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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Beck Will Tap Into Pelini’s I.Q.

All eyes are upon Tim Beck, Nebraska’s first-year offensive coordinator whose overhaul — whether successful or no — will define the Cornhuskers’ 2011 season. Like the backup quarterback in Anytown, U.S.A., Beck is already the most popular guy in the program: an unknown is always better a proven commodity, especially if that commodity, like Shawn Watson, has worn out all his hard-earned goodwill. Beck will install an offense better suited to what Nebraska brings to the table, which is terrific speed at the skill positions and good size up front, while attempting to avoid the square pegs-round hole system run by his predecessor. That’s a solid start.

But Beck needs help to make this work. And the Cornhuskers are eying a quick transition, seeing that the new system is not all that far removed from what Nebraska did a year ago. While Watson did implement parts of the West Coast passing system, the Cornhuskers were spread-based on the ground — zone read, at least, which is a staple of the Urban Meyer-like spread which took the sport by storm in the early 2000s.

So the learning curve is not quite Bill Callahan from Frank Solich; that was a nightmare. Nebraska didn’t grasp the intricacies of that system for about two years, and even then were far too unbalanced — too much pass, too little run — to experience the sort of success that is a program birthright.

It won’t be that tough. It may be easy, in fact, seeing that the Cornhuskers can tout the following:

A supremely gifted, sublimely athletic quarterback in Taylor Martinez, who fits this offense to the letter. Martinez needs to remain healthy, but that’s out of his hands, by and large. More importantly, Martinez needs to claim a far larger leadership role in and out of the huddle, rallying the offense behind his starting status. We know Martinez can lead between whistles; we don’t know if Martinez can be the sort of leader all good teams need under center.

A gifted crop of running backs. In Rex Burkhead, Nebraska has a tough and physical back more than capable of being the centerpiece of the offense. There’s talent behind Burkhead in a trio of freshmen, led by top recruit Aaron Green.

A receiver corps with a nice blend of experience and young talent. The experience comes in senior Brandon Kinnie, who has shown himself to be a role model to the number of freshmen and sophomores due to factor into the rotation. The young talent comes from Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell and, most notably, true freshman Jamal Turner. He’s a player to watch.

An offensive line that may be struggling with injuries and the basic premise of this offense, but one that has size, experience and, as at receiver, rising talent. One such youngster, right tackle Tyler Moore, may become the first true freshman to start a season opener in program history. We’ll know on Saturday. If Moore’s good enough to start, he’s good enough to be a top reserve at tackle behind Jeremiah Sirles, Marcel Jones and Yoshi Hardrick.

So you can see that the pieces are in place for Beck and this offense to hit the ground running — and keep running, as you’ll see an old-school approach to the ground game from the Cornhuskers in 2011. And Beck will get the help he needs from a somewhat unlikely source: Bo Pelini.

Yes, that Bo Pelini. The hard-nosed, gum-chewing, cuss-you-out, ornery, fast-talking — just not with the media — fourth-year coach with a background consisting solely of defensive excellence. Pelini has ceded the in-game coordinator duties to his brother, Carl, while Carl Pelini has in turn ceded defensive line duties to John Papuchis, Nebraska’s recruiting point man.

Giving his brother more free rein defensively has freed Pelini up for a C.E.O.-like position with this program, which is a very interesting development from one of the nation’s most hands-on coaches. Unlike in the past, when Pelini let Watson go to work with very little interference, Nebraska’s head coach has been sitting on offensive meetings, going over personnel, going over game plans and the like. That’s a change, to put it lightly.

Beck will benefit greatly from the added voice. Have an idea for a certain package? Won’t work, says Pelini, and he knows. Have a play you think is dynamite? It’ll work when the defense does this, says Pelini, and he knows. Have an idea for a play or package in certain a down-and-distance scenario? If you want to know whether it’ll work or not, Pelini’s the one to ask.

In a somewhat surprising development, Pelini may end up being Beck’s secret weapon. And he’s someone whose football I.Q. Beck should tap into again and again and again as he tries to get things running offensively. What offensive coordinator in his right mind wouldn’t want to glean some knowledge off the nation’s top defensive mind?

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  1. Steve says:

    As usual, great points.
    Another change that may pay off huge for the Huskers is going back to two offensive line coaches–Cotton will be getting help from John Garrison and Vince Marrow (I think Garrison and Marrow are also splitting time with the tight ends). This is something Nebraska got away from for the past ten years or so. The players should get better just by having more instruction and more reps in practice.

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