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For college football fans who watched Alabama's mastery of Notre Dame in Monday night's national championship game, you might recall 'Bama Coach Nick Saban reminding everyone how Georgia was one play from having the same opportunity the Crimson Tide had. So please forgive me for reminding Husker fans how close Nebraska came to seizing its own chance to pounce on the SEC runner-up Bulldogs in Orlando's Capital One Bowl.
"We had some defensive issues, but I think that game gave us some weight relative to competing at a higher level," said Nebraska Athletic Director Emeritus and Hall-of-Fame Coach Tom Osborne. "I think the bowl game pointed out that we were playing a Top 4 (Georgia's final finish in coaches' poll) or a Top 5 (Bulldogs' final finish in media poll) team. We're not very far off (of competing at that level). Offensively, I think we can play with most anybody. Defensively, obviously we have a lot of work to do."
Despite the points and yardage yielded, Osborne remains undeterred. "Georgia made some big plays and some great throws and catches, but it wasn't like they methodically moved the ball on us like Alabama did against Notre Dame," Osborne said. "They had that long (75-yard) pass where our defensive back was in perfect position but it was a perfect throw. They had a receiver make a great catch on our linebacker and caught us off-guard on a jailbreak screen. They made some big plays, and they were good enough to make 'em, but they were also very fortunate on at least a couple of those plays."
Osborne: Pelini's Positive Vibes 'Warranted'
Bo Pelini's ultra-positive postgame locker room comments were "warranted" following Nebraska's 45-31 loss, Osborne said, "because we really aren't that far off from being able to compete (for a national title). I don't want to get fans overly optimistic to the point where they just assume we're already there. We're not, but I think Bo has every right to think we're in a good position."
USA TODAY sees a dramatic climb, ranking Nebraska No. 10 in its 2013 early-bird ratings. Columnist Paul Myerberg believes the Huskers "will be unstoppable throughout the regular season" and they "are close to breaking out of their four-loss rut." Myerberg has 12-0 Ohio State finishing No. 2 behind Alabama in 2013. "Unfortunately," he wrote, "the (Nebraska) defense won't be able to stop Ohio State when push comes to shove." The only other Big Ten member in USA TODAY's preseason Top 25 is Northwestern at No. 22. Michigan and Wisconsin were teams "also under consideration."
We asked Osborne to weigh in with his own analysis. "Any time you have a good quarterback coming back and he's shown a tendency to improve every year, you have a chance," he said. "If Taylor (Martinez) improves as much from this year to next year as he did from last year to this year, I think we're going to be in real good shape offensively."
Defense: Mental Focus as Crucial as Physical
"Defensively, a lot remains to be seen," Osborne added. "We probably have a little more talent (on defense), but we have to work hard in all areas. There's definitely talent there. I can't evaluate everyone player by player because I don't watch them that closely. But there are several redshirt guys who certainly look the part, and we'll see how they come along in winter conditioning and spring ball.
"The big thing is, it's not all about physical ability," Osborne said. "You have to be able to put it together mentally, too. If these new guys can come along that way and show they can master the defense, there's good reason to show a certain amount of optimism. I think we've positioned ourselves well for the future."
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