, what time is it?
They are young, not just chronologically speaking, but as a unit, they haven't even gotten their feet wet together in any actual game and because everyone has been so worried about keeping all the changes a secret, what full-scrimmages have taken place have been vanilla as can be.
Not wanting to tip their hand, one might wonder just how much of a hand they will have come Oklahoma State.
So many reasons not to win, not to succeed and some not even to get better, it's no wonder Nebraska has not made nearly every pre-season top 25 list and when it comes to unit rankings, NU presence is almost equally absent.
Nobody thinks this NU will be any better than last year's. Some thinking it will even be worse.
Why Nebraska will win:
Believe it or not, this one isn't as hard as you might think.
Nebraska can get right back to being Nebraska this year and though it might surprise the national media and fan-bases abroad, it probably won't surprise many within the program. They have what it takes.
Jammal Lord is the big question and people wonder if he's mentally ready to take on the challenge that he was getting killed by last season. Mental mistakes pervasive, when things broke down and Lord was forced to pass, that usually ended up not being a good thing.
Confidence was the issue and the offensive line was a major contributor to that, so what about that offensive line? Why should they be better?
During the Spring, all expectations were that Richie Incognito would move to what was considered the position he was slated for the entire time, center. Josh Sewell impressed coaches enough that he took over the reins at that position, leaving Incognito at left tackle.
While some would argue that Incognito isn't a natural tackle, when Incognito wasn't getting personal fouls, he was one of the clear bright spots on the offensive front. Richie proved that you can stick him anywhere on the line and it may not be natural to him, but he was able to adjust and did pretty well, even against future all-everything, Terrell Suggs.
The rest of the line shapes up as a curiosity more than anything, but with such potential talent like Jermaine Leslie, the stocky mauler, Jake Andersen and hyped players like Jemayel Phillips, Tim Green, Chris Loos and yes, in-comers like Darin DeLone and Ryan Schuler, there seems to be a myriad of talent, speed and size, but it does come down to experience.
The difference here is how this line gels versus last year's line, which really never did. While some would say that there's no reason this line should be expected to do any better than last year's for so many reasons, I look at it more to the point that for a Nebraska line, they can't do much worse.
I know. That's not much of a bright-side, but it's a start.
And I firmly believe that if that line does give Lord the time to get settled and "comfortable" being back there, you will see a different Jammal than you saw the previous year. Nobody will discount his running ability, but that's not what is going to win games and in what is considered to be a more balanced offensive attack this season, Lord's passing will even be more of a premium than in previous years.
Also, let's be realistic. Teams will do just what they did last year in stacking the box and daring Lord to beat them until he actually does. That offensive line is key and experience not-withstanding, I can't see a reason why the line can't improve, if based on potential alone.
At the running-back position, I think NU will see a great deal of diversity that they have had, but not with the experience this unit has. You have a somewhat bigger and faster David Horne who needed to get bigger for this year. You have a very elusive Cory Ross that learned what going north-south was rather than his typical highlight east-west romps that didn't gain much yardage. And, you have the always-tough-running Josh Davis, who has the all-around game to compete with any of them, his only downside is being able to take care of the ball.
That combination should prove effective if not dangerous.
At wide-receiver, you are going to have guys that run routes. Yes, that's right. They are actually going to run routes. No longer will they simply be glorified blockers and occasional weapons, but now, they are going to be legit parts of the offensive scheme. Wow, what a concept.
And with a playmaker like Matt Herian at TE, if the receivers can be effective in their new role under the tutelage of Ron Brown and new passing coordinator, Tim Albin (I'm still not sure what that is), a Nebraska WR could end up being significant rather than just opportunistic. That's saying a lot right there.
On defense, this is where it gets really exciting, because I will put it plain and simple, those that were saying this team didn't have any talent, any speed or any heart, well they were flat-out wrong.
I'm going to sum up in a simple equation for you why the defense played the way they played last year.
Coaching+personnel+attitude= last year
Craig Bohl was never criticized for being dumb, but common sense didn't seem to live in his back- pocket. A guy that was consistently beaten by the other coaches in the first drive of the third quarter. A coach that actually admitted after games that he wasn't expecting certain teams to do certain things, therefore equaling a complete debacle on defense and a guy that asked players to set their own goals and play for themselves, because it seemed clear that players weren't all that eager to play for those in charge.
A defense that was so complex that not even the defensive coordinator knew how to run it, players were out of position and frankly, the respect for this defense was gone, not just by other teams, but perhaps by the players themselves.
