• 2012 finish: The Huskers finished 10-4 in ’12 with a 7-1 record and Big Ten’s Legends Division title.
• Returning offensive starters (8): QB Taylor Martinez, IB Ameer Abdullah, WR Jamal Turner, WR Kenny Bell, WR Quincy Enunwa, RG Spencer Long, RT Jeremiah Shirles, LT Brent Qvale
• Projected starting offense: QB Taylor Martinez (6-1, 210, Sr.); IB Ameer Abdullah (5-9, 190, Jr.); WR Jamal Turner (6-1, 185, Jr.); WR Kenny Bell (6-1, 185, Jr.); WR Quincy Enunwa (6-2, 225, Sr.); TE Jake Long (6-4, 240, Sr.); LT Brent Qvale (6-7, 315, Sr.); LG Jake Cotton (6-6, 305, Jr.); C Cole Pensick (6-2, 275, Sr.); RG Spencer Long (6-4, 315, Sr.); RT Jeremiah Shirles (6-6, 310, Sr.)
• Returning defensive starters (4): DE Jason Ankrah, CB Ciante Evans, SS Corey Cooper, CB Andrew Green
• Projected starting defense: DE Jason Ankrah (6-4, 265, Sr.); DT Thad Randle (6-1, 290, Sr.); DT Vincent Valentine (6-3, 325, #Fr.); DE Greg McMullen (6-3, 285, #Fr.); WLB Zaire Anderson (5-11, 220, Jr.); MLB David Santos (6-0, 225, So.); BLB Jared Afalava (6-3, 230, #Fr.); CB Ciante Evans (5-11, 190, Sr.); SS Corey Cooper (6-1, 210, Jr.); FS Harvey Jackson (6-2, 210, Jr.); CB Andrew Green (6-0, 195, Sr.)
• Returning specialists (0): Nebraska will have a new kicker and punter
• Key losses: RB Rex Burkhead, OL Seung Hoon Choi, RB Braylon Heard, TE Ben Cotton, DL Eric Martin, LB Will Compton, DE Cameron Meredith, S Daimion Stafford, P/PK Brett Maher
• Top 5 additions: DL Randy Gregory (6-6, 230, Jr.); OL Matt Finnin (6-7, 305, Jr.); OL Chongo Kondolo (6-4, 290, Jr.); RB Terrell Newby (5-10, 180); LB Josh Banderas (6-2, 220)
• 2012 review: The bottom fell out at Ohio State, as it does and has for just about everyone in the Big Ten in the last decade. But this was Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers aren’t used to have the bottom hit them in the face halfway through the season. After a 63-38 defeat in Columbus, the Huskers sat 4-2. It also had at Northwestern, Michigan, at Michigan State and Penn State coming right up on the schedule. So, in the Ohio State postgame, with everyone expecting a volcanic outburst, head coach Bo Pelini calmly, coolly said, “Like I just told the football team, we need to win out. We need to win out.”
The Huskers took that statement all the way to the Big Ten championship game. QB Taylor Martinez led a fourth-quarter comeback at Northwestern, throwing a 7-yard TD pass to TE Ben Cotton with 2:08 seconds left to lift UNL at Ryan Field. Then, UNL got physical with Michigan and quarterback Denard Robinson, knocking the B1G’s most dynamic playmaker out of the game and gliding to a 23-9 victory. The Huskers outlasted MSU at home, 28-24, and then walled off Penn State 32-23. Minnesota and Iowa fell in line.
Pelini’s “win out” became a reality. The Big Ten championship game? That was another story. In his swan song as Wisconsin’s head coach, Bret Bielema dropped 70 on the Huskers in a 70-31 Big Ten championship game. The Huskers went toe-to-toe with No. 6 Georgia in the Capital One Bowl before falling 45-31.
Nebraska’s defense was the story for its 10-4 season. The Huskers allowed 36, 63, 70 and 45 in losses.
• 2013 schedule: A31 — Wyoming; S7 — Southern Miss; S14 — UCLA; S21 — South Dakota State; S28 — off week; O5 — Illinois; O12 — at at Purdue; O19 — off week; O26 — at Minnesota; N2 — Northwestern; N9 — at Michigan; N16 — Michigan State; N23 — at Penn State; N29 — Iowa (Black Friday game, 11 a.m., ABC)
• Key stretch: The Legends Division will come down to a four-week stretch in November, which is basically a round-robin elmination series. Nebraska plays host to Northwestern, travels to Michigan, plays host to Michigan State and then hits the long road to Penn State on Nov. 23. For good measure, the Huskers will then close the season with a rivalry/trophy game in Lincoln against Iowa.
The back end of the Huskers’ schedule stands out even more when compared to the front. Nebraska doesn’t play outside of Lincoln until Oct. 12 at Purdue. UNL’s non-conference schedule is four straight home games, with the Huskers looking to avenge a 36-30 loss at UCLA last season. Nebraska was originally supposed to travel to Southern Miss, but the school fired Ellis Johnson and so it offered Nebraska the opportunity to buy back the game for $2.1 million. Done and done. Nebraska probably comes out ahead $1.5 million in that exchange and gets a nice, cozy schedule leading into the Big Ten season.
• Trap game: There are a couple of candidates here. The game at Purdue on Oct. 12 might be the weaker of the two choices. It is the Huskers’ first game outside of Lincoln in 2013. The week before, they play host to Illinois. The week after at Purdue is UNL’s second off week with Minnesota following that.
