If voters have any sense, Nebraska will be in the Top 10 when the new college football polls are released.
I'm not kidding.
Did you see Wisconsin this weekend? How 'bout Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, Stanford, Texas, Kansas State and Florida? All looked vulnerable, if not miserable.
The 17th-ranked Huskers, meanwhile, rolled through the season opener like a Union Pacific locomotive.
They finished with 372 more yards than an opponent coming off 12 wins. They recorded seven touchdowns, two penalties and no turnovers. That'll do.
Why does Nebraska open the season relatively polished? The same reasons the program was a college football giant for 40 years.
Stability. Continuity. Experience.
The last time we saw Bo Pelini's program, it was melting down in the Florida sun. Nebraska staggered into winter with question marks all over the field.
While Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State made headlines, Nebraska barely made a peep.
But here's the thing about hype: It doesn't always focus on the best programs, just the most interesting ones.
The Huskers have had more than their share of hype the past 10 years. Coaching changes, system changes, conference changes.
Where has it gotten them?
2008 was Bo's first year. 2009 was a new quarterback. 2010 was “Bye, bye Big 12.” 2011 was “Big Ten 101.”
Why get excited about Nebraska in '12? It's the same head coach, the same schemes, the same quarterback, the same running back.
|BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Click the image above to join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.|
Blowing out Southern Miss showed that NU might have what it takes to win national attention the old-fashioned way — by winning.
“While we didn't turn on the TV (this offseason) and see people talking about us every five minutes,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, “our guys were working. ... There's a sense that we're being a little bit overlooked.”
Today is Sept. 2, and there aren't 10 teams in the country better than Nebraska at this moment. There might not be a single one in the Big Ten. Believe it.
But you don't win championships the first week of September. The competition will get better. Nebraska must, too.
Especially on defense.
Papuchis and Pelini were happy with the Blackshirts Saturday, especially because they were facing an unknown foe. Papuchis admittedly got his best scouting report by reading the Southern Miss beat writers.
Thirteen points and 260 yards is close to where the Blackshirts want to be, Papuchis said.
The first-year coordinator was pleasantly surprised by the performances of Alonzo Whaley and Corey Cooper. As for the secondary, coaches thought it had improved during the offseason. Saturday supported that belief, Papuchis said.
“Truthfully, if you would've told me a year ago today that we played a game and gave up 75 yards passing, I would've been like, ‘All right!' No (passing) yards in the second half? ‘Sweet!' ”
But read between the lines on the stat sheet and you'll spot a few red flags.
Southern Miss was 7 of 14 on third down — that was a Blackshirt bugaboo in 2011.
The Golden Eagles' first drive of the game stalled because of a false-start penalty. They dropped a screen pass in the second quarter that likely would've produced a touchdown. Their first drive of the second half was derailed by an unforced fumble.
Nebraska still needs to develop one or two playmakers up front. Someone who can beat an offensive lineman 1-on-1. Someone to wrap up a quarterback for a 5-yard loss rather than letting him slip away and gain 5.
Papuchis' top concern, he said, is stopping the quarterback run game.
He guessed that Southern Miss gained about 100 yards off the zone-read quarterback keeper — Anthony Alford alone finished with 84. The Huskers will surely see more of that scheme against UCLA.
Papuchis expects improvement as the defense gets more comfortable tackling quarterbacks.
“We can't tackle Taylor (in fall camp),” Papuchis said. “So we run these things against Taylor and they look good. But when you run by him and tag him, that's a whole lot different than having to bring him to the ground.”
On a glorious day for Nebraska, there wasn't much to nitpick.
The Huskers have gladly avoided the spotlight for nine months. If they keep playing like this, they won't be able to hide.
Contact the writer:
402-649-1461, email@example.com; twitter.com/dirkchatelain
* * *
>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: NU's Cameron Meredith at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: Postgame analysis with World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa:
>> Video: Pregame sights and sounds: