And now, a few words about the newest addition to the B1G Family, Nebraska.
Q: Quick, can you sum up Nebraska history in like, a paragraph or two?
A: Uh, maybe? Nebraska may have only joined the Big Ten last year, but their football team has been kicking ass and taking names since almost the beginning of the sport (Nebraska has the 3rd most wins of any FBS school). Early Husker coaches include hall of famers Robbie Robinson and Fielding Yost, who led the Huskers dominant squads at the start of the 20th century. After a brief lull around the two world wars, Nebraska hired Bob Devaney, and later Tom Osborne, who led a 40 year reign of blood and horror upon the rest of college football. Even Saint Schnelly called them "Immoral" (or at least, the Fumblerooski).
Like a lot of 20 somethings, my first college football memories were of the Tommy Frazier-led Nebraska teams just crushing everybody. 95 Nebraska was doing things in real life that I have a hard time doing on my Xbox unless I'm playing Texas State on Junior Varsity.
The Huskers made the 2001 title game, banished Frank Solich to Court Street, and then hired Bill Callahan. Bill then watched the proud Blackshirts give up 76 fucking points to Kansas, and the state of Nebraska promptly died of shame.
Q: Whoa. Then what?
A: The Cornhuskers brought in the Pelinis, who have restored some measure of respectability to the Nebraska program. When the B1G started looking around for expansion candidates, the Cornhuskers happily bolted (and nearly caused Armageddon in the process). Last season, the Huskers finished 9-4, losing the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina, 30-13.Q: How is Nebraska academically?
A: They aren't a bad school by any means, but Nebraska does hold the ignominious distinction of being the only school to ever be voted out of the AAU. They're also the only non-AAU school in the B1G, and with a US News ranking of #101, the lowest ranked as well. This is a black mark on the great legacy of Warrior-Poets that is the Big Ten, so get it together Nebraska. This isn't the Big 12.
Q: Who are some famous Nebraska grads?
A: Johnny Carson seems to be the most famous of the the non-athletes. Aaron Douglas, one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance movement, graduated from Nebraska in 1922. Famous investor and tax-rule-namesake Warren Buffet is a Cornhusker, as is all around badass General John Pershing.
As far as sports, Nebraska can claim football superstar and borderline sociopaths Ndamukong Suh and Lawrence Phillips (my original SBN handle was Clarett-Phillips Trophy). Joba Chamberlain also went there, if you're interested in stickball.
Q: How did Nebraska do last year?
A: Nebraska had a pretty respectable Big Ten debut. They started the season with their offense clicking, scoring over 38 points in their first 4 games, and climbed to the #8 ranking. Then, they were summarily murdered by Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers were able to notch impressive wins over Michigan State and Penn State (and of course, a thrilling, come from behind win against our Bucks), but also found a way to lose to Northwestern. Michigan blew them out of the water, and South Carolina won their bowl game pretty easily. That all adds up to a 9-4 record and a spot near the end of the top 25.
Q: What kind of team is Nebraska going to have next year?
A: I'm not totally sure how good Nebraska is going to be (likely at least "pretty good"), but I think they're going to be a whole lot of fun to watch. When they're on, an offensive backfield of Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead is versatile and explosive. Burkhead is more than capable catching passes out of the backfield, or lining up under center for the occasional Wildcat (WildHusker?) play, and when he's healthy, Martinez is one of the potentially most exciting players in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers also return multiple capable pass catching targets, like Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner.
On offense, Nebraska's problems are 1) With his play style, Martinez is going to get hurt at some point and 2) with a shaky offensive line, Martinez may get hit more often than he normally would and 3) Martinez not so secretly sucks at throwing the football. Martinez's footwork and arm strength were never strong suits, and you can certainly say that overall, he's actually gotten worse over time. Now, it's possible that nagging injuries, changes in gameplans and very tough defenses messed up his technique and confidence. Regardless of the reasons, Martinez is really the straw that stirs the drink for Nebraska's offense. If he can make defenses respect his passing ability, it will open up room for him and Burkhead to fly, and the Huskers are going to score a ton of points. If he can't, the Michigan States of the world are just going to load up on the front, and Nebraska won't be able to move the ball at all, a problem they had many times during the second half of last season.
He's like bizzaro-shoelace. He could rush for 150 yards. He could throw 3 INTs. With Bo Pelini risking spontaneous combusting on the sideline, I'm going to make sure to watch a few Husker games on TV.
Q: What about their defense?
A: Having a wildly inconsistent QB is a problem, since Nebraska's D isn't as good as it was last year. What they really need are guys who can make a few big plays. Nebraska's rush defense last year was only ranked 69th, and they struggled to find guys who could make tackles in the backfield. They return some talent on the ends with Cameron Meredith (58 tackles, 5 sacks) and Eric Martin, but have some question marks at linebacker and corner. This squad's effectiveness really fell off in the second half of last season, and they're going to need to find stronger production, as their offense isn't likely going to be enough to bail them out of every game.
Q: What are their bowl chances?
A: Nebraska will be on upset alert in pre-conference play, playing host to perennial CUSA contender Southern Miss and Gus Malzan's Arkansas State, along with a trip to UCLA (and who knows what the hell to expect there). The Big Ten schedule is slightly more forgiving, as the Huskers get both preseason favorites Wisconsin and Michigan at home. They'll have to go TO Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa, as well as Northwestern (who did beat them at home last year).
If Martinez can throw with some consistency and stay healthy, Nebraska has a punchers chance in the Legends Division. If not, they'll finish a distant 3rd (or 4th). The Big Ten writers have Nebraska 3rd, and I think that sounds reasonable.
Q: Finally, what are your way-too-freaking-early thoughts on their matchup with OSU?
A: Ohio State barely lost to the Cornhuskers last year, IN Nebraska. OSU should be significantly better this season, and Nebraska will be about the same, or maybe a little worse. Considering the game is in Columbus, I'd like to think if everybody is healthy, the Buckeyes should claim their first Big Ten win over over the Huskers.