We can't tell you if Nebraska is a Leader or a Legend, but what we can tell you is that Nebraska is one of the most fascinating teams in college football. And here to answer Five Burning Questions about NU is Darren Carlson of the Big Red Network.
1. The Big Ten doesn't know Nebraska, but Nebraska doesn't know the Big Ten. Who has the advantage?
Just based on the math, the Big Ten at large has the advantage over Nebraska in this case. The Husker coaches have to study 11 new opponents while the other league coaches only have to prepare for one new foe. Granted, NU's offensive renovation project may make it a bit tougher for B1G foes to know exactly what is coming, but the Husker coaches had a lot more heavy lifting to do with their scouting this off-season.
In the bigger picture, I'll be curious to see how the league teams and their fans react to a new format. Having two divisions and a title game is a very different beast than these schools are used to. Frankly, I think it's an operating system that has made the SEC and the Big XII (before the split) better. It's just tougher. I wonder if the coaching staffs are prepared for a world where you have to fight to win your division, then battle your best foe in a what is essentially a playoff game to win the league. Sorry, old Big 10 fans, no more sham league titles where you don't play the league's two toughest teams or have a three-way tie at the top. It's a whole new world.
2. What kinds of steps are the Cornhuskers taking to breathe some life into an offense that tended to sputter last season?
First, to be fair – the offense wasn't always bad last year. At times, it was very explosive and productive. But, the losses where they failed offensively were just so ugly that it is hard to ignore. Changes needed to be made. I think (hope) NU's identity crisis on offense is about to come to an end. They were a weird hybrid of West Coast passing and spread read-option running last year. Now, they will be much more run heavy, with a simplified passing attack. The point – generally – is to keep it simple and get playmakers room to make plays. It could be done by the "known" guys like Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead. But, there are also some new big play threats on the outside like Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner.
My biggest concern is the offensive line. In the games where NU struggled last year, the Huskers just didn't get 'em blocked. It doesn't matter how you line up the Xs and Os if your big fellas can't move people around. Nebraska will have many new starters along the line (though many played meaningful snaps last year) and will be anchored by a veteran center in Mike Caputo. They've added staff to coach the line and tried to simplify assignments to allow the linemen to be more aggressive. It's time for the offensive line to step up. If they can be more physical at the point of attack, the offense has players that can score – quickly! – via the run or pass.
3. With fewer spread-based opponents on the schedule now, are the Pelini brothers considering changing their personnel groupings and moving away from the "Peso" package?
Defenses can dictate play in terms of mentality, effort and physicality. But, the reality is that the personnel is often decided by how the offense lines up. With B1G teams using more tight ends and two-back sets and fewer spread formations with three, four, five wideouts, Nebraska will have to line up with more linebackers on the field.
Is the "Peso" dead? No. There are teams that use spread formations and times when NU will only have one linebacker out there. But, you will see many more occasions when the Huskers have Will Compton and Sean Fisher manning the middle and strongside positions alongside the well-regarded LaVonte David playing weakside. Somebody has to take on those tight ends and fullbacks. That will be up to Compton and Fisher.
The Pelinis will remain defensive-minded mad scientists, though. Here's a new wrinkle to consider. Nebraska will apply its multiple/versatile mentality at the line of scrimmage. Based on recent comments, it is clear that Jared Crick will be playing some end for NU this year. He played tackle in the 4-3 alignment last year. Consider this: if NU can develop a true nose guard to play over the center (and they have plenty of candidates to do so) then Crick and linemate Baker Steinkuhler become end/tackle types on a three-man line. Then, they use versatile players like Cameron Meredith and Eric Martin (a linebacker converted to end) to play along the end of the line of scrimmage.
The result – chaos for quarterbacks. Meredith and Martin could step forward, put their hands down and rush, or back up and play linebacker. Prior to any snap of the ball, NU could be in a three-, four- or five-man line without changing core personnel. Last year, they did this to Missouri, and it confused the heck out of the Tigers. They called the spot Meredith played the "spinner". So, replace "peso" with "spinner" and you have your new fun Pelini defense vocabulary word.
4. Lavonte David was a breakout star for the NU defense in 2010. Who is it this year?
Nebraska is fortunate to have three war daddies on defense with David, Crick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Any of them could be an All-American. But, if your looking for a "breakout" player to emerge, I'd watch for Meredith. The coaches love him, and he'll have a lot of opportunities. Besides, check out his look. That's rockin'.
5. Better marriage: the current Big 12 or Bo Pelini and Taylor Martinez?
Pelini and Martinez, by a mile. Yes, Pelini yelled at Martinez. But at B1G media days, Pelini praised his quarterback and talked about how he has become a better leader. I'll take coach at his word and plan on a more mature Martinez. Besides, Pelini yelling is not a new thing or specific to Martinez. I don't expect that to ever change. The Big 12, frankly, looks even more dysfunctional than when NU and CU chose to leave. Sure, the conference will continue to exist. But UT will continue to bully its way to independence, to the detriment of their league. Point blank: I don't miss having to worry, think or write about it, and Nebraska has moved on to a much healthier position.