gracious enough to answer some questions about the upcoming season and their thoughts on the Big Ten after one year.
1. By most accounts, Nebraska's debut season in the Big Ten was a bit disappointing. What are the expectations for the Huskers in year two?
dpm917: Pelini's put four teams on the field that finished with basically the same record. 9 or 10 wins every year. Solid effort, but this is Nebraska. The standard is higher than that. I'm not sure the expectation is right now, though. It needs to be. I think the fact they've been through the B1G grind will give them a better handle of what they'll be dealing with this year, but I don't think they have the team they had (on paper) last year. Until they do something different, I'm expecting something in the 9-3 range going into the bowl game.
Mike: Fans want something more this season. 9-4 is better than anything we had under the previous regime, but Nebraska was about winning championships. The Huskers haven't won a conference title this century. Almost won it in 2009 and 2010, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Fans want a B1G title, so getting to Indianapolis is an expectation.
Salt Creek and Stadium: I agree that Pelini has resurrected this program from the inconsistency that was endemic under Callahan. Now Pelini's test is whether he can find the right combination of coaching and schemes to elevate his players. We've had flashes of championship quality on defense, but they've been out-done by the albatross that was our offenses. With our new dynamic offense and Pelini back in control of the defense, the promise is there. We just need to get out there and, you know, win while reducing the number of mental mistakes that have become a part of the character of this team.
Brian: I do agree with Mike in that people tend to be happy with a 9 win season, but there are bigger and better things this team should be capable of. It's now been 15 years since a national championship, 13 seasons since a conference title of any types, and 11 years since Nebraska was in a BCS game of any magnitude. Winning the B1G should be the goal of the team every year.
2. We know about Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez, but who are some players on both sides of the ball who could have breakout seasons?
dpm917: Offense: Mike Morrow: Fullback transfer in from Bama. Supposed to be a good runner and if they continue to use the option as part of their game, a good running threat at the FB position really keeps defenses honest and should open things up on the outside. If he can have an impact, that would be great.
Jamal Turner: Husker fans are really, really, really, really, really, really, hoping he's one of them. We got a taste of his talent but somewhere along the line he lost his focus (self admitted). If he can get his head all straightened out, the sky's the limit. Nebraska has some talent at the skill positions, none more than Turner.
Defense: Goodness, there are a lot of possibilities here. I think by the time we're done, we'll have listed most of the starters... Baker Steinkuhler: Famous last name at NU. Dad was a legend, brother was a pretty good player and got a cup of coffee in the NFL. Baker was the first 5 star player to come out of the state of Nebraska but that was as on the OLine. His whole career has been on the DLine. He's been solid, but not outstanding. If he can turn the corner, that would be a much needed boost for Dline that has questions to answer. Zaire Anderson: JUCO recruit looked upon to see immediate impact in the middle of the field alongside Will Compton. Losing Lavonte David will be an impossible factor to replace, Anderson is expected be a big part of that equation.
Mike: Besides Turner, I think we'll see Kenny Bell become a name in the B1G this season on offense. On defense, I think Mohammed Seisay (JUCO transfer) and Daimion Stafford will get some reps.
Salt Creek: If our receivers catch the ball, I'll be singing their praises from now until the end of time. On defense, I'd love to see Andrew Green or Ciante Evans have great seasons. Daimion Stafford should also have a breakout year — when Lavonte David didn't get the hit last season, you could usually find Stafford cleaning up. (When the play didn't breakout for big yards, that is).
Brian: Alongside Turner and Kenny Bell, expect Kyler Reed to come back to form from a injury-plagued 2011 season. He can be a definite stretch-the-field player, and as we know, quarterbacks love tight ends that can help them along.
3. Speaking of Martinez, what do you see him doing from a passing standpoint this season? This will be his third year in a starting role, but that throwing motion is just weird. Is the hope that he just doesn't make too many mistakes and keeps it rolling on the ground?
dpm917: At this point, you just sort of get to a point of accepting it's what it's going to be. We haven't really had a chance to see it in action beyond a handful of clips in the Big Ten Network practice report last week. It looked a little cleaner, but not significantly so. But he doesn't have William Gholston bearing down on him, so we'll see. I think there's a healthy amount of skepticism that it will be a dramatic shift in his mechanics and productivity. If he can get back to being the runner he was before he got hurt vs. Missouri in his freshman year, I think that will be more impactful. We haven't seen the explosion we saw two years ago.
Mike: Martinez admitted that it took nearly a year to recover from his ankle injury. I don't share the skepticism in Martinez; he really improved his consistency the second half of last season. Just look at the interception numbers after the Wisconsin game.
Salt Creek: Fun fact: despite Taylor Martinez's so-called "terribleness" at the QB position, he's still on track to become one of, if not our best QB passers EVER. (Yes, that is a comment on our program's relationship with the new-fangled forward pass.) Oh, and he's currently being mentored by our current best passing QB ever, Joe Ganz. (Okay, second best career-wise, but Joe was only QB for a season and a half.) ANYWAY, I'm more worried about our offensive line than Martinez shot-putting the ball down the field.
Brian: I thought Taylor was a better player last year in that he could manage a football game much better than he did in 2010. What I mean is, yes he didn't have great days in Madison or Ann Arbor, but at the same time, you didn't have this feeling that he was going to do something to lose the game. And, to be honest, Taylor was the lone reason to think Nebraska could come back and win the trainwreck against Northwestern. Now, that being said, the thought of Taylor going to see Steve Calhoun and not being able to get that type of coaching in Lincoln bothers me. Yes, Tim Beck is both the Offensive Coordinator and QB coach, but in all retrospect Nebraska hasn't had a true QB coach in quite some time, skewing that for 2 OL coaches. Will he be better? Well, he looks good when the bullets aren't flying, but lets see what happens when it's not a 7 on 7 drill.
4. What did you think of the Big Ten the first time around? New opponents, new venues, new rivals, how are Nebraska fans viewing the move to the conference one year later?
dpm917: It was fun. Check back once we've had a chance to complete the B1G circuit, though. But, so far so good. Still in the honeymoon period. Crazy to see Nebraska going up against schools like MSU and Ohio St. and Michigan and being thrown in the middle of the Penn St. insanity, I think it will continue to be one of the better moves the university could have ever made, especially on the academic side of things.
Mike: Considering how many times the Big XII has come to the brink of oblivion in the last two years, Nebraska's decision to move has been validated over and over again. Some fans still miss the old rivals, but everybody realizes this was a move Nebraska had to make.
Salt Creek: I think it was the best decision Nebraska could've made during the conference shuffling. While we were certainly unprepared for the physical competitiveness of the Big Ten, the competitiveness of the "West" division was a nice change from the snoozefest that was the Big 12 North. So thanks for kidney punch, Big Ten. (And I look forward to having more reasons to hate Iowa every year!)
Brian: I think there is still a honeymoon that Nebraska fans are having with the B1G and their brethren inside the conference. I do think that some of the fans who were used to the somewhat easy travel inside the Big 12 were taken aback by how far some of the road trips were, but the attendance of other Nebraska fans in places that the Huskers hadn't visited in a bit made up for it. I do expect it to last another few years as Nebraska has not seen the likes of Indiana, Purdue, or Illinois in football quite yet.
5. How do Nebraska fans view MSU right now? The Huskers won in Lincoln a year ago, giving the Spartans their only conference loss. Could that meeting in East Lansing toward the end of this season determine the Legends division?
dpm917: I'm not sure Nebraska fans know what to make of MSU yet. I think the initial comparison coming in was to Mizzou, especially the Mizzou during the Chase Daniel years. Talented, at times elite, but never quite able to get over the hump. I think MSU is more talented than Mizzou for the most part, but still haven't quite been able to get over the hump. Almost did last year. Nebraska winning that game last year basically reinforced that theory.