The Michigan State game in Lincoln on Nov. 16 is the better choice. It’s a road sandwich set up. The week before, the Huskers will be in Ann Arbor against Michigan. The game will be big, tense and probably on ABC. The week after MSU, the Huskers will go as far east as the Big Ten requires them to, for at least this season, for Penn State in State College. What will Penn State be? Good question. At Beaver Stadium in November, it won’t be a pushover.
It’s going to be three straight five-alarm games for the Huskers, but you could perhaps see them let down their guard at home against an MSU team that should have one of the Big Ten’s better defenses.
• Glass half-full: The Huskers’ offense is set up to be lethal. QB Taylor Martinez will have a chance to be in the Heisman race. His total offense yardage totals have climbed every year in his three as the starter, topping out at 3,890 yards last season. He’s averaged 3,150 yards of total offense. Martinez also has improved his passing game in all three seasons, passing for 2,871 yards and 23 TDs to just 12 interceptions. Martinez spent some time with QB guru Steve Calhoun before last season and the numbers spiked in every category. Martinez even topped his rushing totals, surpassing 1,000 yards (1,019) for the first time in his career.
Nebraska will miss Rex Burkhead’s toughness, leadership and, most of all, production. Despite just playing eight games because of a knee injury last season, Burkhead rushed for 675 yards and five TDs. Junior Ameer Abdullah was there for the Huskers last season, rushing for 1,137 yards and eight TDs, and he’ll take over No. 1 I-back this season. Abdullah is a smaller back (5-9, 190), but he’s physical, quick and instinctive.
Martinez also will have his top three wide receivers back from ’12. Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner combined for 1,750 yards and 12 TDs. Nebraska hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver in its history. The Huskers have done just fine without that, but you know it’s an itch they’d all love to scratch. Bell, an emerging star, has a shot, but that’s a talented group and the ball will be spread around.
Ohio State and Wisconsin fell off Nebraska’s schedule this year with Illinois and Purdue locking in from the Leaders Division. That’s a pretty big plus and the kind of factor that will weigh heavily in the Legends race. Also, the Huskers get two of the Legends top four contenders at home (Northwestern, Michigan State).
• Glass half-empty: Opponents ran the ball on Nebraska last season. The Huskers allowed 4.76 yards a carry, the highest total against since 2007 (5.24). Four times last season, UNL allowed 200-plus yards, including an eye-popping 539 yards against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Huskers also allowed 334 in a loss at UCLA (the first of the red flags that went up) and then 371 at Ohio State.
UNL loses first-team all-Big Ten DE Eric Martin, second-team DT Baker Steinkuhler and DE Cameron Meredith. The 2012 D-line recruiting class was excellent and will be counted on as redshirt freshmen in ’13. Giant DT Vincent Valentine (6-3, 325) has a great opportunity in front of him. Same for DE Greg McMullen (6-3, 285). DT Maliek Collins also could push through.
The Huskers will be young in the front seven. All three linebackers will be first-year starters. MLB David Santos (6-0, 225, sophomore) is being counted on to add a speed element UNL lacked last season.
The Huskers also lose K/P specialist Brett Maher. Last season, the Huskers were unclean in its special teams play. They fumbled five punts and Abdullah was less of a factor in kick return. They’ll have to replace Maher, and you wonder if Abdullah’s role as No. 1 back will affect special teams.
• The Iowa angle: This is a “series,” it’s not yet a “rivalry.” It’s the Heroes Game, it has a trophy, but it’s still not a rivalry. Iowa has to change that with a win or two. Right now, it’s all Nebraska, with six straight victories over Iowa dating back to 1982, including the two games since the Huskers joined the Big Ten. Iowa has one win over UNL since 1946. Iowa hasn’t won at Lincoln since 33-13 in 1943.
Because this game is Friday morning after Thanksgiving, a lot of the country tunes in on ABC. It’s a game people talk about. Last season, a lot of the country came away thinking the Huskers didn’t look great in a 13-7 victory. A lot of attention also went toward the ugliness that was Iowa’s offense.
When this series started to materialize, former Nebraska AD Tom Osborne spoke often and openly how Colorado thought it was Nebraska’s rival. Osborne was kick to remind that it was Oklahoma. At what point is Iowa “Colorado” here?
Quotable: “We were just having some fun with it. It was actually my daughter, she just turned 12, she had a sleepover the night before. And her and her friends, they’d been telling me what this ‘Harlem Shake’ thing was and they were showing it to me. And I thought it was a good idea, that our kids would have fun with this. We had fun with it, and it was something different.” — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, on the Harlem Shake video his team put out this spring.
|Passing Yards:||T. Martinez||2871|
|Passing TDs:||T. Martinez||23|
|Rushing Yards:||A. Abdullah||1137|
|Rushing TDs:||T. Martinez||10|
|Receiving Yards:||K. Bell||863|
|Receiving TDs:||K. Bell||8|
|Offense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||2904 (66)|
|Rushing Yards:||3547 (7)|
|Points per game:||34.8 (28)|
|Yards per game:||460.8 (26)|
|Field Goals:||20 (16)|
|Defense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||2354 (11)|
|Rushing Yards:||2695 (115)|
|Points per game:||27.6 (58)|
|Yards per game:||360.6 (35)|
|Field Goals:||13 (40)|
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