What do you say about what it means to have a "blackshirt" when 15 guys have them? You step on the field as a starter and boom, there you are, instant blackshirt, thus sponsoring a collective upheaval in stomachs all over the country from guys that played on the defense in years prior that actually had to earn it by doing more than stepping on the field.
The meaning or loss of meaning to the very symbol of what made this defense great was lost, thus my absolute and total belief in that being a major reason for the demise of the defense as we knew it. Players couldn't believe in coaches and as success was sparse, they might have lost that very belief in themselves that got them to NU in the first place.
It was just one huge loss in confidence, but NOT in talent, NOT in speed and NOT in heart.
They just didn't know who or what to believe in. The idea of why you play is easy, but when your only motivation isn't for the entire team, rather just a few here and there, you lose.
This year, the dead weight has been stripped and you have in their place some energetic, fiery but focused individuals who find the page that everyone wants to be on and sticks to it. No more complexities, rather a basic adherence to effort first and worry about the rest later. Forget about how to get to the ball, just get to the damn ball!!
And what do you know, T.J. Hollowell and Demarrio Williams will be on the field together. I know nobody will be uttering Farley and Williams just yet, but this combination has been anticipated since Williams got to Nebraska. With one of NU's most consistent tacklers in Barrett Ruud anchoring the middle, this linebacking core could be deadly if not solid top to bottom.
As to that secondary, where we detracted because of a lack of experience, let us now give some credit for potential and what we've been hearing as of late. Donald DeFrand is the real deal and Wali Muhammad isn't far behind, both apparently impressive, at least to whatever degree you can take that during off-season practices.
I know, it's off-season stuff and we hear this kind of ultra-positive sunshine crap all the time, but Donald DeFrand came in as a JUCO transfer with a ton of speed, great size and a lock-down covering ability that is going to be absolutely key for NU opposite of Washington.
And Muhammad brought in a 22 sack season from the JUCO ranks from the rush end position and when you can do that playing JUCO ball in Kansas, you aren't potentially good, you are good, period.
The experience of this defense, that's what is also exciting in that pointing back to attitudes last year, this team has everything it takes to win physically, but what they now have is an entire coaching staff that would appear to be on the same page and the players seem to actually believe in them. Heck, I have even heard some of the players say they would run through a wall for a coach here and there.
And those coaches. Yes, little experience together, but what each brings to the table appears to be just what the doctor ordered and initially, the teams facing Nebraska are going to be just as new to what NU will do as NU will be. That's one card that is an advantage, however slight.
Yes, the idiotic-detractor from this would say that they could go to film to see what Barney Cotton did at New Mexico State and right there, they will know exactly what NU does now. Ok, if you believe that, please raise your hand. Ok, now bop yourself on the head for being a moron.
One thing Cotton will bring to the table from New Mexico State is something that would have been considered a luxury last year, that being diversity in the play-calling. I tell you, I have never heard so many people on the street, ages ranging from 18-80-something that said they were calling most of the plays themselves with pretty good accuracy last year, just sitting on the couch, so who could imagine what kind of heaven the defensive coordinators from other teams were living in?
Everyone says that, but last year, I think they were actually right.
The diversity that Cotton brings, the simple but purely successful philosophy that Pelini brings along with all that youth, energy and professional and collegiate experience either playing or coaching the others bring, well, it's a whole lot of nice ingredients that at least for Oklahoma State is going to be a hard recipe to figure out, maybe until it's too late.
The conclusion to this point/counterpoint epic is that you can find a lot of reasons for saying that Nebraska will win or lose this year and honestly, both sides would have a good reason to stand up and say they had a case.
What NU did between last year and this up-coming year was change and in my estimation, this time, change is most certainly good. While most of this potential is just that, on paper, you can't argue with the possibilities, nor can you discount the advantage (at least early on) in that for once, nobody will know exactly what Nebraska is going to do.
The mystery and drama of any one regular season is usually enough to write books about, but this year in Nebraska, you could write a trilogy, before they even take a snap. It's not the end either, because until that first game is played, the scenarios will be pondered on, the potential will be scrutinized and every single player will find a microscope on them, wondering what they will contribute or take away from NU's trek back to being NU.
You can't get that anywhere else or most anywhere else and most coaches and players would be glad, but it's because they are Nebraska why it matters so much. It's because they are Nebraska, why so many even in the national scene care.
They already voiced their idea on what Nebraska they will see this year and rest assured that before the season starts, most everyone else will have voiced their opinion as well. Win or Lose? You make the call.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619