Big Ten Preview – Nebraska
Offense – Returning Starters – 8; Key Departures – OT, Marcel Jones (7th round, Saints). OT, Jermarcus Hardrick. WR, Brandon Kinnie.
If you’re a fan of old-school football, a cloud of dust with a bruising running game, then make sure you’ve got Big Ten Network and set your DVRs for all Nebraska games. The Cornhuskers return eight starters from an already potent unit and will channel its inner…Well, Nebraska and run right at people. Rex Burkhead is a bruising running back that will give you double takes for Peyton Hillis; not only because white running backs are rare, but because the two backs are cut from the same cloth. While smaller than Hillis, Burkhead will run right over opponents but possesses surprising bounce and all-around talent. Joining Burkhead in the backfield is explosive quarterback Taylor Martinez. Martinez, even though a quarterback, is the home run hitter of the offense. Any time he rolls out on a sprint option he is likely to find a crease and outrun defensive backs to the endzone. Martinez has also reportedly further developed his arm strength and awkward throwing motion, which could open up large plays in the passing games, even though I doubt opposing defenses change their approach on behalf of the Nebraska passing attack.
Key – Even Wisconsin needed a passing attack to ascend to their level from the past couple years, so Nebraska won’t be able to achieve their goals simply on the ground. Martinez must provide yards through the air for Nebraska to beat the big boys in conference.
Defense – Returning Starters – 8; Key Departures – LB, Lavonte David (2nd round, Buccaneers). DT, Jared Crick (4th round, Texans). CB, Alfonzo Dennard (7thround, Patriots).
The Blackshirt defense returns eight starters, but they can’t rest on their laurels. The three players they lost were stalwarts for the past three years and were drafted into the NFL, and what remains has underachieved in accordance to its overall talent. Seniors Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler need to make leaps in their final seasons to make this a formidable defense. Jared Crick was a disruptive force on the defensive front for the first part of the season, but when he was lost with injury, this unit stopped putting heat on the quarterback and couldn’t find negative plays. If Nebraska is going to fulfill their manifest destiny in the Big Ten they will need to find some defensive playmakers. Wisconsin and Michigan hung 48 and 45 points on them, respectively, and that isn’t going to change, apart from adding Ohio State to the list of offensive juggernauts. Look for Andrew Green to make a huge step from his cornerback position for Nebraska.
Key – Bo Pelini must cook up ways to put heat on opposing quarterbacks. There just aren’t enough established playmakers on the defense, and without a game-changing turnover here and there, Nebraska is looking at another disappointing season.
And 1 – The Nebraska ”x factor” is the special teams. They return All-Conference kicker/punter Brett Mahar and gamebreaking return man Ameer Abudullah. If Nebraska expects to beat people by running the football, playing field position and relying on their Blackshirt defense, getting extra yardage in the punt game, making field goals, and popping long returns will be paramount.
Prediction – 8-4 (4-4)
Northwestern – 8-16-12
Ohio State – 8-17-12
Penn State – 8-20-12
Purdue – 8-21-12
Wisconsin – 8-22-12