2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Preview
Head Coach: Bo Pelini
2011 Record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten Legends
2011 Bowl Result: Lost Capital One Bowl 30-13 to South Carolina
Odds to win Big Ten Legends and Big Ten: 3/1 Legends, 11/2 Big Ten
Odds to win 2013 BCS Championship: 50/1
Over / Under regular Season Wins: over 8 1/2 -140 / under +110
All Odds Courtesy of Bovada
Last season, Nebraska, coached by Bo Pelini, moved from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers finished 9-4 and lost the Capital One Bowl 30-13 to South Carolina. Nebraska had other losses to Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan. The Cornhuskers did have wins over bowl teams, Washington, Wyoming, Ohio St, Michigan St, Penn St, and Iowa though.
Nebraska has won at least 9 games the last 4 seasons. Most programs would take that and be very happy, but for the frenzied, passionate Husker fans, it isn’t good enough. Nebraska fans think the program should be competing not just for conference titles but for national titles every year. Well, the national title might not be reachable this year, but the Huskers can certainly compete for the Big Ten title. They have a lot of returning talent and the schedule is manageable.
Last season, Nebraska brought in Tim Beck as the offensive coordinator. The Cornhuskers averaged over 217 rushing yards a game (#15 in the country) and 29 points. However, the passing attack was #104 out of 120 teams averaging just under 163 yards a game.
Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez returns to run the offense. It is his third year as the quarterback. He is the fifth leading rushing quarterback in Nebraska history. He is more dangerous with his legs but his passing ability is improving. Martinez completed 56.3% of his passes for 2,089 yards with 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He was sacked 21 times. Martinez had 188 rushing attempts, 874 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Like all quarterbacks, Martinez takes a lot of heat and criticism when his team loses. Some are touting Martinez as a potential Heisman candidate, but he might not even be the MVP of the offense.
That honor could go to running back Rex Burkhead who had 284 carries, 1,357 yards, and 15 touchdowns. He also had 21 catches, 177 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Burkhead’s 4.8 yards per carry average might not seem that impressive, but between he and Martinez, the Huskers averaged over 36 rushes a game. They would wear down opponents in the second half. Ameer Abdullah will be the back-up. He had 42 carries, 150 yards, and 3 touchdowns last year. Braylon Heard will also get some carries Fullback Mike Marrow could get a few carries in short yardage situations.
Counting the running backs, 7 of the top 8 receivers return from last year, but no Husker receiver had more than 32 catches last year. Sophomore Kenny Bell had 32 catches, 461 yards, and 3 touchdown catches. Junior Quincy Enunwa had 21 catches, 293 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Jamal Turner had 15 catches and 243 yards. Tight ends Kyler Reed and Benn Cotton also return.
The line was serviceable last year, but needs to improve. The line must replace 3 starters, including second team All-Big Ten center Mike Caputo. However, five players with starting experience do return, with a combined 44 games starting experience. Tackle Jeremiah Sirles and guard Spencer Long started all 13 games last year. Tackle Andrew Rodriguez and guard Tyler Moore move into permanent starting roles on the line. Center Cole Pensick replaces Caputo. The line will probably be about the same quality as it was last year, but shouldn’t take a step back this year.
In 2009 and 2010, Nebraska had an elite defense thanks to players like Ndamukong Suh, Prince Amukamara, and Jared Crick. All are in the NFL now. The defense took a step back last year, as Crick only played in 5 games last year because of injury. Nebraska struggled in the pass rush, usually a strength for the vaunted “Black Shirt” defense. The secondary was also ordinary. Nebraska really struggled to stop teh run last year. John Papuchis takes over as defensive coordinator from Bo Pelini’s brother Carl, who is now the head coach at Florida Atlantic.
The defensive line must replace Crick but does return senior tackle Baker Steinkuhler. He had 40 tackles, five for loss, and 2 sacks. Junior end Jason Ankrah also returns. Chase Rome and Thaddeus Randle will platoon at the other tackle. Cameron Meredith will be the other end opposite Ankrah. Eric Martin is also in the mix.
The linebackers must replace All-conference linebacker Lavonte David, but senior Will Compton does return. Compton had 82 tackles including 7 for loss, and can play all 3 linebacking positions. Sean Fisher, Alonzo Whaley, Trevor Roach, and freshman Zaire Anderson will also get time in the rotation. Anderson could be a breakout star.
Safety Daimion Stafford returns after a season with 63 tackles and ten passes broken up. Corner Andrew Green had 8 passes broken up and an interception. P.J. Smith and Ciante Evans will complete the secondary starters.
Senior Brett Maher handles both the kicking and punting duties. He made 19 of 23 field goals last year. He also averaged 44.5 yards per punt, and placed 25 inside the 20. Sophomore Mauro Bondi is the kicker of the future, but could step in if Maher is injured or struggles.
Sophomore RB Abdullah averaged 29.3 yards per kick return and ran a kick back for a touchdown against Fresno St. He also returns punts, but he only averaged 7 yards per return.
The return coverage team needs to improve on both kicks and punts. Last year Nebraska allowed almost 12 yards per punt return and a touchdown, and over 23 yards per kick return.
Nebraska opens with a potentially tricky game against Conference USA Champ Southern Miss at home. Nebraska then travels to UCLA, before home games against Arkansas St and Idaho St close out the non-conference slate. Nebraska open Big Ten play at home against Wisconsin, a potential preview of the Big ten Championship game. Ohio St is up next in Columbus, and the Huskers also travel to Northwestern. The Wildcats upset the Cornhuskers last year in Lincoln 28-25. Next up is a home game against Michigan and a road game at Michigan St. Those games will likely decide the Big ten Legends Division title. The schedule lightens up in the last three games with home games against Penn St and Minnesota, and a road game at Iowa to close out the regular season.
The offense should be fine with Martinez, Burkhead and group of steady receivers. The defense does have some questions but should see some improvement this year.
The non-conference schedule is pretty soft out side of Southern miss, but a trip to the Rose Bowl to face even a rebuilding UCLA team could be a challenge. The Huskers face the 4 best teams in the Big Ten in a space of 5 games, Wisconsin. Ohio St, (even though they are on probation), Michigan and Michigan St. I will give the Cornhuskers the benefit of the doubt and say they split those games. They should win the rest of their games. That would give Nebraska a 10-2 record, which should be good enough to win the Legends division.
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