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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Reasons for optimism

It's been a good week of digesting preseason football magazines. And from what the pundits think, Nebraska will do just fine.

Dr. Phil Steele, the wizard behind the curtain, uncovered a statistic that has me thinking positively. His creation of ypp, or yards per point, is a measure of offensive and defensive efficiency. Basically, an offense wants to have a very low ypp and a defense wants to have a higher ypp. Last year Nebraska's D had a ypp of 12.26. Not great. According to the nubmers that Steele has crunched over the past 19 years, Nebraska has between a 72.6-72.9% chance of equalling or bettering their record from last year's mark of 9-4.

A second statistic that gets me excited is Nebraska's turnover margin. Last year, the Cornhuskers were a pitiful -11. According to Dr. Steele, since 1996, 80% of teams with a negative double-digit turnover ratio had the same or better record the following year. Using the power of deductive reasoning, one might infer Nebraska might improve on this mark.

Here are some other reasons to get excited about the 2009 version of the Blackshirts:

--Nebraska returns seven starters on defense, including the top four tacklers from last year's squad.

--Nebraska is 6-0 against current Sun Belt Conference teams with an average score of 47-9. Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, and UL-Lafayette are all current Sun Belt Conference teams.

--Nebraska is 33-2 in its last 35 conference openers and is 31-1 in its last 32 conference home openers.

--Last year's 62 points given up to Oklahoma is the most that Nebraska has ever given up to the Sooners. So at least that's out of the way. And the last visit to Lawrence saw Nebraska give up 76 points. That won't happen again.

Given that there is a strong to quite strong possibility that Nebraska will equal or improve its record from last year, let's take a look at this year's slate of games.

September 5 vs. Florida Atlantic. Win. NU hasn't lost a home opener in 24 years.
September 12 vs. Arkansas St. Win.
September 19 at Virginia Tech. Loss. There are some definite factors working against NU here. Blacksburg is a very tough place to play. VaTech is widely considered to be a Top 5-10 team this year with 9 returning starters on offense. VT has beaten the last 10 visiting non-conference BCS teams by an average of 20 points per game. The only redeeming factor is that the gametime has been recently announced as a 2:30 start time. Much better than playing there at night.
September 26 vs. UL-Lafayette. Win. NU has won the final non-conference game of the regular season 20 out of the last 22 years.
October 8 at Missouri. Win. Missouri loses four of the best players its program has ever seen. Nebraska wants blood and a lot of it. Nebraska will have an extra week and a half to prepare. Pelini wants to put up 52 on Mizzou. Nebraska fans still have a bad taste in their mouth from the Blaine Gabbert and Dan Hoch defections from the 2007 recruiting class. Nebraska wants to play well on a national stage after failing to do so in a long time. A win here will have pundits heralding the return of Nebraska to prominence on a national level.
October 17 vs. Texas Tech. Win. Nebraska will be hungry for this rematch, but not for redemption as in the Missouri case. A win last year versus Texas Tech would have done wonders for the confidence of the team. Nebraska is 0-17 against Top 19 teams since November of 2001. That could have changed, especially against the best Tech team in their program's history. Tech loses a ton of offensive personnel (lose 7 starters), but as we all know, it's their system that is the true danger. In a close game, Nebraska takes the momentum and extra time to rest up from the Missouri week to gain an edge.
October 24 vs. Iowa State. Win. NU is 37-3 in its last 40 Homecoming games.
October 31 at Baylor. Win. Although the last two meetings have been close and a victory over Nebraska would be a feather in the hat of the Baylor program, Baylor is still probably a year or two away from having the overall talent to beat a team like Nebraska. Baylor will also be limping in from a probable beating against Okie State.
November 7 vs. Oklahoma. Loss. NU would love some revenge against OU, but much like the case of Baylor/NU, Nebraska is a few recruiting classes away from really competing against the likes of Oklahoma.
November 14 at Kansas. Win.
November 21 vs. Kansas St. Win. Bill Snyder, meet Bo Pelini. Oh, you two know eachother?
November 27 at Colorado. Win. Colorado is not there yet.

So, 10-2 is in fact an improvement from 9-4. I think we go on to lose the Big XII championship and the bowl game is a toss-up at this point. So 10-4 or 11-3 is definitely an improvement.

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