Nov. 12, 2011. The Nebraska "N" came to Beaver Stadium for the first time since 2002. Penn State fell to Nebraska, 17-14. (BSD/Mike Pettigano)
Penn State travels to the land of corn for the first time since 2003. Last year's game was kind of a wash, what with all the scandal boiling over. So this season it's time for a fresh start for both teams. Neither looks particularly great heading into the spring, but Nebraska does have some key pieces returning for what should be another "meh" year--the Cornhuskers' second in the Big Ten. Here you go, our initial look at the 2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Where they call home: Lincoln, NE
Endless running begins/ends: Started March 10 / Spring Game April 14
If they suck, this guy gets fired: Bo Pelini
Bo Pelini was hired to fix what Bill Calahan broke. He's nearly done so, at least in terms of getting the program back to respectability and away from its punchline status. The problem is that in each of the last four seasons, Pelini's teams have lost four games on an annual basis. Sorry, but losing four games every single year is no way to earn fearful respect from opponents. Penn State fans know this from experience. Nebraska has come painfully close to breaking out of the 4-loss slump, coming within 4 total points of two Big 12 championships and BCS berths. It's always been one or two plays that knock Nebraska out of the title track. But as Corn Nation put it:
Would have, could have. Should have. Those hiccups make it seem like Nebraska wasn't that far off from being a national contender...but since those hiccups seem to happen every season with Bo Pelini, you can't just expect those things to naturally disappear.
More specifics below the fold...
|More 2012 Spring Snapshots|
|Ohio Bobcats - 3.12.12|
|Virginia Cavaliers - 3.13.12|
|Temple Owls - 3.15.12|
|Illinois Fighting Illini - 3.19.12|
|Northwestern Wildcats - 3.20.12|
|Iowa Hawkeyes - 3.21.12|
What they return...
Fourteen overall starters are back, but they will lose some heavy hitters, as you'll see below. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is the guy who makes it all go, even if his stats aren't all that eye-popping. He threw for 2,089 yards, 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions, while completing just over 56 percent of his throws. But "T-Magic" has been known to make some pretty nifty plays at the right moments. Now, if only he can make those at the right big moments, this team could be sniffing roses come January.
Working with Martinez will be rising senior tailback Rex Burkhead, who set the single-game record with 38 carries against Iowa last year. He finished with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, including 121 of those against Penn State.
What they lost...
Big Ten Linebacker of the Year Lavonte David is the biggest hit to the defense this spring. He'll move onto the NFL, leaving a major gap in star power. David had 282 tackles over the last two seasons. You don't replace that easily. Alfonzo Dennard is another big loss on defense, as he provided good coverage from his cornerback spot.
If I need to tell you why losing tackle Jared Crick is an issue, then you should just stop pretending to follow college football.
Mike Caputo and Marcel Jones were Honorable Mention All-Big Ten last year. No, that's not exactly All-American status, but the loss of two very experienced and talented offensive linemen will cause headaches for any coach. This spring will be a critical stage for finding suitable replacements for Caputo and Jones, not to mention start getting them familiar with an offensive line that only returns two starters overall from 2011.
Running the ball and playing smothering defense was the long-time recipe for success at Nebraska. But it took just one coach to undo all of that. Now Pelini is wrapping up his rebuilding project, fielding some good offenses (2008, 2010), a hell of a defense in 2009. But he hasn't been able to put it all together into a dominant team. Unless something happens this spring to drastically boost both sides of the ball, the Huskers are looking at another 4-loss season ahead. They'll be competitive, but far from the scary team they want to be.
See you tomorrow as we continue with Spring Snapshot 2012: Indiana Hoosiers.