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TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

Huskers ready for next step to championships

Following tonight’s Holiday Bowl, another Nebraska football season will be relegated to the archives. What an interesting, frustrating, exciting campaign it was.
Whether the Huskers cap their first 10-win season since 2003 or stumble against Arizona and finish 2009 with a two-game losing streak, one thing is certain – two years into the Bo Pelini era, NU’s future is bright.
Husker fans will reluctantly say goodbye to Ndamukong Suh, the most decorated defensive player in school history, but have to be excited about the array of young talent returning for 2010 and beyond.
There is a feeling of confidence and safety knowing the Blackshirts are back in Lincoln to lead this program forward. Bo knows defense. It’s his M.O., his mission. He’s proven it at every coaching stop of his career.
And, while there is also lingering trepidation about a Husker offense that sputtered through stops and starts in 2009 – certainly more stops – you also get the feeling Nebraska’s exceedingly competitive head coach will now turn his attention to that side of the ball and make sure, in seasons ahead, that unit isn’t an anchor the defense has to continually drag around.
It’s been interesting to watch Pelini’s maturation in the head role. There have been inevitable bumps in the road the past two years, but it’s evident Bo learns from mistakes and works hard at making corrections.
The next step for Bo, his staff and the overall program is burgeoning from a great defense to a great team. They’re on the doorstep – efficient offensive production could well knock championship barriers down in the next year or two.
I’ve seen and heard comments that say the Huskers need only be “average” offensively to thrive with a great defense. I couldn’t disagree more.
This is Nebraska. There is no reason to “settle” for average. No reason the Big Red offense can’t match the Blackshirt D. It simply takes strong recruiting and good coaching. A simple recipe.
Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson say they share a vision of a “multiple” offense that is basically 50/50 run/pass. Bo does say it needs to be based off a “physical” running attack.
My take is that it all starts up front. The offensive line. The “Pipe Line”. A line and a legacy that has been missing at NU for too long now. Whether you grind it out on the ground or throw it all over the lot, you’ll only be as good as the big boys up front.
That’s the challenge. It lies with line coach Barney Cotton. With Watson. and, ultimately, with Pelini. Get the “Pipe Line” pumping again and you can run any type of offense your heart and mind desires and devises.
There are highly-touted young linemen in the wings. Talent and depth should improve in the years ahead. And, as the line improves, Nebraska quarterbacks, running backs and receivers will be amazingly better. Just watch.
The onus is on Cotton. Watson is on call. Bo knows where the improvement must come from. He’s fully aware of what Suh and Co. meant to his defense – and how an ineffective o-line hampered offensive production this past season.
Nebraska has a great opportunity at hand. The Big 12 North is in a transitory state, ripe for the Huskers to assume full command.
Kansas is making the transition from Mangino to Turner Gill. The Husker legend may end up a great Jayhawk success, but it will take time. Rumors are rife that Missouri is fleeing to the Big 10. But, even if Mizzou stays, Pinkel’s best teams still have a “Paper Tiger” feel to them. CU’s Dan Hawkins is living on borrowed time and the Buff athletic department is on financial life support. Yes, Bill Snyder has returned at Kansas State, but at age 70, he’s a long shot to be a long-term threat. Iowa State? Well, it’s Iowa State.
Big 12 North domination is a strong offensive pipe line away. A North stranglehold would be the pipe line to future Big 12 championships. And those titles would pump life into the possibilities of a 6th Nebraska national title.
Bo knows.
The future begins December 31. It needs only some strong “road graders” to pave the way.