Well, the newstands are all full of college football preview guides, and as no surprise, there are fairly low expectations about Nebraska in 2005. Before trying to take a guess as to where 2005 will wind up, first we need to understand 2004.
Is that even possible?
Speaking as someone who predicted 6-5 last year, I was prepared for a bad season, and was even more disappointed in the results. When you consider how weak the Big XII North was last season, a losing season was tough to explain. And when you add in the loss of no practices in December because of no bowl, it hurts 2005 as well.
So why did they go 5-6? A lot of people online claim to know the reason, but their explanation is way too simple to be sufficient. And the people who should know won't admit it.
My $0.02: It wasn't one thing, but rather a combination of talent, coaching, and changes. What's the ratio of each? I don't know, and that's debatable. But each pays a part.
Way overhyped by recruitniks as the explanation of 2002 and 2004 (but is usually ignored in 2003), it's safe to say that the talent level slipped since 1993-1997. And that was to be expected, nobody is going to continue to go 60-3. That's just plain unrealistic.
Except for the Oklahoma game, last year Nebraska wasn't out-talented. Even recruitniks would have to grudgingly agree that most of the teams that beat us had lower recruiting rankings than Nebraska. NFL draft day showed just how clueless some people were when 3 Huskers were drafted in the first 40 picks.
Nebraska did have a few holes in talent, but still should have won the Big XII North in a season where Iowa State claimed a share of the division title.
This is where it starts getting ugly. Former Huskers lineman Rob Zatechka summed it up when he said that it's truly rare when the criticism of the fans is so dead on right. The losses to Southern Miss and Iowa State can be squarely blamed on bad game plans. Against Southern Miss, Joe Dailey was sent out and threw a then-school record 42 passes. WHY? I understand the desire to break in the passing game, but when you call a school record number of pass attempts by a QB starting only his 2nd game (and first against a D-1A opponent), you'd better be expecting some mistakes.
At Iowa State, the running game was open all day, but never exploited until we were down 27-7. The next week, Nebraska traveled to Oklahoma, stuck with the running game and the expected woodshed beating never materialized. Afterwards, Jay Norvell was interviewed and basically said that the coaches realized that we were a better rushing team, and decided to play to our strengths. It took them 10 games to figure that out?
Iowa State also provided the situation that best summarized what happened to the Huskers in 2004. In the second half, Nebraska took the ball over after an Iowa State punt. During the media timeout, Dailey and Bill Callahan huddled to prepare the next play. The "white coat" who marks the media timeout walks off the field and signals the refs to resume play. Callahan is still talking to Dailey. Finally, Dailey trots onto the field with less than 10 seconds left on the play clock to call timeout. They had a 2 minute timeout, and couldn't get a play called.
There were plenty of other head-scratchers: the blown field goal from the 1 foot line against Pitt and Coz's prevent defense against Texas Tech come to mind.
Let's face it, once the decision was made to jettison the old guard and bring in the new guys, things were going to be rough. Change is never easy. Some people will accept it, and some won't. Compounding the issues were that even for those people who mentally could accept the change, they weren't physically able to adapt to the change that was being demanded of them.
Witness Joe Dailey. Recruited as a run/pass QB, he suddenly became as stationary as Dan Marino in the pocket. The few times he did run, you could see his instincts clashing with his coaching leading to indecisiveness - for example, the final play against Southern Miss. (Not that I blame Bill Callahan for wanting Joe to stay out of harm's way, what with Beau Davis and Ryan Goodman being the backups, but that's the price you pay.)
I think it's interesting to note the defections of last year's underclassmen captains. Ross Pilkington and Dailey were the first non-seniors to be named team captains, and both have left the program. Perhaps the people that haven't left the program have now "bought in", as Chad Sievers said.
So what was the ratio of last year's problems? I'd put it around 25% talent, 35% coaching, and 40% change. What does that mean for 2005? That will be another posting, but first I'm hoping I get some comments on this.