The Cornhuskers could boast the Big Ten’s top pass-catching corps in 2012 and Bell should be atop the Big Red statistical charts once again. In only his first season in college football, the Boulder, Colo., product led the team in receptions and yards per game. His performance earned him various All-Freshman teams from around the media. His 80-yard touchdown run against Minnesota was the longest scoring run by a freshman in school history. Look for big things from No. 80 this fall as the young play-maker continues to develop.
The stabilizing force at the backend of the 2012 Huskers defense will be the 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety from Norco, Calif. His 80 tackles rank him just behind Will Compton as the No. 2 returning tackler as he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten acknowledgment in only his first season in Lincoln.
The big-play tight end already owns the school’s single-season record for touchdown catches by a tight end with eight back in 2010. He has averaged over 16 yards per catch on 43 career receptions and is poised for his best season in Lincoln this fall. His ability to stretch the defense vertically with his tremendous athletic ability has to be taken advantage of by QB Taylor Martinez if the Huskers expect to compete for a Big Ten title.
There are few kickers or punters that are as valuable to their team as Maher is to Nebraska. He fills two roles with excellence as he was named the Big Ten’s Kicker of the Year and Punter of the Year in 2011. He connected on 19 of his 23 field goal attempts, including three made kicks from 50+ yards. Maher also finished with a league-leading 44.5 yards per punt average, good for the sixth-highest single-season average in school history. He pinned the opposition inside the 20 on 24 of his 59 punts and should be an All-American candidate in 2012.
The Huntington Beach, Calif., product has played in all 42 games of his Nebraska career, including 27 consecutive starts entering 2012. No small feat on a defensive line that has dealt with a multitude of injuries over the last two seasons. Meredith earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011 after registering 58 tackles and five sacks. The versatile 6-foot-4, 265-pound end comes into this season as the top pass rusher for Papuchis.
The four-year tackler for the Big Red defense broke into the Nebraska program in a big way as a freshman All-American in 2009. After missing six games in 2010 and 82 tackles in 2011, the Bonne Terre, Mo., product enters his final season in Lincoln as the top returning tackler. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition alongside superstar Lavonte David last fall and will be asked to pick-up where the second-round draft pick left off. Compton is poised for his best year.
As only a sophomore in 2011, Long established himself as one of the top blockers in the Big Ten. He claimed second-team All-Big Ten honors after starting every game for the Big Red last fall. He will lead the way for the stellar Nebraska rushing attack that ranked 15th in the nation in 2011 at 217.2 yards per game. There may be no more important role on this team than paving the way for Rex Burkhead and protecting Taylor Martinez.
The Husker legacy will be one of the most important cogs in new coordinator John Papuchis’ Blackshirt defense in 2012. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound defensive lineman started every game last season and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten credit after 40 total tackles, two sacks and five tackles for a loss. He has now started 26 of his last 27 games and will be the leader of arguably the most important part of the Huskers Big Ten title hopes this fall, the D-Line.
The talent has always been obvious for the quarterback nicknamed T-Magic. In 2011, Martinez developed the mental maturity, toughness and leadership that he failed to display as a freshman. Now, as an upperclassmen, the final step of his development process is to refine his throwing motion and become an efficient and consistent passer. If he can do this, Martinez could become one of the nation’s elite signal callers. After 1,839 career rushing yards and 21 career rushing scores, his explosiveness on the ground is unquestioned. It’s his ability to complete a few extra key third down passes per game that will win him national recognition — and lots of football games.
There aren’t enough positive football clichés to describe Big Red’s Superman. He is as complete a player as there is in the nation. Burkhead can move the pile with his power, he can get to the edge with deceptive speed, he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, he picks up the blitz with precision, he is as tough and durable as any player in the nation and he elevates the level of play of those around him by leading by example. After 1,534 yards from scrimmage and 17 total touchdowns in his first season as the starter, No. 22 is poised for another stellar performance in 2012.
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