Big Ten Countdown - Legends Division - Third Place
By Tony Gerdeman
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers
A Heisman candidate at quarterback, a slew of potential-laden running backs, young receivers, young offensive line, deep and talented defensive line and quality linebackers. Experienced secondary despite losses. New kicker and punter being broken in.
Seven on offense and seven on defense.
Sept. 3 Chattanooga (W)
Sept. 10 Fresno State (W)
Sept. 17 Washington (W)
Sept. 24 at Wyoming (W)
Oct. 1 at Wisconsin (L)
Oct. 8 Ohio State (W)
Oct. 22 at Minnesota (W)
Oct. 29 Michigan State (W)
Nov. 5 Northwestern (W)
Nov. 12 at Penn State (L)
Nov. 19 at Michigan (L)
Nov. 25 Iowa (W)
"Let's take over the Big Ten just like Penn State did!"
A Big Ten Championship. This will the goal for the foreseeable future. Of course you want to win a National Championship, but first you must win the Big Ten. It's just the way things work around here.
An 11-1 record in the regular season. Let's face it, the first thing the Big Ten did after it got off the phone with Nebraska following their invite was to devise a schedule that would make it impossible for the Cornhuskers to win a conference championship in their first attempt. Nebraska absolutely has enough talent to win each of their games, but tough matchups have a way of taking their toll on a team. Road games at Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan, and home games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa are all winnable, but it would be asking a lot for the Huskers to actually win each of those games.
A losing conference record. Those same games mentioned above could all be losses on the wrong type of day, and we're not even talking about a trip up to Minnesota or home to Northwestern. If we're really going to get down into the tanned-in dirt, then in the worst of worst case scenarios, any of the conference games could be losses. That's what happens when Purdue and Indiana aren't on your schedule. Welcome to the Big Ten.
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. Can quarterback Taylor Martinez stay healthy and avoid prolonged periods of ineffectiveness.
2. Can running back Rex Burkhead hold off the freshmen tailbacks?
3. Will the offensive line come together in time?
4. Can this defense really be as good as people think it will be?
5. With zero experienced kickers or punters, how do the Huskers keep that from costing them a game?
Best Chance For a Big Loss
At Wisconsin. Let's be honest, it'd doubtful Nebraska's defense is going to be involved in any blowout losses, but if they were, it would most likely take place in Madison due to a suffocating ground game and a relentless defensive effort. Even then, we're still talking about a 20-3 type of game.
Most Important Game
Iowa. The games against Wisconsin and Ohio State will get better ratings and draw higher ticket prices, but neither of those games are in the Huskers' division like Iowa is. The game could very likely be for a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Wisconsin. Just a great atmosphere for college football, and if your kids love beer and fried cheese curds, all the better! If they don't love beer and fried cheese curds, then maybe it's time for a state agency to step in. You monster!
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
At Minnesota. We'll wait until you finish laughing. It's doubtful that the Huskers thought they would need overtime to beat Iowa State last year, and that was after coming off of the shocking loss to the Cyclones the year before. Nebraska has had a few rough games against teams that they shouldn't have over the last few years, and Minnesota is about the perfect candidate for that to happen again.
Something To Look For
A lot of defensive ends. Cameron Meredith returns at one spot. He started all 14 games for Nebraska last season and finished fifth on the team in tackles (64). The other spot is still being fought for by three or four candidates. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said that none of the candidates are breaking away from the pack because they're all playing well. One way to get more of them on the field will be for Meredith to perhaps move inside here and there in order to get more speed up front on passing downs. It's all part of an eventual rotation in an effort to keep everybody fresh and frenetic.
Linebacker Lavonte David. David was a junior college transfer last year and all he did was tally 152 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks. He also broke up ten passes. Basically, he was everywhere. He's fast, smart and seemingly perfect for this defense. The coaches have no fear letting him tear into the backfield because he usually finds his mark.
Defensive tackle Jared Crick. The fifth-year senior is a two-time All-Big XII first-teamer. Entering his third season as a starter, Crick is averaging 71.5 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks over the last two years. In 2009, much of his success was chalked up to playing alongside Ndamukong Suh. But in 2010, his solo tackles and tackles for loss actually went up. He's a pass rusher and a run stopper. He is the complete package. This is the guy that sets the tone for the Blackshirts
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Quarterback Taylor Martinez. He is as dangerous as any player in the country, and more explosive than most, but he's still developing as a quarterback. He seems excited about Nebraska's new up-tempo offense, and it will certainly have defenses on their heels, but what happens after a couple of three-and-outs in a row? Is his patience where it needs to be, or will he force things that aren't there in an effort to make plays?
