Nebraska Cornhuskers: State of the Football Program

Joseph CiracoCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2012

Nebraska is close to being a national title contender.
Nebraska is close to being a national title contender.Eric Francis/Getty Images

Despite the ugly loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night, the good completely outweighs the bad for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Without question, Nebraska has the most talent at the skill positions on offense—something I never thought was even remotely possible.

Let's start at wide receiver, where Nebraska is absolutely loaded with talent.

Kenny Bell is incredibly talented. The redshirt sophomore drastically improved this year and should be even better next year. Bell is a big-play receiver who can also make catches in traffic. If you have any questions about his toughness or willingness to block, you should take a look at his block in the third quarter against Wisconsin.

Kenny Bell isn't the only talented receiver on the roster.

Quincy Enunwa, the junior out of California, is a physical specimen with great hands. Jamal Turner is electric and should continue to improve as he learns the position after being a highly recruited quarterback. Next year, we will see redshirt freshman Jordan Westerkamp, who will make an immediate impact with the offense and on kick returns.

I still have high expectations for Taariq Allen, the redshirt freshman who tore his ACL in the Michigan game. With the talent and depth at WR, there is no need to rush Allen back from the devastating injury that he suffered.

Losing Rex Burkhead to the NFL will hurt, but I really like Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard.

Abdullah showed that he can be the feature back of the offense this year, as he carried the offense when Burkhead was out with an MCL sprain. Heard is a shifty back who is explosive and can be a home-run threat on every carry. True freshman Imani Cross has yet to realize his full potential and should be the power back for the program for the next three years.

Taylor Martinez continues to improve, and while he can frustrate any fan with his fumbling, he has clearly progressed into a true dual-threat quarterback. I've been a fan of redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong since his high school days, so I think the program is in great shape with Martinez having one year left and then handing the reigns over to Armstrong.

I think Braxton Miller is the best player in the Big Ten, but I have no doubt that Nebraska has the best offense in the conference and it should be even better next year.

How can the offense improve? Three ways:

First, the turnovers are still a major problem. I can't recall a team fumbling so much over a three-year period as Nebraska. If the team could take care of the ball, an already potent offense would be even more prolific.

Second, penalties are a big problem. False starts and delays of game are another Achilles' heel for this team.

Third, the offensive line needs to improve, especially at the tackle position. Current starting tackles Jeremiah Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale are good, but they lack explosiveness off the ball.

The defense is clearly the problem, and it starts with the issues on the defensive line.

Eric Martin and Baker Steinkuhler will be graduating, and their shoes will be tough to fill. Martin has developed into a pass-rushing demon off the edge. While I never wanted Steinkuhler to play defensive tackle, he's become the backbone of the defense, which is what the team sorely missed Saturday night.

I'm not trying to knock anyone here, but I have no confidence in Jason Ankrah, Chase Rome or Thad Randle. All three players have high motors but lack the ability to create any consistent havoc on a play. However, I have high hopes that Avery Moss, Kevin Williams, Aaron Curry, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen can take a huge step forward next year and upgrade the play at defensive line.

In particular, I absolutely love Vincent Valentine, the freshman from Illinois. At 6'3" and 320 pounds, he can be the anchor in the middle who can help the defense against the run.

Linebacker is the other area that concerns me on defense, but it could be vastly improved next year. Will Compton might not be the most athletic middle linebacker, but he's the heart and soul of the defense and a reliable tackler. After struggling during his first few years, Compton emerged as the leader of the defense this year.

Losing Compton will be easier if Zaire Anderson, the JUCO transfer from last year, can recover from his early season ACL tear. Anderson was supposed to replace LaVonte David, who graduated last year, but he will probably take over for Compton.

I hope that freshman Michael Rose can see the field next year, as he offers a huge upgrade in speed and size. Rose is currently redshirting and would be a nice upgrade over senior Sean Fisher.

Nebraska also has other talented, redshirt freshmen such as Thomas Brown and Jared Afalava. I also like the potential in redshirt freshman David Santos, who played well in spurts this year.

The secondary is talented and should be the strength of the team again.

Mohammed Seisay, the JUCO transfer from last year, should be much improved next year, especially since he struggled all year with a high ankle sprain. I think Charles Jackson, the true freshman from Texas, can be a starter next year.

Also in the mix will be Josh Mitchell, Andrew Green, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and nickelback sensation Ciante Evans. I'm also excited about Jonathan Rose, the transfer from Auburn.

The linebacker play this year wasn't that good, but I see a lot of talent that should be ready to contribute next year. Current commits Courtney Love, Marcus Newby and Josh Banderas are great talents who should help improve the linebacker play going forward.

As for the defensive line, as much as I like the team's young talent, there is no question that Nebraska is going to have to look at JUCO players. And they may need more than one.

Overall, I hate that Nebraska lost last night. Although I'm sure people want the program to compete for a national title, I think the team is closer than people think. The offense is loaded with talent, and the defense is missing just a few pieces to return to dominance.

The loss Saturday night won't help with recruiting, so the staff needs to work day and night to finish strong.

I've been critical of Bo Pelini and the staff for not recruiting hard enough. Now, it's time for them to shut me up.