Guenther: Big opportunity for Nebraska vs. UCLA

2013-09-11T22:20:00Z 2013-11-07T20:27:08Z Guenther: Big opportunity for Nebraska vs. UCLABy Dylan Guenther / dguenther@columbustelegram.com Columbus Telegram

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

Growing up in Nebraska, my first experiences of Husker football were from the late '80s into the glory years of the '90s.

National titles. Dominant running game. Tom Osborne patrolling the sidelines – never too high, never too low. The Blackshirts. The Tunnel Walk.

These were the fans' expectations – then Osborne went out on top with his third title in four years and Frank Solich took over. Solich took Nebraska to a national title game, but you could see the program was beginning to sink.

Solich was fired and Bill Callahan was brought in, and Nebraska fell off the deep end. Bo Pelini was brought in by Osborne himself, and the Huskers have been clawing to get back to that elite level ever since.

Over the last decade or so, the Huskers have had some good teams. They've also had some bad teams. They just haven't had any great teams.

Does this year's Nebraska squad have the makings of a great team? I'd say probably not – NU is too young on defense with a mistake-prone quarterback, despite being a four-year starter. But these Huskers can be good, if not really good by the year's end.

The offense has the potential to put up points in bunches if everything is clicking – a veteran offensive line, a record-breaking quarterback, loads of talent on the outside and a stable of talented backs. The only thing that seems to hold this offense back is itself.

Too bad that happens all too often.

Through two games, the defense has made strides, but the offense will have to carry this team against a UCLA squad that figures to put up points on Saturday.

The Bruins embarrassed Nebraska last year at the Rose Bowl to the tune of 653 yards of total offense.

But Nebraska's defense looks much different this time around. There's been an infusion of speed and athleticism. There's not a lot of experience out there on defense, but the newcomers may be more well suited to contain this UCLA team.

Freshman linebackers Josh Banderas and Nate Gerry can flat out run, while junior college defensive end Randy Gregory has the potential to be a great edge rusher. Safety Corey Cooper got his first career interception last week against Southern Miss, while seniors Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste have been impressive at corner. They each had a pick-six against Southern Miss.

If the defense can make another step forward like it did between games one and two, it could give the UCLA offense a run for its money.

So here we are with two programs on the cusp of national relevancy. UCLA has always taken a back seat to teams like USC, Oregon and Stanford out west, while Nebraska has fallen behind teams like Texas, Oklahoma, and now Michigan and Ohio State over the years.

A win in this game alone will not propel either team into the national title talk immediately, but it may prove to be the boost needed for the victor to take that next step onto the same level as the Alabamas, the Oregons and the Ohio States of the world.

People see the Big Ten as a two-horse race between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines, but Nebraska could pull right there with them if it can knock off the 16th-ranked Bruins Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Bruins are coming off of a bye week after throttling Nevada 58-20 in their season-opener. Quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 273 yards and two scores while rushing for 63 yards and two more scores.

Some may argue the bye is an advantage for UCLA because they get two weeks to prepare for the Huskers, but I'm not sold a bye week after one game is a good thing.

If Nebraska had last week off instead of righting the ship against a bad Southern Miss team, it could have made for a long game against UCLA. It gave the young players another game of experience. Kinks were ironed out. Players improved and made plays.

And more importantly, confidence was gained.

Plus, it's not like Nebraska has put much of its playbook on film through two games. The Huskers have run the ball 109 times through two games with just 45 pass attempts. There's no doubt that offensive coordinator Tim Beck hasn't shown much because he didn't want UCLA to see much.

I'm expecting Nebraska to open up its offensive playbook and let loose with everything it's got in this game.

If the Huskers can pull this one out, they stand a serious chance of catapulting themselves into November with a 7-0 record.

And as I recall, that used to be the norm around here.

Dylan Guenther is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Contact him at dguenther@columbustelegram.com with questions, comments and story ideas. Or follow the Telegram Sports Staff on Twitter at CTelegramSports.

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