With Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State and Nebraskaall expected to be in the mix for a spot in most preseason top-25 polls, the Big Ten Legends Division could be the toughest in college football in 2013. The Cornhuskers are the defending division champs but finished the year on a down note. Nebraska was steamrolled by Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and lost 45-31 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Bo Pelini’s team loses a lot of talent on defense, but the offense will be one of the best in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers might have to win a lot of shootouts early on, but a favorable schedule should have Nebraska in the thick of the division title picture.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 10-4 (7-1)
Spring practice dates: March 2-April 6
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4
Passing: Taylor Martinez, 228 of 368, 2,871 yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Ameer Abdullah, 226 car., 1,137 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: Kenny Bell, 50 rec., 863 yards, 8 TDs
Tackles: Ciante Evans, 56
Sacks: Jason Ankrah and Ciante Evans, 2
Interceptions: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, 2
Redshirts to watch: LB Michael Rose, OL Paul Thurston, DE Greg McMullen, LB Jared Afalava, DT Vincent Valentine, WR Jordan Westerkamp, LB Thomas Brown, DE Avery Moss
Early Enrollees to watch: OL David Knevel, LB Courtney Love, DB D.J. Singleton
JUCO Transfers to watch: OL Matt Finnin, DE Randy Gregory, OL Chongo Kondolo
Aug. 31 Wyoming
Sept. 7 Southern Miss
Sept. 14 UCLA
Sept. 21 South Dakota State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Illinois
Oct. 12 at Purdue
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Minnesota
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
Nov. 29 Iowa
Offensive Strength: It’s hard to find a weakness for the Cornhuskers on this side of the ball. Quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell should all earn All-Big Ten honors, while the offensive line returns three starters.
Offensive Weakness: If there’s a weakness, the Cornhuskers have to point to the trenches. Two tight ends (Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton) are gone from last season, and center Justin Jackson must be replaced after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
Defensive Strength: The secondary was clearly the strength of Nebraska’s defense last season, holding opponents to 168.1 yards per game and finishing ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense. P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford are gone, but the Cornhuskers return plenty of talent, led by seniors Andrew Green and Ciante Evans.
Defensive Weakness: The front seven. The Cornhuskers have a lot of work to do this spring on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, as end Jason Ankrah is the only returning starter in the front seven. Nebraska has some promising talent on the roster, but how quickly can the line and linebacking corps jell this spring?
Spring Storylines Facing the Cornhuskers
1. More growth from Taylor Martinez? There’s no doubt Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was one of college football’s most-improved players last season. After throwing for 2,089 yards and completing just 56.2 percent of his passes in 2011, Martinez threw for 2,871 yards and bumped his accuracy to 62 percent in 2012. With most of the supporting cast returning, the Nebraska coaching staff hopes the California native can take another step in his development. Martinez tossed four more interceptions in 2012 than he did in 2011 but also threw nearly 80 more passes. After a solid 2012 campaign, Martinez is entrenched as one of college football’s top-15 returning quarterbacks and should have his best year in his final season in Lincoln.
2. Restocking the offensive line. With two all-conference candidates (Spencer Long and Jeremiah Sirles) and one 14-game starter (Brent Qvale) returning, Nebraska has a good foundation on the line. Two spots will be up for grabs this spring, as the Cornhuskers look to replace center Justin Jackson and guard Seung Hoon Choi. There’s experience returning to compete for the open positions, including Cole Pensick (two starts in 2012), Mark Pelini and Jake Cotton. Sophomore Ryne Reeves also has good potential and figures to push for a starting spot at guard or center. This unit isn’t a huge concern for Nebraska, but coordinator Tim Beck and line coaches John Garrison and Barney Cotton need to get a good look at Pensick, Pelini, Cotton and Reeves to determine how to get the best starting five on the field.
3. Finding the right answers on defense. Despite finishing fourth nationally against the pass, the Cornhuskers couldn’t feel good about their defense by the end of the year. Nebraska allowed 70 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and 45 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. As if the close to the season wasn’t bad enough for Bo Pelini’s defense, this unit returns only four starters. Gone are first-team All-Big Ten selections in defensive end Eric Martin and safety Daimion Stafford, along with tackle Baker Steinkuhler and linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher. The front seven needs the most work this spring, and a handful of newcomers will be expected to push for time this preseason. End Randy Gregory was sidelined at junior college due to an injury last year but could push for a starting job in the fall. With Gregory not in the mix this spring, look for redshirt freshmen Avery Moss, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen to gain valuable practice snaps. The linebacking corps is also a work in progress, as David Santos (24 tackles) is the most promising player returning. However, keep a close watch on redshirt freshmen Thomas Brown and Michael Rose. With so many new faces stepping into playing time, Nebraska’s starting 11 on defense could be unsettled until late in fall camp.
4. Special Teams. With the heavy personnel losses on defense, it’s easy to overlook the departure of Brett Maher. However, the All-Big Ten kicker will be missed, as he connected on 20 of 27 field goals last season and averaged 41.8 yards per punt. Sophomore Mauro Bondi, Western Illinois transfer Pat Smith and freshmen Spencer Lindsay and Grant Schumacher will battle to win the starting kicker job, while Jordan Bellar is the only punter listed on the spring roster. Special teams are often overlooked, but Maher was one of the best in the country, and the Cornhuskers won’t easily replace him in 2013.
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