Friday, September 02, 2011

Prelude to the 2011 Husker Season

I admit it, I'm not a fan of college football on Labor Day weekend...especially games like Chattanooga, Maine, or some other money game against an mismatched foe. At best, it's an opportunity to put on the Husker red, tailgate, and watch the marching band.  All for the nominal (!) charge of $56 a person. Will it be a competitive game? I certainly hope not. And on Labor Day weekend, it just seems like such a waste of the last good-weather long weekend of the year. The weather is nice enough to do just about anything, so it seems to be a waste of a good long weekend to schedule a bad football game on it. The NFL kind of gets it:  most teams held their final preseason game last night, leaving the weekend wide open for their fans.

That's why I haven't been so hyped about the start of the football season yesterday.  Wisconsin/UNLV?  Yawn. Oklahoma/Tulsa? Zzzz.   About the only games worth it are Boise State/Georgia and Oregon/LSU.  The Husker/Chattanooga game?  Well, I'll be there, but I'm not all that hyped up for it.  In fact, my excitement factor was about 0 until yesterday when Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe put together a nice package of highlights that at least got me pumped up about football in general.

There are some things to keep an eye on tomorrow, even if the game turns out to be the mismatch it's supposed to be.  Here are the areas I want to keep an eye on against Chattanooga:

Offensive Line. I'm less concerned about the push, especially against an opponent like Chattanooga. Instead, I want to see who plays and the rotation.  Depth has been a huge issue in recent years, so I'd like to see a good rotation develop where if someone is tired or injured, someone else can step in.  That was the key of championship programs in the 90's, and I'd like to see it happen again. (And Tyler Moore certainly looks intriguing, though I don't know if Chattanooga is going to give us much of an opportunity to evaluate his performance...)

Secondary:  With Alfonzo Dennard out, there will three new starters back there....with a pro-style quarterback who was a big time recruit for Tennessee.  I don't know how much time B.J. Coleman is going to have to find his all-American buddy Joel Bradford, but I'd like to see how the new guys handle a pretty good receiver.

Wide Receiver:  I've been completely unimpressed with Ted Gilmore's group; at times, his receivers couldn't catch a cold in the middle of winter with a bunch of preschoolers. But guys like Jamal Turner, Kenny Bell, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste look like the type of game breakers we haven't seen at Nebraska in some time.

Backup I-Backs.  Nebraska is unproven behind Rex Burkhead.  Somebody has to jump out from the pack of Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, or Ameer Abdullah.  I don't know who it'll be, and it could be all three for all I know. But I want to see these guys in action.

Taylor Martinez from the chest up:  We all know about his running ability.  What I want to see is his development in making decisions and throwing the ball.  I'll forgive some of his shortcomings last season: he was a freshman and played injured the last half of the season. Now it's time to take his game to the next level.  The talk is fine, but now it's time to walk the walk.  I think he'll be better this season, so now let's see it.

In some respects, this Chattanooga game is like a bad opening act to a big concert. Lots of things to look forward this season, especially in October when the Huskers line up against the defending co-champions of the Big Ten. That's something to get really excited about. But tomorrow is simply a preseason exhibition game that's a lose-lose situation.  If you win big, it's because you played a mismatched foe.  If you don't win big or show any flaws, people jump on that. (See Wisconsin's defense last night against UNLV.)  And if you somehow DON'T win (can you say Appalachian State?), the season derails before it even got started.

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