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Defensive end Cameron Meredith. Meredith finished last season with 64 tackles, but only accounted for 1.5 sacks. He will be moving all over the place this season, so expect those sack numbers to go way up. He is in his fourth season at Nebraska, and the coaches are expecting him to make a major step forward.
Receiver Jamal Turner. Turner came to Nebraska as a quarterback, but he can do too many things to simply sit and wait for his turn. He was one of the Huskers' spring stars and showed unique playmaking ability. Doing it in the fall is a lot different than doing it in the spring, but expect the coaches to give him a chance to show what he can do.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
The conference schedule is impossible. The Big Ten didn't want some toe-headed carpetbagger waltzing in off the street and winning its conference, so it tried to make it as difficult as possible.
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
The defense. There might be 15 or 16 legitimate starters on this defense. The defensive line will rotate eight, the linebackers are all experienced - including Lavonte David, who is the best linebacker in the conference - and the secondary should be very good. It's made all the better by a defensive line that won't quit.
Something They Do Well
Involve the tight end. Tight end Kyler Reed had just three catches in the Huskers first six games last season, but once Taylor Martinez realized what he had with Reed, he made sure to involve him even more. Nicknamed "Speed" Reed, the junior tight end caught five passes of 29 yards or more last season. And his eight touchdowns in just 22 total receptions tells you that Martinez looks for him in the right spots. With Nebraska's new up-tempo offense, look for them to target Reed even more this season.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Throw the ball. Nebraska threw for 151 yards per game last year, which was good for 113th in the nation. That will improve this season, but with the youth at receiver and the questions surrounding Martinez's ability to throw the ball, we still can't expect it to be great. Though to be fair, Martinez has earned raves from his coaches so far throughout practice.
Consistency of quarterback styles. With the transfer of quarterback Cody Green, that means the backup quarterback job goes to Brion Carnes. He is the second cousin of Tommy Frazier, if that tells you anything about his ability and/or bloodlines. With Carnes in the fold, the offense won't have to completely change if Taylor Martinez goes down with injury. Last season, Green couldn't do what Martinez did, and the offense suffered. But Carnes can do enough to keep the offense from having to shift to a completely different plan of attack.
What's Gotten Worse?
The offensive line. The Huskers are still searching for a first unit on their offensive line. They are currently rotating at most spots as they try to find their five best options. There are four guys fighting for the two guard spots, and the coaches are actually looking to have a rotation of three, or even four, throughout the season. The tackles are likely set with last year's starter at left tackle Jeremiah Sirles back, and Jermarcus Hardrick, who played in 13 games last season, at right tackle. There could be a need for depth at the tackle spots.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
The trio of freshman running backs. The headliner is Aaron Green (5'11" 190), who was Scout's sixth-rated running back in the 2011 class. Ameer Abdullah (5'9" 180) wasn't as highly-regarded, but he's making some noise in practice. The third running back is Ohioan Braylon Heard (5'11" 180), whose enrollment was delayed a year. All three backs are fast and slippery, but it remains to be seen if any of them can break a tackle. In fact, that's a question that needs to be answered by starter Rex Burkhead as well.
Despite losing three starters in the secondary, the Cornhuskers return multiple defensive backs with starting experience. Safeties Courtney Osborne, P.J. Smith and Austin Cassidy all started at least three games last season. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard - the third-most talked about defensive player on this team - has 22 starts in his career. He was second-team All-Big XII last year, and is a popular pick for post-season awards this season as well.
Make a Wish
That Taylor Martinez spent his entire offseason throwing footballs through tire swings.
Jamal Turner will account for at least one touchdown three different ways this season.
Scandal Most Likely To Rock the Program
Hero-gate. It will be found that the eventual hero that Nebraska chooses to represent them when they play their rivalry game against Iowa will have actually orchestrated the horrific accident that he became "heroic" in.
If The Head Coach Was a Superhero, What Would His Super Power Be?
Super anger that allows Bo Pelini to blend seamlessly into any shade of red wall behind him.
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