The 2011 Husker football season starts on Saturday. This is the time of year when the Big Red Kool-Aid runs thick and sweet, and even the most calloused fan can only foresee a maximum of two losses.
I’m not one to predict specific wins and losses (my stock answer going into a tough game “there’s no reason we cannot win”), so those looking for a game by game break down should check out one of the thousands of Husker blogs in existance today.
Should you book that hotel room in Indy for the Conference Championship? Or should you plan to focus your Husker loyalties on the volleyball team? That probably depends on whether your glass is half full or half empty. So without further ado:
5 Reasons for Optimism
- Defensive line. Great teams usually have a great defense. A great defense usually starts with a strong defensive line. Strong defensive lines either have a) an amazing player (such as Jared Crick), b) exceptional depth (Baker Steinkuhler, Thad Randle, Terrence Moore, etc.) or c) all of the above. The D Line should be a strength of this team.
- Taylor Martinez. We’re on the glass-half-full side, so let’s take a few seconds to think back to the quiet, unknown redshirt freshman who over the first six games was a legitimate threat to score every time he touched the ball. Remember him? He’s a year older, smarter, stronger, and 100% healthy. He’s playing in an offense that is suited to his strengths and not try to force him into predictable patterns or plays he’s not capable of making. And he doesn’t have a senior or popular upperclassman looking over his shoulder. It’s his time.
- Additional coaches on the O-line. An offense is only as good as their offensive line. Put it another way: it’s tough for Taylor Martinez to be T-Magic with his center stepping on his ankle because he was blown off the line. Full disclosure: I placed a lot of the blame for NU’s sad 2010 finish on the play of Barney Cotton’s linemen – much more than I blamed Shawn Watson or any of the other popular scapegoats. With that said, I’m not 100% convinced that extra coaching emphasis in the form of John Garrison, Brendan Stai, and Vince Marrow is the answer. But it shouldn’t hurt.
- Brandon Kinnie. Originally, I had Rex Burkhead here, which was safe, predictable, and somewhat boring. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some Rexy, who he always gets positive yards, never quits, and can turn the 4 yard gain into the 8 yard gain. All good things. But for this team to be something special, they will need a go-to WR, which NU has lacked since Nate Swift left town. And no disrespect to Nate Swift, but he did not exactly strike fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators. I think BK can be that go-to receiver, the one that everybody knows will be getting the rock on 3rd and 8, the one who out-jumps the DB in the end zone, and the one who puts a young (and scarily inexperienced) position on his back.
- Tim Beck’s Offense. I have little idea of what it will be, how it will function, or what the strengths will be (and a word of caution – we won’t know the full answer until after the Ohio State game). But I trust that compared to the Callahan/Watson WCO the following will be true about the Beck Offense: a) simpler to learn/master, making it easier for young talent to get on the field and make an impact, b) the increased pace will avoid momentum killing time outs and penalties, c) if something is or is not working, it can be easily addressed.
And now for the haters and those who need to refill their depression meds…
5 Reasons for Pessimism
- Lack of QB Depth. A quick review of the QB depth chart: 1) Taylor Martinez: an amazing talent when healthy. When he’s hurt, yikes. 2) Brion Carnes: um…remember that time in the Spring Game when he did good against the 2s and 3s? 3) Ron Kellogg, III.: my dad is best known for basketball. 4) Jamal Turner: I’m a true freshman spending most of my time at WR, so good luck with that.
- Schedule. For decades, Husker fans have sneered at the Big 10 fans who held pity parties about how their great teams were chewed up during the conference season, while we grew fat on KU, KSU, ISU, and MU. So it just makes sense that when we join, we get our very own “put up or shut up” schedule as a welcome gift. As far as rookie hazing goes, they could have done worse. The true sign of respect for this schedule is even the most unrealistic Husker fan is not predicting a 14-0 season. Even the ultimate homers can see one or two losses in here, and that’s without any flukes, upsets, or the annual “forget to show up” game.
- Who the heck are these WRs? 3rd and 7 and Martinez is the in the shotgun with 4 WRs. He gets the snap and blitz is coming fast. Brandon Kinnie is double covered. Who are you going to throw it to? Even if I throw you a bone by lining up TE Kyler Reed as a slot receiver, there is still a lot of unproven bodies running around out there. But don’t worry – those kids have been expertly coached by a guy who quit football coaching to open a golf clinic.
- Just how much do we miss Alex Henery and Adi Kunalic? It is no stretch that Brent Maher faces the toughest job on the roster. He has to replace one of the greatest and most accurate kickers NU has known, the guy who was essentially automatic inside of 50 yards, and was also an excellent field position punter. Maher or Mario Bondi are not going to be Alex Henery. The question is, how much of a drop off will we see and what impact will it have? Bo and Beck will have a “trust range” for their kickers – a yardage where the decision between FG and go for it or punt is solely in their kicker’s control. Henery’s trust range stretched to at least 57 yards. Jordan Congdon’s trust range barely made it 40 yards. And while we like to praise the Blackshirts, and think that they can stop any foe, I would venture that many of their 3 and Out specials were aided by the opposition started smack on the 20 after another Adi touchback, and teams bringing it out to the 30 might take some momentum into the series.
- Penalties/Fumbles/Mistakes. Quite frankly, the biggest challenge that NU faces this year will be this: will they get in their own way? You can look at each and every loss from the Pelini Era and point to stupid penalites, costly turnovers, and critical mistakes (and often several of each) that the team was not able to overcome. Even in the victories, the penalties, fumbles, and other mental errors have been noticable – but not fatal. The two big landmines for 2011 are a) the new offense, with the presumed hurry-up notions creating an environment for penalties and mistakes as well as b) the brutal schedule, where the game where NU fumbles eight times or has 19 penalties may not be one where they still have a late chance to pull out a win.