Bo Pelini’s expertise has always been defense.
“Pelini’s expertise has always been defense,” his official Nebraska biography reads.
He played safety at Ohio State, coached linebackers in the NFL (Green Bay, New England), was defensive coordinator at Nebraska in 2003 and co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2004, and directed Louisiana State’s defense to the 2007 Bowl Championship Series title.
The Tigers finished No. 3 in total defense that season, and Nebraska was so impressed with Pelini it hired him.
Pelini knows defense, so believe him when he says of this year’s Nebraska team:
“I really like our offense.”
Defense, once the corn and potatoes of Nebraska football, is now only tolerated. They miss it in Lincoln as much as they miss Dr. Tom Osborne.
Nebraska was 10-4 last year, but boy, what a four. The Cornhuskers gave up 214 points and 2,380 yards in the losses, and the only good news is that only four starters are returning.
No one is really sure how Nebraska’s defensive mentality got so soft, but it is keeping the program from breaking through the upper echelon.
Nebraska gave up 133 points in games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. It made the 45 points allowed in the Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia look like a stonewall defense.
Don’t fret, though, the experts are working hard to find a formula for success.
“It’s nothing magical,” Pelini said. “It’s about getting better. We’ve studied it. We’ve addressed it.”
And Nebraska fans have to live with it.
There are two other factors, however, that make this a preseason top-20 team that is almost guaranteed 10 wins.
The first is an offense led by senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has matured from an inconsistent freshman who made too many mistakes into an inconsistent senior who still makes too many mistakes.
Really, though, there has been progress. Martinez has had public sideline fits with coaches and has tinkered with his moving parts more than a watchmaker.
He remains the same outstanding runner, with blazing speed, who rushed for 241 yards against Kansas State in 2010. And his passing has improved. Last season, he completed 62% of his passes for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns.
He might still want to cut in half his 12 interceptions and eight lost fumbles.
Martinez will be protected by what is being called the best offensive line of the six-year Pelini era.
With eight starters back, Nebraska’s offense should most weeks be able to outscore what the defense allows.
The other top-20 factor is a schedule one preseason publication described as “disturbingly easy.”
By easy we mean eight home games, starting with the first five. The only potential loss is a Sept. 14 payback game against UCLA.
Nebraska also gets to trade Ohio State and Wisconsin on this year’s Big Ten schedule for Illinois and Purdue.
If Nebraska can get past UCLA, it should be 7-0 when it plays host to Northwestern on Nov. 2.
The only tough trips are at Michigan (Nov. 9) and Penn State (Nov. 23).
A return trip to the Big Ten title game is possible.
Top 25 so far: 25. Oklahoma; 24. Wisconsin; 23. Fresno State; 22. UCLA; 21. Texas A&M; 20. Notre Dame; 19. Oregon State; 18. Oklahoma State; 17. Arizona State.