Steven M. Sipple: Has Pelini's program matured? Time to find out

2012-08-31T23:40:00Z 2012-10-27T02:49:58Z Steven M. Sipple: Has Pelini's program matured? Time to find out JournalStar.com

At last, the curtain rises on Nebraska's football season.

Gameday, finally.

During the impossibly long offseason, subjects were hashed and rehashed. Will Taylor Martinez's throwing mechanics transform him into Johnny Unitas, or at least Mark Sanchez? Will the offensive line begin to bear any sort of resemblance to the pipeline days? Can a mostly no-name defense help produce a Big Ten title?

Not much talk about that dadgum loss in the Capital One Bowl — a defeat that stuck in Nebraska fifth-year head coach Bo Pelini's craw virtually every day for the past eight months, he said.

Eight months seemed like a decade, he said.

Earlier this week, Pelini told me why the bowl loss still haunts him.

"We gave that game away," he said. "We were our own worst enemy and I put it on me. I don't like the way the game went.

"And I'm responsible for it."

Pelini is repentant — and fired up.

Fired up to see if his team is indeed ready to win a Big Ten championship.

Fired up to prove his program has matured since an uneven 2011 season.

Fired up to put the bowl debacle — a 30-13 loss to South Carolina — deeper into the recesses of his brain.

"We didn't play like who we are, on either side of the ball," Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said this week. "We kind of fell apart.

"We had, what, four or five offside penalties. Go back and look at any other game last season and see if we had that many offsides. It didn't happen often."

According to Beck, Nebraska last season found itself in third-and-11 or more 28 times — eight of them in the bowl game.

"That's what I mean. It wasn't us," Beck said.

So, who are these Huskers?

What are realistic expectations?

With thirty seniors on the roster, and 17 of the top 22 players on offense back from last season, the Pelini "culture" reaches deep. Perhaps we'll see more consistency and discipline, and fewer mental and technical breakdowns.

It's possible we'll see senior Rex Burkhead become the sort of leader who can essentially will his team to victories. He's already an excellent leader. Nebraska needs him to take it to another level.

It's possible we'll see Martinez's dynamic speed reappear. Then we won't have to focus so much on his passing mechanics, and we can be more forgiving when he takes those Brett Favre-like risks.

It's possible we'll see the best group of receivers Nebraska has ever had.

It's possible we'll see senior safety Daimion Stafford emerge as a Big Ten superstar, a playmaker who could make us forget Lavonte David.

OK, maybe not that good.

However, the possibilities seem almost endless this time of year.

"We feel like we match up talentwise with anybody," said Nebraska senior receiver Tim Marlowe.

Even Alabama? LSU? USC? C'mon.

"They have some great athletes," Marlowe said. "But Coach Bo and the coaches have brought in some great players these past five years.

"It comes down to executing and taking care of the football."

If Nebraska is as good as many of us seem to think — as good as its top-20 ranking — the Huskers should feel relatively little heat Saturday from Southern Miss. I'll say 31-17, Huskers.

Don't expect the Big Red machine to click on all cylinders. Openers, by nature, can be messy. If you bleed Nebraska red, you'll be looking for signs that the Huskers can emerge from a rugged five-game stretch of league games with its title hopes intact.

The stretch: Sept. 29 vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 6 at Ohio State; Oct. 20 at Northwestern; Oct. 27 vs. Michigan; Nov. 3 at Michigan State.

There will be little room for error, mental or otherwise.

In the past couple of seasons, Marlowe said, "We haven't been beaten by many teams; we often kind of beat ourselves."

Nebraska feels that way about the Capital One Bowl.

"I feel like we were better and had a better game plan than South Carolina," Marlowe said. "We had some slip-ups, and let it snowball.

"We've put that in the past."

OK, not completely.

"We definitely still feel the hurt from that game," Marlowe said.

The pain starts at the top, with a fired-up head coach.

"We're out to win a championship this year. Period. End of story," Pelini told the Big Red Breakfast crowd Friday.

Actually, the story is just beginning.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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