If malaise can be defined as a general discomfort or uneasiness, or being "out of sorts". Then "maLLLLaise" is the general discomfort that comes from a Groundhog day of four loss seasons that seems to have no end in sight. Regular visitors to this site have clearly sensed a wane in enthusiasm about the upcoming season. The national media also have muted expectations as well. If we're going to put our finger on it at this point in time, it might be a lack of hopefulness for the most critical position on the field - quarterback.
Four Losses Remembered
Rewind to the 2008 season when Bo Pelini arrived. His job was to fix a terrible defense and the unit showed vast improvement over the 2007 train wreck. That team, rode a potent West Coast offense directed by Joe Ganz. There were genuine reasons to be hopeful that the defense could continue to improve and if the offense could be maintained you'd have a national contending team.
But things change dramatically on both sides of the ball in just a year. The defense became outstanding led by Ndamukong Suh. Meanwhile the offense backslid a great deal while left the team at 10-4 by season's end. Still, an explosive performance in a 33-0 Holiday Bowl victory made many believe that "Nebraska's back and we're here to stay" was more than just words.
The first five games of the 2010 were promising. The offense was exploding and the defense, while not as strong as the year before was still very sound. A gut-wrenching home loss to Texas highlighted by a bunch of dropped passes deflated things considerably. An anemic offensive outing at Texas A&M further damaged hopes of a promising season. A big lead to open the final Big 12 championship game, was erased sending a disappointed Husker squad back to the Holiday Bowl where they gave a lifeless performance.
Shawn Watson was replaced as offensive coordinator and Big Ten play began, but it's fair to say that the bloom was off the rose. The 2011 season was uneven at best where good wins over Michigan State and at Penn State were overshadowed by bad losses to Wisconsin, Michigan, and South Carolina along with an upset by Northwestern.
The 2012 season saw the offense return to form only to see the defense erode. The Huskers lost 4 games in which they put 31 or more points on the board. Last season was similar with the loss of Taylor Martinez contributing to some offensive struggles. The only consistent strength over the first five seasons was the running game and that only seemed enough to deliver 9 wins, not 11 or more.
Another Season Awaits
Entering the 2013 season, we know NU has another turnover prone quarterback coupled with some unexperienced backups that haven't shown enough to take his spot on the depth chart. There is a legitimate star on defense, but neither pass rusher Randy Gregory nor running back Ameer Abdullah are new elements for the 2013 season. Kenny Bell can be a playmaker, but that's nothing new. To find a new level, the team needs additional playmakers. You might see Corey Cooper, Imani Cross, and Vincent Valentine take things to a new level, but unless Tommy Armstrong or another quarterback can find a way to deliver some production on offense without turnovers, then another 4-loss campaign seems all but assured.
We could spend more energy exploring other topics. For example, some are forecasting Nebraska to have one of the best linebacking groups in the country. Is that just a depth chart mirage due to returning starters or might this group really stand out? If so, is that enough to get the Huskers 11 wins? History says probably not. It is only better quarterback play that can truly provide hope.
The quarterbacks don't have to rack up 4,000 yards or 40 touchdown either. They just have to avoid 20 to 30 turnovers, and it's hard to be confident that that won't be the case. For that matter, fumbles by Abdullah, Cross and even a receiver like Jordan Westerkamp are a concern as well.
It would be nice to feel a surge of confidence going into the season, especially coming off of a bowl win over a quality SEC program. But like Bill Murray in Punxsutawney, it's hard to shake this feeling that we all know exactly what the season will hold because we've lived it again and again and again.