During the press conference to announce his hiring as head coach, Bill Callahan was asked what he would do to "ease the pain" of Cornhusker fans divided by the firing of Frank Solich.
"I'd tell the Husker Nation that the goal, the No. 1 goal and objective, is to win the national championship," he replied. "And I'm fully committed to that."
Still, patience is in order. Callahan, the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, faces a unique situation. He isn't rebuilding so much as overhauling a program that finished 10-3 last season. The overhaul includes installing the West Coast offense, a dramatic departure from the ground-bound attack on which Nebraska has relied since the late 1970s. The short-term goal has to be contending in the Big 12 North division.
OffenseCallahan is taking Nebraska to the air, but he won't completely abandon the running game.
"I can't make any guarantees the ball will be flying through the air 60 times a game," he said.
But Nebraska will throw a lot more than it has in the past. The Cornhuskers' success will depend not only on an inexperienced quarterback in Joe Dailey, but also on a revamped line, built around Richie Incognito, a first-team, all-conference left tackle who has been moved to center to control the point of attack.
The receiving corps is long on talent but short on depth. Tight end Matt Herian can stretch the field, as can wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen, who has been hampered by hamstring problems. Wide receiver Ross Pilkington is well-suited to Callahan's system and isn't afraid to go over the middle.
Cory Ross has proven himself among a committee of running backs.
DefenseDespite having different coordinator in each of the past three seasons, defense is Nebraska's strength. And it will need to be, particularly early in the season as the new offense strives for consistency.
Le Kevin Smith, Titus Adams and Benard Thomas anchor the front, which is potentially deep if highly regarded youngsters such as Adam Carriker develop as expected. A breakout senior season for Thomas, who was heralded out of high school, would be helpful in applying the pressure to allow the secondary to again control the airways. The Cornhuskers led the nation in 2003 in pass efficiency defense. They also led the nation in turnover margin and interceptions, with free safety Josh Bullocks accounting for a school-record 10 picks. Fabian Washington is a proven lockdown corner, and Daniel Bullocks is a run stopper at strong safety. If nickel back Lornell McPherson can hold up as an every-down corner, the first four will be as good as any. Depth is a concern, however.
Linebacker Barrett Ruud is a playmaker in the middle. But there is inexperience on either side of him.
SpecialistsAlthough Callahan is looking to turn red-zone opportunities into touchdowns instead of field goals, David Dyches does give him the luxury of a proven placekicker.
All-America punter Kyle Larson will be missed, but Sam Koch has a strong leg, as evidenced by his emergence from walk-on anonymity to handle kickoffs.
Returns are a question because of inexperience rather than ability. The Cornhuskers have several young players with speed.
Final AnalysisWith new offensive and defensive systems, Callahan's first Nebraska team is a work in progress. Dailey's growth at quarterback is crucial, and the offensive line will have to develop around Incognito. That will take some time and put a greater burden on the defense, the most experienced part of the team.
The schedule sets up well, with a chance to build momentum before traveling to Kansas State and later to Oklahoma. Despite the potential for inconsistency, the Cornhuskers should be able to make a run, or a pass, at the Big 12 championship game.