After starting at the bottom of the barrel yesterday it's time to take it to the top as we focus our spring football spotlight on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
For most Big Ten fans the lasting image of Nebraska was the 70-31 thumping they surprisingly took at the hands of Wisconsin last year. However, internally the focus is on building off of another division championship under Bo Pelini. After all, they did accomplish that feat in just their 2nd year as members of the Big Ten.
Now comes new challenges with new cross-divisional games and facing life without Rex Burkhead at running back as well. For some it feels like this program is stuck in the rut of being good enough to compete, but not great enough to win in the games that matter most.
Can Pelini and Co. shake that notion finally, or will they fall victim to yet another season of what could've been's and oh so closes? No matter what there are a lot of changes ahead for this team and some of them could be for the positive in turning the corner once and for all for this proud program.
*all players with 2013 status (i.e. 2012 sophomores are juniors)
2012 Record: 10-4 (7-1 B1G)
Bowl Game: 45-31 L to Georgia in Capital One Bowl
Head Coach: Bo Pelini, 6th year at Nebraska (49-20 overall & at Nebraska)
First Practice: March 2nd
Spring Game: April 6th
State of the Program (1= Tim Brewster thinks you stink - 5= Bring on the Season already): 4
There's no denying that this is a program capable of being contenders year in and year out. They only lost one conference game last season before dropping the Big Ten championship game and the seemingly hottest of hot seats in the conference got a little bit cooler after last year.
However, not everything is perfect for a fan base starved for it's first national championship since 1997 and first conference title since 1999 and if memory serves me correctly the inability of one Bill Callahan to win a conference championship was what led Pelini to take the job full-time....
So, while this team is very good and is on solid footing the expectations in Lincoln aren't the expectations at most places. Only championships matter for Huskers fans and that needs to happen sooner than later for Pelini to keep his job safe.
The More Things Change..... Actually for a change things aren't changing on the staff around Bo Pelini, outside of a slight demotion for Barney Cotton. It's got to be a welcome site for fans and the players to have the same system in tact for a full year coming into this spring. Instead of focusing on understanding an offensive system or a defensive coaches philosophy they can concentrate on getting better within the systems already taught and tweak those systems as well.
The More They Stay the Same..... Nebraska once again lost four games in 2012, something they've managed to do every single year with Bo Pelini at the helm. It's also becoming a disturbing trend as the Huskers haven't been able to get over the hump of winning a conference title or a major bowl game for quite some time.
So, perhaps the more things stay the same the more change is needed? But, don't count on Pelini to go that route, that guy is about as rigid as they come - both on and off the field.
Let's Get Ready to Rumble: Linebacker
The heart and sole of the Blackshirts has seemingly been dead for a long while and some would argue the performances of Wisconsin and Georgia's offenses put the final nails in the coffin of that tradition. However, sometimes when things die an opportunity springs up for something new to begin.
Entering spring practice with all three linebacker positions wide open could be just the change this team needs for a group of linebackers that have been underachieving (outside of MIKE Will Compton) for years now. So, watching to see if a guy like junior Trevor Roach can stake his claim to the MIKE linebacker job will be fun.
The WILL and BUCK linebacker spots are really about as wide open as they come but redshirt sophomores Max Pirman and David Santos could have the inside tracks as players that were at least listed on the depth chart last year and saw some action in 2012.
No matter what this is the position group with the biggest questions to be answered this spring.
Nothing to See Here: Quarterback
It's now or never, do or die time for one Taylor Martinez as a Cornhusker. This is his final shot at making it to a major BCS bowl game and leading his team to a conference championship. He's been vastly improved in the passing department year after year and that shouldn't stop now.
Thankfully should anything happen to him there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings in names like Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton (although Stanton won't be in town this spring). So, there simply isn't a lot to worry about from this spot in spring drills - other than seeing if Martinez has gotten rid of the shotput motion in his delivery.
Name to Watch: D.J. Singleton, Safety
Singleton is an early enrollee freshman and while it may seem crazy for that kind of a player to be a name to watch in a program like Nebraska this isn't your ordinary Safety prospect. He was supposed to be a 2012 Wisconsin freshman, but grades held him back and when Bielema bolted for SEC pastures he opened his commitment back up and ended up choosing Nebraska rather quickly.
He was considered one of the top prospects at his position in the 2012 class and has a rare combination of size, speed, and a knack for being in the right place at the right time - exactly what Nebraska looks for in their safeties to make Pelini's defense work.
Sure he's going to have to challenge two upperclassmen, but neither are superstars or locks at their spots and a good showing in his first crack at things could help elevate Singleton into the discussion at Safety come this fall when competition will really heat up.
Spring is a Success If.... They Stay Healthy.
Nebraska has a ton of talent returning and it's Ameer Abdullah's time to shine as the feature back. But, all of that means nothing if this team can't stay healthy. That's been part of their problem over the past few seasons and it's also shown a little bit of a lack of depth. As long as the team comes out of spring healthy it means a team that's been able to fully maximize it's time in drills and in the game and that can only help a team that is chasing a championship.
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