Should NU Fans Temper Offensive Expectations?
With so much experience returning from a Nebraska offense that was very good a year ago, it's natural to expect another good year on that side of the ball. Since players tend to improve with age, there are those forecasting huge things for 2013. But might there be reasons not to expect a record-setting scoring explosion for the Huskers this fall?
The two teams that stand out historically for Nebraska in terms of scoring were the 1983 team and the 1995 team. Both teams scored an average of 52 points per game. The 1982 team had scored 41 points a game and the 1994 team had scored 36 points a game. Last year's team scored under 35 points a game which means the Huskers would have to improve by even more than that pair in order to reach the 52-point per game plateau.
While it's great to have your quarterback, top receivers, and most productive running back from a year ago return, the offense did lose some quality pieces. The top tight ends, Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, accounted for nearly 600 receiving yards and four touchdowns a year ago. More importantly, the blocking (particularly by Cotton) was a major plus a year ago. Jake Long, the only other really experienced tight end, is out for at least another couple of weeks and with Bo Pelini's tendency to downplay injuries things could be worse than that for Long. Rex Burkhead provided more than 700 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. Both Burkhead and the tight ends were especially valuable in moving the chains in 3rd down situations, which adds yards and scores to the offense beyond what they themselves gained directly.
Defense and Special Teams
When it comes to scoring, the defense can do a lot to help the offense. That was particularly true in 1995 for Nebraska when the defense often had opposing offenses moving backwards. A strong return game also frequently gave the Huskers good field position. NU replaces it's kickers and punters and lost a bunch of defenders from last year's defense. That could impact field position and the number of possessions for the Huskers in a negative way. That can mean fewer points, all else equal.
While we hope and expect that Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah will be able to reduce the number of turnovers they commit, it's still likely to happen more often than we saw from say a Turner Gill/Mike Rozier tandem or the Tommie Frazier/Ahman Green pairing. By definition, any turnover eliminates a scoring opportunity. The Huskers would have to cut the turnovers nearly in half to be on par with the record-setting offenses of the past.
There are reasons to be hopeful for an outstanding year offensively, no doubt. Phil Steele is forecasting nearly 41 points per game for the Huskers, which would add nearly a touchdown per game from last season. That's still a ways off from 52 though, so you might want to temper those expectations just a bit.