It isn't easy being a Husker fan these days, especially in the wake of the 2012 season. If you say you're happy with the Huskers' performance this year, be prepared to get the wrath of those who will quickly point out this year's sometimes abysmal performance by the Husker defense (formerly known as Blackshirts) and the embarrassing number of turnovers and penalties that plagued the Huskers most of the season.
Or complain about this year and be prepared to hear about how spoiled we all are. You know the script: "Other football programs would die to have a 10 win season, win their division, play for a conference title and play in a New Year's Day bowl game. But no, you Husker fans still aren't happy! You make my butt tired!"
So what's a Husker fan to do? Shut up and be happy? Or spend the offseason complaining?
AND YOUR POINT IS? First of all, to say that Husker fans are spoiled is to make no point at all. Of course Nebraska fans have high (not unreasonable) expectations for their football program. Why shouldn't they? Because of their devotion of time and money to the program, Nebraska holds the ongoing NCAA record for consecutive home sellouts that dates back more than 50 years. It also boasts state-of-the-art athletic facilities that are second to none. Husker football is the only game in town, or in the state of only 1.8 million people.
That's why Husker fans each year should expect Nebraska to field competitive teams that seldom, if ever, get blown out. They should expect to be a Top Ten program, play for a conference championship and be in the hunt for national championships every year.
SHORT CHANGED? But after five years of the Bo Pelini Era, Husker fans feel, well, a bit short-changed. With the hiring of the defensive genius of Bo Pelini, no Husker fan in a million years would have imagined how dreadful (at times) the Husker D has become. It's so bad, it would make Kevin Cosgrove proud.
Surrendering 653 yards to a 9-5 UCLA team was embarrassing enough, but giving up 63 points at Ohio State and 70 points to an 8-6 Wisconsin team in the B1G championship game was stunning. And with a month to prepare for a very good Georgia team (#4 and #5) in the Capital One Bowl, NU surrendered 45 points, including TD plays of 24 (twice), 29, 49, 75 and 87 yards in another double-digit loss. This year's defensive performances have at times made a mockery of the once proud Blackshirt tradition
. CROSS-PHONY-BONES? How many times this year have you seen Husker defensive players flashing the crossbones after a good defensive play? Right. Not many. And with good reason. And when you did see it, it seemed to be a tad bit phony.
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU? But not to worry. Bo Pelini said in his postgame press conference after the Capital One Bowl that the 2013 Huskers "will be a force to be reckoned with." Really? Of course he also said the Husker defense would be better after Ndamukong Suh used up his eligibility in 2009. And how did that work out?
So which is it? Is the glass half full or half empty?
MAKE A BEE LINE FOR A D-LINE? It's obvious that the biggest challenge Nebraska has in the off season is developing a dominating D-line. Strong D-lines can disrupt opposing offenses and can help make up for any weaknesses elsewhere on the defense.
'09 WAS NUMBER ONE When Pelini had D-line players like Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner, his defense was the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. (It also didn't hurt that he also had safeties like Eric Hagg and Larry Asante, cornerbacks like Prince Amukamara, Alfonzo Dennard and Dejon Gomes.) So what has caused the talent level to drop so much?
I am no football expert, but here's what may be the single biggest reason for decline in talent.
QUESTION Quick, how many defensive coaches who started with Bo in 2008 are still coaching the same position they started with at Nebraska? Give up?
Zero. Yes. You say John Papuchis? Nope. JP was the D-line coach last year and this year, he's the DC, replacing Carl Pelini. And this year, Rich Kaczenski replaced JP as the D-line coach.
DOOR PROBLEM? For the past three years, there has been a revolving door of Husker assistants and nowhere has it been more apparent than with the secondary coaches. This year, Terry Joseph replaced Corey Raymond who replaced Marv Sanders the year before. (That's right, three secondary coaches in as many years.)
And on the D-line this year, Rick Kaczenski replaced John Papuchis who replaced Carl Pelini the year before that. And in 2011, LB coach Ross Els replaced Mike Ekeler who left at the end of the '10 season.
With changes like this, it's no wonder recruiting of talented defensive players has been a challenge. Players bond with their position coaches as well as the coaches who recruit them. And because of all this turmoil, kids are less likely to stay committed, especially if rival coaches can get the kids' ears.
And what about the players who have to learn, unlearn, and re-learn schemes and techniques year after year? It's hard to imagine how difficult it must be to play under those circumstances.
This much is certain: Stop the revolving door of Husker assistants. Period. End of story.
CHRISTMAS IN THE "HIGH" COUNTRY Mrs. Husker Dan and I spent this Christmas in Colorado. As most of you know, voters in that state recently passed a law that legalizes the sale and usage of marijuana. It's not clear how this law will sit with existing federal laws, but to usher in the amendment, there is a new holiday album that went on sale in December. It's called "Have Yourself A Merry(wanna) Christmas." Here are some of the songs on it:
"I'll Be Stoned For Christmas" "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Denmark" "Bring Your Stash, Jeanette Isabella" "Joints To The World" "Santa Claus Is Breaking The Law" "Away In A Squad Car" "Hark The Federal Agents Sting" "Jingle Bongs"