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You can read the entire Nebraska preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 Big 10 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Big Ten Legends PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 30-12 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck | DEF. COORDINATOR: Carl Pelini
The offense has a new coordinator and quarterbacks coach (Tim Beck), a new running backs coach (replacing Beck), a new receivers coach and an additional offensive line coach. It also has been restructured and simplified, with an emphasis on no-huddle as well as learning concepts rather than memorizing plays — “flipping the whole thing over on its side and starting over,” says Barney Cotton, the carryover offensive line coach and a former coordinator himself.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is the key. The Huskers’ late-season offensive woes in 2010 coincided with his being slowed by an ankle injury suffered in the eighth game. In the first seven games, he rushed for 870 yards and 12 touchdowns. Over the final seven — he missed one and didn’t have a carry in another — he rushed for only 95 yards and didn’t score a touchdown.
Developing a physical running game is a recurrent theme for coach Bo Pelini, and that begins with a line built around returning starters Mike Caputo and Jeremiah Sirles. Rex Burkhead will be complemented at running back by some talented freshmen with breakaway speed.
The Huskers ranked No. 113 nationally in passing, but that can’t be laid entirely on Martinez. Brandon Kinnie and tight end Kyler Reed are the top returning receivers.
The Cornhuskers will win the Big Ten title in their debut season.
This could be the best defense during his time at Nebraska, according to defensive coordinator Carl Pelini. And that’s saying something. The Huskers ranked third nationally in pass efficiency defense, fifth in pass defense, ninth in scoring defense and 11th in total defense in 2010.
The Huskers have honors candidates at all three levels — tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. David, a junior college transfer, set the school single-season record for tackles last season, while Crick and Dennard were both good enough to consider bypassing their final season of eligibility and testing their value in the NFL Draft.
The defensive line is three-deep at tackle and two-deep at end. The concerns are depth at linebacker and unproven but talented cornerbacks. The Huskers might use the Peso position — a hybrid nickel back/linebacker — less this season, in favor of three linebackers in dealing with more run-oriented Big Ten offenses.
Taylor Martinez, QB Gamebreaker when healthy, which was not the case for the final half of 2010.
Lavonte David, LB Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year broke school single-season record with 152 tackles.
Jared Crick, DT Two-time first-team all-conference pick is one of the best in the nation.
|Sept. 10th||Fresno State|
|Sept. 24th||at Wyoming|
|Oct. 1st||at Wisconsin|
|Oct. 8th||Ohio State|
|Oct. 22nd||at Minnesota|
|Oct. 29th||Michigan State|
|Nov. 12th||at Penn State|
|Nov. 19th||at Michigan|
The absence of Alex Henery, who punted as well as kicked, is significant, as is the loss of Adi Kunalic, who handled kickoffs. Brett Maher, the holder for placements and Henery’s backup last season, could fill all three kicking roles. Maher is a good athlete who has competed in the pole vault for the Husker track and field team.
Nebraska faltered last season, losing three of its final four games, primarily because of an unproductive offense — hence, significant staff changes and a new no-huddle system that will feature the breakaway ability of Martinez.
However, the move to the Big Ten is the most significant storyline for 2011. Defense is the signature of Pelini’s teams, and the Huskers are preparing to deal with more physical, run-oriented offenses in their new conference. They will face a welcome-to-the-Big-Ten schedule, opening at Wisconsin and then playing Ohio State at home before finishing with back-to-back trips to Penn State and Michigan and a game against Iowa in Lincoln on the day after Thanksgiving. Despite that difficult slate, Nebraska is the clear favorite in the new Legends Division. Anything short of double-digit wins will be a disappointment.