NU stayed the course, though, believing that the right pieces would lead them to a successful season. And despite the 41-point outburst from Ryan Nassib and Syracuse, everyone kept wondering where Nick VanHoose came from.
An enormous part of the 10-win season, VanHoose earned ESPN Big Ten All-Freshman team honors for helping to revitalize the secondary. He hauled in a decisive interception during the Gator Bowl victory, and the accolades speak wonders to his development.
But VanHoose looks back to last season–watching film frequently–and picks out the errors. Though he was pleased with his overall effort in 2012, he called it the "tip of the iceberg."
VanHoose left the Nebraska game–which ended in heartbreaking loss–due to a shoulder injury. He watched the play and realized that training camp provided ample opportunity for him to work on tackling. And of course, communication between members of the secondary can always improve.
"I had my head down on my tackling, so I've been working on that in the offseason," he said. "There were a couple of coverage mistakes that I personally made, not listening to [Ibraheim] Campbell or if I made a wrong call."
Before, it was about doing well enough to survive. With solid recruiting efforts, NU and Jerry Brown now expect excellence from the talented young core.
"It's great having as much depth as we have, with Dan [Jones] and a ton of freshmen coming in," VanHoose said. "I haven't seen this many people in the DB room. It's good to have this much depth and the camaraderie of the scout team, and to really make each other better."
The young guys, VanHoose said, enter the position room asking questions. They learn from veterans, who are busy learning themselves. The process is never quite complete, with the focal point of this secondary still aiming for better.
It's been thoroughly publicized. VanHoose and the secondary will face a passing onslaught at California in week one. New coach Sonny Dykes brings his "Air Raid"—or BearRaid–attack and standout freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
"You have to love people running the spread offense," VanHoose said. "You know you're getting some work."
On opening week, the corners hope to solidify their reputation and give fans reason for optimism. VanHoose looks at the tackling, the communication and more. Even the star knows there's room for improvement.