Nebraska's inaugural season in the Big 12 was supposed to be a special one. We had Nebraska picked to win their half of the conference and Phil Steele had them in a tie with Michigan State.
Nebraska won some important games (Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State) but they also received two road beat-downs at the hands of Wisconsin and Michigan. The Cornhuskers finished the regular season 9-3 but all losses came in conference and they finished third in their half of the B1G. That 30-13 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl probably didn't feel very good to end the season.
We caught up with and occassional contributor and big time Nebraska Cornhuskers fan Brandon Collard to get his thoughts on the 2011 season and also to take a quick peak into 2012.
CFBZ: You've found yourself frustrated by the Nebraska offense in the recent past. How did Tim Beck do this season?
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Brandon: This is going to be a shock coming from me, but I do think that he did a pretty decent job installing his version of the offense this year. The biggest problems I felt were in personnel, and while some of that can be attributed to him because he was out on the recruiting trail, a lot of it has to do with players being recruited for Shawn Watson’s offense, and not his own, and I am guilty of forgetting this as the season was progressing. That being said, I think that the offense was making decent steps as the season progressed, but as said before, it is a personnel thing, the ultimate problem saying that is the fact that Coach Pellini may be on the hot seat if something isn’t done next year, and when a head coach is on the hot seat, then the rest of the staff typically gets placed on there as well. (One of the few exceptions to this rule is the aforementioned Shawn Watson after Bill Callahan was let go following the 2007 season.)
CFBZ: Nebraska's defense fared worse this year in the Big Ten then it did in the Big 12. What were the primary factors behind Nebraska's regression on defense?
Brandon: The answer to this question is simple, and that answer is injuries, injuries to the defensive line, as well as in the secondary really took its toll this year. Alfonzo Dennard ended up missing a lot of time early in the season, and Jared Crick missed the bulk of it as well. When you don’t have your two All-American players on defense, it tends to make things very difficult for a team to compete no matter what conference you are playing in any level; I will admit to saying that I haven’t seen a defensive backfield as bad as the one thrown out this year (in some games) since the 2006 season which was the worst performance by any secondary I have ever seen since I started watching football. Nebraska loses a lot on defense for the upcoming season, but a shining (albeit raw) spot in Jean-Pierre Baptiste, will be looked upon to be a leader on defense, and hopefully he can show more of the things we saw in brief glimpses during the course of the season.
CFBZ: How was Nebraska's first year in the Big Ten different then you thought it would be?
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Brandon: It may seem like a cop out answer, but there were no real surprises from the team this year regarding them playing in the Big Ten. Every game I said might be an issue ended up being an issue, and the games I expected Nebraska to win, they won. I was moderately surprised about the Michigan game, but I started really feeling iffy about that game during the week, of the game, and based on that it lived up to my expectations even if I wasn’t expecting them to get beaten as badly as they did. I am more surprised at the fact that Nebraska did not make it to the Big Ten Championship Game than anything else; I really thought that Michigan State was going to be a one year wonder, but with the way things shook out in the Big Ten this year, it seems kind of fitting that a team like Michigan State ended up playing as well as they did.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Brandon: The lasting memory for me this season will be (shock) a good one! The Ohio State game for me was one of the best games I have ever watched simply from a personal standpoint, and it was a wave of emotions unlike I have ever felt for a regular season game. As most of the readership knows, I live in Ohio, and I hate most things involving Ohio State, so I took this game a lot more personally than most Nebraska fans that were watching the game.
The start of the game was awful, and I sent out very, very bitter and angry tweets during the game which involved my disgust at the performance which I was watching on the field, and I was feeling as bad about the program as I had since the 2007 season, when I gave up, and refused to get invest until Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan were fired. It was around the 2nd Quarter when I decided that I should retreat to Christie’s Cabaret to drown my sorrows because there was no way I was going to feel bad while sitting there, and watching the game as I would while sitting in my hotel room with nowhere to go.
Then, as if it were spurned by me entering the club, the comeback began, and as I was sitting at the bar going absolutely INSANE on the inside; I couldn’t do anything outwardly because I knew that if I did then there was a safe bet something may have ended up happening. It was such an amazing experience to be in a place seeing the reactions of one of your least favorite teams, and seeing their fans be on the receiving end of something which you have been part of so many times before. I saw the dejected looks on their faces, and just the look of bewilderment, and (on the inside anyway) I was doing cartwheels and somersaults knowing that it was my team who was doing it.
That was my lasting memory of the game, just the sheer jubilation I had for one night, and being able to gloat at work that my team came out on top and it was via miracle comeback. Not a beat down, and not a nail biting finish, your team choked the game away. I just wish Joe Bauserman had another year of eligibility, and Luke Fickell was still the head coach for the game this upcoming season.
CFBZ: What's the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Cornhuskers in 2012?
Brandon: The biggest reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season is that it can’t get much worse and lose my interest more than last season! Good night everyone! Actually, the biggest reason to be optimistic is two-fold; the first reason being the accountability factor is at an all-time high. There are no more Bill Callahan recruits left on the team, and while there weren’t that many in the past couple of year, you could always point at them, and they would still have that issue of being recruited by him. This is finally completely Bo Pellini’s team, every aspect has been brought in by him, and it’s on him to make it work. “Well why is that something to be optimistic about?” Because that prior regime is completely gone, and you can’t blame them for anything else, this is what the team has to work with, and it’s going to sink or swim based on Bo Pellini, and no one else.
The second reason to be optimistic is the inexperience factor, and that is because you get to see players grow older and blend together. This goes back to the accountability factor as well because these are all Coach Pellini’s players, and if they don’t start performing the way people expect then it may be lights out for this regime, and it will be time to bring in a new one. We have seen a lot of great players in the past few years, but this season there will be a lot of lesser known players, and those players are going to be the key to the success of this team going forward, and that is why I am optimistic; I want to see how it all plays out in front of me. What will I be doing until August? Simply put: watching Cricket. Mumbai Indians!
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
ACC- Clemson Tigers, Duke Blue Devils, FSU Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina Tar Heels, NC State Wolfpack, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Big Ten- Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers