Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Nebraska
By David Ubben
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Remaining schedule: Iowa State, at Baylor, Oklahoma, at Kansas, Kansas State, at Colorado
The Cornhuskers appeared to be one of the North Division’s favorites after a fast start that included a near-miss at Virginia Tech and a stunning fourth-quarter comeback victory at Missouri. But that momentum has been short-circuited after a stunning 31-10 home loss to Texas Tech last week that prompted more questions around the Cornhusker program than any in the conference. Only a day after Bo Pelini gave his defense its cherished Blackshirts, the Cornhuskers allowed the Red Raiders to come into their stadium and beat them by three touchdowns. The biggest question is on offense where Zac Lee is struggling at quarterback. Pelini has openly hinted at a change to freshman Cody Green that would pump some life back into the passing and zone-read option attack. They’ve also been hampered by injuries at running back where Roy Helu Jr. has had trouble maintaining his form and Rex Burkhead is likely out for the season with a foot injury. Even with the offensive struggles, the Cornhuskers have the division’s strongest defense and most dominant player in Ndamukong Suh. His presence should elevate them to the role of favorites, even after their stumble last week.
Best-case scenario: A quarterback emerges over the next two weeks in building-block victories over Iowa State and Baylor. That builds confidence for a tradition-steeped victory over Oklahoma the following week and into a key game at Kansas. The defense comes alive down the stretch and a quarterback emerges to help boost the Cornhuskers into their first Big 12 title game since 2006.
Worst-case scenario: The offense regresses as Helu struggles with injuries and a quarterback doesn’t materialize on the roster. It leads to a loss at Baylor, followed by understandable struggles against Oklahoma and Kansas and a season-ending road loss at Colorado. A season that once looked so promising unravels into a 6-6 funk that pushes them into an unhappy bowl trip and questions about the direction of the offense.
My prediction: Big 12 championship game appearance. The Cornhuskers have too much talent on defense, specifically along their line, to fall too far. Look for Green to get more playing time and become more comfortable with the offense each week. His growth is the key for this team’s title-game hopes. It also wouldn’t hurt to get Helu healthier and for the wide receivers to get back to their productive levels of earlier in the season. Any team with Suh has an advantage. That will help the Cornhuskers get through their mid-season struggles.