Posted by Adam Jacobi
College football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Nebraska, who opened spring camp on Saturday.
Spring Practice Question: Does Nebraska have the firepower to win its division in its inaugural Big Ten season?
If there's ever an ideal time for a college football program to join a conference, it's when that conference is in a state of flux; at the very least, then, everybody is going through an adjustment period, so the new team is in something of a similar boat. If Nebraska makes it to its very first Big Ten Championship Game this year, well, so will its theoretical opponent.
Of course, getting to that game is far more of a challenge than anything else; one bad weekend can put a team into also-ran status when it comes to a division title, so Nebraska has its work cut out for it coming into the 2011 season. Yet then again, on those terms, so does everybody else in the (sigh) "Legends" division, and Nebraska may have the upper hand on personnel in the division.
Yes, there are three Big Ten teams that won at least 11 games last season. Two are in the (sigh again) Leaders division. Nebraska basically has to contend with a reeling Michigan program in the first year of the Brady Hoke era, a Michigan State team that was embarrassed by Alabama and the Hawkeyes in 2010 and won an unsustainable amount of close games, and an Iowa squad that loses a ton of NFL-caliber experience from a five-loss 2010 team. Northwestern might contend for a bowl game again, but Minnesota won't, and that's it for the division. Hardly a murderer's row.
Moreover, Nebraska returns a wealth of offensive talent. QB Taylor Martinez, or "T-Magic," is back after winning the 2010 Big 12 Freshman of the Year award, quashing several transfer rumors in the process. Yes, Bo Pelini blew up at Martinez late in the season last year, and there's always the fear that some strife could potentially linger and cause problems down the road, but there's also little indication that such a rift still exists. Martinez had his chance to make a new start and decided against it. Sure, problems may exist under the surface, but that's at least a manageable situation, and coaches can (and often do) live with that type of arrangement. Big Ten defenses should expect to get a heavy dose of T-Magic in 2011, and that is bad news for Nebraska opponents.
The main strength of the Cornhusker defense is going to be on the interior, led by surprising senior returnee DT Jared Crick. That is to say, the secondary is a major point of weakness, with CB Prince Amukamara, SS DeJon Gomes, and FS/SS/LB/MVP Eric Hagg all needing to be replaced. That's a job easier said than done, especially with an elite draft prospect like Amukamara and a team leader like Hagg, but rising seniors Alfonzo Dennard and Courtney Osborne are going to be given the keys to the secondary. Both are high-level players; if defensive coordinator Carl Pelini can build quality and depth around them, this defense could be just about as scary as last year.
The bottom line is that Nebraska is not only a contender for the (sighhhhhh) Legends division crowd, it's practically a favorite. The Huskers are, on paper, better-loaded than anybody else in the division and set to make a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Bad and unexpected things may happen along the way, but the spring status quo seems to indicate that fans in Lincoln should set high expectations for the 2011 season. Don't go booking hotel rooms in Indianapolis quite yet -- this is still college football, where all hell can break loose anywhere at any time -- but it would be safe to expect at least 10 wins in 2011 as long as the Husker team stays relatively healthy.