On Oct. 20, Michigan and Michigan St. play in Ann Arbor. (You guys know that, I'm not sure why I'm telling you...). The next week Michigan comes to Lincoln. Then Nebraska travels to East Lansing. I think those three games will probably determine the division. If Michigan wins both of the games the week before, the NU/MSU matchup could be academic. If not, I think the game on Nov. 3 will be one of the biggest in the conference in 2012.
Mike: We don't have the history of the conference memorized at this point, so I can only speak to what Michigan State is right now. Mark Dantonio is building a defensive juggernaut in East Lansing, but for this season, there are just too many questions for me about the offense. I think the game probably will clinch the West division for the winner. (We thought this Legends/Leaders/Dungeons/Dragons thing was stupid when it was introduced, and it's even more stupid now. We're treating it like the 55 mph speed limit; if nobody follows it, it'll get changed. We're using East/West for now.)
Salt Creek: A solid program that will probably build into a consistent threat in the Big Ten by virtue of Michigan's fumbles in the last few years. I agree that I think you guys are a lot like our old friend Missouri. Lucky for y'all, you have Dantonio instead of Pinkel so you'll continue to get better. (Just don't recruit any of the Gabberts!) If you'd like, you can go ahead and steal the Victory Bell we had with Missouri. I hear that's how trophy games are supposed to start.
Brian: I do agree with Mike in that I would like to know how Sparty will do on offense before I make any decisions on how they will do in Conference play. Defensively this team is going to be pretty good, but as a Nebraska fan can attest (from 2009-10), you need a offense to put up points even with a stifiling D on the other side.
Bonus: Thoughts on those jerseys you're wearing for Wisconsin? And what about the Badgers' jerseys?
dpm917: They're fine. I like them both quite a bit, actually. I'm in the significant minority, which isn't surprising to me. They certainly could have been worse. I might have one a couple of things differently (black pants with red stripes, perhaps). When it boils down to it, they're not doing it for the fans, they're doing it for the players and the recruits and the attention (the attention they haven't been getting for something like this, btw) that it will generate. And it's for one game. It's not a uniform change, it's an alternate uniform. One game in 13 (hopefully 14). To me, it's a huge non-issue, but at Nebraska, where the classic look is sacred, nothing is a non-issue. It should be a fun night, a good game between two good teams. Good enough for me.
Mike: Horrific. I was all in favor of an alternate jersey, but goodness gracious, are these ugly. The Arial N has history ("Five National Championships!")...but c'mon, in the entire world of typography, they chose an Arial font? It's an unimaginative choice. So much potential to make something cool, and they come up with . . . this. Use black, use something aggressive. Instead we get something that an intern or the son of someone at adidas design. Players like it, but I think it's the black helmet...or the fact that it's something different. Well, it is different, but not in a good way.
Salt Creek: If I had to choose between getting rid of Lil' Red and Nebraska adopting these uniforms as our permanent uniforms, I would chose the uniforms. That being said, I'm not a fan of the design as presented. I think the combination of black with the smoky red/pink really dulls the uniform. Frankly, if they had gone with an all black uniform with white accents, I'd be okay. But they didn't and what they gave us looks like pajamas. Thankfully, Wisconsin's aren't much better. Hopefully we'll play better than we look and then it'll be done, the AD will get their money and the fans will stop asking for Nebraska to change their clothes for money. Full disclosure: I'm only 24.
Brian: I'm .. okay with them? I mean, I'm not a fan of the N on front (notice a trend here?) and to be quite honest, I think it's a TERRIBLE job by Adidas of just recycling something from last year to appease someone. That all being said, I do appreciate the ability of the AD's office and such to recognize this is something that should be tried at least. Kids these days dig the whole uni thing and the alternate or "third" jersey sells well in the gift store across the street. I do wish they went with black matte on the helmet and black pants, but that's just a personal thing. And about Wisconsins... well, all I can say is we got out better on the whole deal.