The 2011 college football season is painfully far down the road. Diehard fans will spend the next three or four months scouring media outlets for any news on their team, and while most of the population looks forward to the warm embrace of summer, it is really just filler before the opening kickoff.
Right now optimism is at a premium. Every team is undefeated. Every team has a shot at not only winning its conference, but winning it all and hoisting the crystal football in New Orleans.
This is the time for bold predictions.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers will win the Big Ten in 2011.
Without going into an estimation of wins and losses, the Huskers can and will immediately contend for the Big Ten title in their inaugural season. Here is why.
Let's get this one out of the way first since, by and large, most people find Nebraska football synonymous with "defense"—at least in the Bo Pelini era.
Nebraska's defense will be dominant once again. The 2011 version may be even better than the previous model, even without Prince Amukamara, DeJon Gomes and Eric Hagg.
The defensive line will be stout and is chock-full of talent. There are so many bodies able to rotate in and out that even when Jared Crick or Baker Steinkuhler takes a breather, it's hard to see any weaknesses. A lot of second-string guys would be starters at most schools in the Big Ten.
Lavonte David will continue to rack up insane numbers of tackles and will prove that he is an elite linebacker, not an undersized linebacker playing well in a defensive "system." True, Big Ten teams are more physical, but David is a pure athlete and can match up against any offensive player.
While there are holes to fill in the secondary, coach Bo Pelini has a knack for churning out top-notch corners and safeties. With Alfonzo Dennard coming in to become the next great corner for the Blackshirts, the Huskers are a virtual assembly line of talent in the secondary.
Regardless of all the talk centered on Big Ten offenses and how Nebraska is going to have a hard time adjusting, this is simply not true. Bo and Carl Pelini are experts at adjusting—just look at what they did in their brief time against Big 12 teams.
It's safe to say that the opposite should apply—can Big Ten offenses adjust to the Blackshirts?
The New Offense
Before the slings and arrows come out, this will be a definite area of improvement in the 2011 season. New offensive coordinator Tim Beck seems more interested in building an offense that will play to team strengths rather than making everyone fit within his system. Ultimately, this was Shawn Watson's downfall.
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding depth at wide receiver and running back and even the streaky play at the quarterback position, no one can deny the talent on the offensive side of the ball.
With Beck's new offense in place, this could be a very exciting year for the Huskers. There is going to be more emphasis on QBs rolling out and passing and reading defenses. While Taylor Martinez perfected the zone read early last season, premier defenses caught on and shut it down. This season will be entirely different.
Looking at the talent at both receiver and running back, it looks more and more like a group of electrifying players than unknown liabilities.
Again, this may come as a bit of a surprise since most claim that the Huskers have one of the most difficult schedules in 2011. While it does look tough on paper, the schedule looks more than manageable.
The Huskers should roll through their first four non-conference games. These will be "ironing board games"—a chance for Big Red to get any wrinkles out before heading into conference play. There is simply too much talent on the defensive side of the ball for any of these games to get close.
The toughest game on the Huskers' schedule is their very first Big Ten conference game—against Wisconsin on October 1st, in Madison. This is still a winnable game, but the Badgers will pose an undeniably viable threat.
Outside of that, the Huskers have Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa at home. If Nebraska can beat Wisconsin in its league opener, that may just be the catalyst in its season that propels it toward an undefeated record.
Oh, and there is no more Texas on the schedule...
The Bo Factor
Bo Pelini enters his fourth season at the helm, and while he has yet to win a conference championship game, he has most of Husker Nation behind him.
This season, Pelini will want to come in immediately and pronounce to the league that Nebraska is and will be a power within the conference. The 2011 campaign will be more focused on minimizing mistakes on offense and setting the tone with a "hit 'em in the chin" defense.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Pelini—coming from Youngstown, Ohio and playing for Ohio State. Bo will make sure the 2011 Huskers are polished, and it looks like he has instilled an air of confidence in his players that seemed sorely lacking before his tenure.
Now, if it were only September...