Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 Husker Football Prognostication

With the 2009 season now less than a week away, it's time to predict the 2009 Husker football season. My track record isn't too bad, as I've only really missed one season. Last season, I predicted 9-3 for the regular season, missing it by one game. I didn't see the 2007 meltdown coming, predicting 10-3 instead. I did nail 2006 by predicting a 9-3 regular season and a Big XII North championsihp. I was one game off in 2005 as well, predicting 8-3 in the regular season.

Nebraska isn't alone in having questions in 2009 in the Big XII North. Only Kansas returns a quality starting quarterback. Most North division teams have questions regarding their offensive line. And even with a whole new set of linebackers in 2009, the Huskers should have the strongest defense in the North.

On offense, I expect the offense to lean on Roy Helu as much as they can. Helu's injury problems over the last year (shoulder, knee, hamstring) raise questions about his durability, but only Missouri's Derrick Washington was more productive in the North last season. Can the offensive line clear enough running room for Helu? That's question #1 for the Huskers. Question #2 is who will step up to back up Helu? Rex Burkhead earned the nickname "Superman" in high school, but I'd rather wait to see him deliver against college competition first. Developing a solid running game helps Nebraska answer the next two questions. How will Zac Lee grow into the quarterback position? Who steps up besides the tight ends at receiver? My expectation is that a solid running game opens up the play-action pass and eases the transition for Lee. Other than Niles Paul and Menelik Holt, the Husker wide receivers have very little experience. Potential ... yes. But assuming large production out of those receivers based on "potential" is a dangerous proposition.

On defense, the Huskers should be stout up front with one of the best lines in the conference. I'm assuming that linebacker play should be better when the only returning starter is being passed up on the depth chart. The secondary improved gradually all of last season, and I expect them to show the biggest improvement this season. They talk about forcing more turnovers this season, and while nobody should expect a rerun of 2003's turnover creators, the Huskers should be able to improve significantly from 97th nationally.

So game by game:

Florida Atlantic: Solid passing game should give us a good idea as to the progress of the Husker defense. Likewise, the holes on the defensive side of the ball should allow the Husker offense to gradually warm up. Chance of Husker victory: 97%
Arkansas State: Best of the three Sun Belt opponents Nebraska will face, and might be a good tuneup for Virginia Tech. Chance of Husker victory: 90%
Virginia Tech: Consensus top-ten team, but will definitely miss running back Darren Evans. This game could send the Huskers in either direction, as a victory could spark this team into national prominence. A bad loss could remind Husker fans of last year's Missouri game. Chance of Husker victory: 30%
Louisiana-Lafayette New Mexico State: Strike up the band; this game is being played for the money. Chance of Husker victory: 99%
Missouri: On offense, both teams need to replace a quarterback, their top receivers, and a couple of offensive linemen. Both return their best running back, though. On defense, both return all-American candidates in Sean Weatherspoon and Ndamukong Suh. The difference: Nebraska's defense improved down the stretch last season while Missouri's regressed for the most part. Chance of Husker victory: 60%
Texas Tech: Nebraska almost won in Lubbock last season. While Tech needs to replace their stars, that's never slowed the Raiders down in the past. Chance of Husker victory: 70%
Iowa State: The rebuilding begins anew for the 'Clones. Chance of Husker victory: 90%
Baylor: This is a scary trap game for the Big Red. Missouri nearly lost in Waco last season. The Huskers could be looking ahead to the next game. Chance of Husker victory: 45%
Oklahoma: News flash: The Sooners are good. It should be closer than 2008...but that still probably won't be good enough. Chance of Husker victory: 15%
Kansas: Kansas could be better at their skill positions on offense...and worse everywhere else. Chance of Husker victory: 55%
Kansas State: Ron Prince seems to have run the Wildcat program into the ground. Chance of Husker victory: 90%
Colorado: Some people think Colorado is a dark horse to challenge in the North. Really? The Buffs nearly lost to Iowa State and Kansas State at home last season. This could be the end of the Dan Hawkins era in Boulder. Chance of Husker victory: 70%

How does it break out in the end? In the end, I think they'll probably lose 4 games: Va Tech, Oklahoma, and probably one or two of the following: Missouri, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Kansas. I'd like to say 9-3, but I'm hedging my bets and going with 8-4. I do think there is an upside to this season, and if everything works out the way I think it could, 10-2 or even 11-1 isn't completely out of the question.


Anonymous said...

Wait...Mike...far be it for me to even remotely support/defend/say anything nice about AJ. But please expand on your reasoning between Missouri (who you appear to be predicting a Husker win at 60%), and Baylor (who you appear to be predicting a Husker loss at 45%).

Yes, they lost a lot of talent, including the coordinators. But you really think we have a better than 50-50 shot at winning in Columbia, against a team that...unfortunately...whooped Nebraska's rear last year? And a worse chance against a Baylor team that, while improved and looking like they're on an upswing, is still Baylor. Maybe if we caught them in the next two years, while Griffin was a Junior or Senior. But I would still think we've got a better than 50% shot against them. I would think the numbers should be switched.

And if you know that replacing stars hasn't slowed T-Tech down before, how do we now have a 70% shot against them this year?


Husker Mike said...

Yes, I think Nebraska has a better shot at Missouri than Baylor. Missouri has the least amount of returning starters in the Big XII. Every offensive weakness that someone points out about Nebraska applies to Missouri. But Baylor returns 18 starters, including two all-Big XII preseason picks in Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake.

Add in the fact that Nebraska plays Oklahoma the next week, and it is going to be easy to overlook Baylor.

Why do I think Nebraska has a 70% chance of beating Tech? Aside from the fact that NU nearly did it last year, I do think Tech will slip slightly. They'll be good, just not as good.

I think if Nebraska would have played Missouri and Texas Tech at the end of last season, they would have won both of those games.

The Hosh said...

Overall I love your game by game breakdown, seems and feels accurate. With a couple of comments: 1. we will not lose in Waco. I just don't see it happening. 2. We will steal a big game this year that we are not supposed to win. I am not sure against who (not Oklahoma) but we will steal either the Missouri or Va Tech game. One of those games, for no real reason will end up with us on top, people paying attention and, if Mizzou a north title.

There is just a sense of some intangibles starting to go our way. 8-4 would be a brutal year. And I don't think we will have a brutal year.

saunders45 said...

Just a heads up, we play Lousiana Lafayette in week 4, not New Mexico State (That was last year).

Husker Mike said...

Fixed that, though it really doesn't matter since both teams are going to be awful and unmemorable.

Bridget (Weide) Brooks said...

I was starting to see a trend with [x]-3 predictions, so it's good to see you mix it up a bit!