Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pelini Can't Lose

In less than a month, Bo Pelini will spearhead his first official fall practices for the 2008 Nebraska football season. Yes, fall practices. In AUGUST. Which makes sense considering the Huskers first game is August 30th, so a few practices could actually be a good idea (especially since practice wasn't necessarily something that occurred a lot the last four years). No matter, we've figured out exactly what's realistic to expect from Bo and company this season, and determined how the "anything less than a National Championship" mantra started and eventually fell out of favor by looking at the first season's of the last four Husker football coaches.

Looking at the 2008 schedule (8 home games!) and all of the other variables involved (i.e. former running back Cody Glenn becoming not just a linebacker but a possible STARTING linebacker), the Pelini formula for year one is simple. Everyone (besides the coaching staff, who are justifiably preaching 13-0, and they should instill such passion in their group) should start with a safe and easy goal of a record of 7-5. As in, 7-5 is the "given" for the 2008 season. That's not being harsh, it's being realistic considering where college football is now (Missouri is going to be a pre-season Top 10 team and has a Heisman front-runner, something unthinkable 5 years ago) and the sort of shit the previous regime pulled in Lincoln (putting a priority on taking down all of the pictures of the former All-Americans over having an actual practice with pads would be just one example). Consider the shake-up with a 7-5 record as the bellwether:

7-5: Means a winning season; assures a Bowl Game (and even if the Corn lose the Bowl Game, they'd STILL finish the season with a winning record); the appropriate gut-check to see that Pelini can move things in the right direction; of course, also means the Corn loses at least one of their 8 home games, but as long as it's not one of the first THREE home games or Baylor, Husker Fan will survive.
Greater than 7-5: Euphoria, maybe not Scarlett Johansen naked euphoria, but enough to officially suggest the program is back in business. Means Nebraska beats Virginia Tech and/or Missouri, which alone is a major victory for year one of the new regime; also: Possible Big 12 North title, and under the, ahem, Billy C school of thought, that's a championship! The negative of this scenario: Husker Fan spends the off-season going into 2009 printing up National Championship shirts.
Less than 7-5: Time to panic. Even 6-6 is unacceptable. Sure, the Huskers would still get a Bowl Game with that record (a Bowl Game played well before Christmas Eve mind you). But not reaching the 7-5 standard would suggest things aint going in the right direction.

All things considered, Pelini's got the least amount of pressure for a first year Big Red Coach since Bob Devaney strolled into town (discounting the rose-colored glasses requirement debut of Billy C, Bo gets major points simply for NOT being named Callahan). Taking a look at the debuts of the four who took the task before Pelini offered to help clean this mess:

Bob Devaney: Came from Wyoming in 1962 and instigated an immediate positive turnaround, going 9-2 (NU went 3-6-1 in 1961 and 4-6 in 1960). Devaney has a building named after him (granted, it's not exactly the greatest athletic complex around anymore), and they probably first thought of naming all sorts of buildings after him based on his debut season alone. The only blemishes from his "rookie" year at NU were a homecoming loss to Missouri and an ass-kicking at Oklahoma. Instantly, Nebraska became a football school. Here's where it all started, and the Bobfather would only raise the standards with back-to-back titles in 1970-71. EXPECTATION LEVEL: Put a product on the field that could increase attendance.

Tom Osborne: Out of all four, had the most pressure on him (at least from the fan's point of view, he was Devaney's hand-picked guy, and Bob would remain TO's boss as the program's Athletic Director). He was expected to not only be Devaney, but win a National Championship. Had the exact same record in his debut season of 1973 (9-2-1) as Devaney's last year as head coach. But an extremely smooth transition, save for a 27-0 shutout at Oklahoma. At the time, TO was lambasted for not being able to beat the Sooners (NU came into the season ranked 4th, got as high as #2 and finished #13). He wouldn't gain the universal approval of Husker Nation until he went for the 2-point conversion against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. But it's hard to find a smoother transition of one legend handing off to somebody who would surpass his predecessor big time. Like year one of Devaney, TO made sure Nebraska won their Bowl Game. EXPECTATION LEVEL: Ridiculously high (as in, win the Big 8 and the Orange Bowl), but TO eventually kicked everything up another level and brought the program to levels the likes of which won't be seen again.

Frank Solich: He was given a pass because he was TO's hand picked successor and everyone was still riding the high that comes from winning three National Championships in four years. Frankie's first year was an awful lot like the first year of "Seinfeld" after Larry David left as a writer and producer. Things were very different, sometimes uncomfortable, but you wound up tuning in every week for the rare chance of greatness. Two games in particular from Solich's 1998 first season as the new sheriff in town suggested that trouble was all around: The opener -- the HOME opener -- against Louisiana Tech, a game NU won 56-27, but also featured 4-foot tall Tech receiver Troy Edwards lighting up the Blackshirts for 21 catches for 405 yards (seriously, how everyone didn't jump on Solich for that alone is a great mystery in Husker History); and the Halloween loss at home to Ricky Williams and Texas, the first home loss in what seemed like decades (actually, it was the first loss in Lincoln since 1991). Solich's first year suggested he certainly wasn't going to be Osborne, but fate (and by fate we really mean Stevie P) wouldn't allow Frankie a chance to show he could adapt to the ever-changing college game. Lost the Holiday Bowl to Arizona. EXPECTATION LEVEL: "Don't fuck it up", but considering he was fired after going 9-3 in his 6th season (in which he cleaned house by bringing in a new coaching staff, many of whom are now ironically enough on the CURRENT coaching staff), there was a certain sector who wanted a return to big time glory.

Bill Callahan: Of course looking back on HIS first year now, it's hard to believe that any of this happened. That Stevie P couldn't find anybody he deemed worthy enough to take the throne. That the guy who was laughed out of Oakland and really the National Football League because he was mostly known for losing his team for calling them all "the stupidest bunch of players he'd ever seen", and for being the, ahem, "coach" for the team that allowed Brett Favre to scrimmage against on that Monday Night Football game played the day after Favre's father passed away, would be the second coming of either Osborne or Devaney. Before Billy C was even fired from Oakland, the thinking was he'd wind up like former New York Giants coach Ray Handley, running away from the stadium after getting a cap popped in him, never to be heard from again. What we'd all fall prey to right away was that Billy C was a great salesman who looked upon Nebraskans as relatively simple folk who would buy deep into whatever he was peddling. In short, the West Coast Offense -- or, the greatest and most complex offense that man has ever constructed, and just to prove it to everyone I'm going to lug around a 900-page book that contains every play in the offense the players will learn -- was the new flavor of the month, so get used to it people! Oh, and since that previous coach, whatever the hell his name is, left us with such garbage, we'll just go through the motions whenever the actual SEASON starts. None of the players, recruited for the option-offense Solich preferred, were suited for this complex WCO thing, and we'd all just have to accept losing until some of Callahan's disciples came to town. Billy C's first season was really waiting on the promise of his recruits (many of whom came only to leave immediately). The worst moment of the season was of course the mind-boggling 70-10 nationally televised loss to Texas Tech, a game that summed up not only the season but the entire Billy C era. The stubbornness in shoving an offense that he never bothered to adapt to the collegiate level or even the players he had around him. And of course, hitching his star to the old Cosgrove wagon. Oh, and after 35 consecutive years, Billy C finally decided enough was enough, and the Corn missed out on a Bowl Game. Also: Still convinced that TO is just another guy who fired him; sort of a dick. EXPECTATION LEVEL: Let's just get through the season so we can see all the new toys who will be here NEXT year!

1 comment:

Padraig said...

For the 2006 season, the Fighting Irish moved tailback and special team star Travis Thomas to outside linebacker (starting). After giving up one of the many many many touchdowns and getting blown out by someone, again, the younger brother looks at me and says,
"when you move your starting running back to linebacker it is not a sign that he's a great athlete but a sign that your defense sucks."