Running back Rex Burkhead will carry the Cornhuskers’ offense in 2012.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/16/12, 5:57 AM EDT
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Big 10 Legends PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 39-16 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Papuchis
The Huskers have experience in second-year coordinator Tim Beck’s system. That’s especially important for quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has been a lightning rod for media and fan criticism when things have gone wrong.
Though Martinez already ranks fifth in career rushing yards by a Husker quarterback, there’s less emphasis on his running now. Versatile All-Big Ten I-back Rex Burkhead is the workhorse, carrying nearly 300 times last season for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. Ameer Abdullah has breakaway speed and will help spell Burkhead. Fullback Mike Marrow could line up at I-back as well in short-yardage situations.
The wide receivers are young and talented. Kenny Bell led the team in receptions and receiving yards in his first season, while converted quarterback Jamal Turner started fast, showing big-play ability, only to tail off, also in his first season. Kyler Reed is a proven, if under-utilized, tight end.
The line is built around walk-on guard Spencer Long, an aggressive run-blocker. The other guard, Seung Hoon Choi, also a walk-on, is the best pass-blocker. Cole Pensick is the front-runner to replace two-year starter Mike Caputo at center.
Is Nebraska's Taylor Martinez One of the Big Ten's Top Quarterbacks?
The defensive staff has been restructured, with John Papuchis replacing coach Bo Pelini’s brother Carl, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic, as defensive coordinator, and the hiring of a new line coach, Rick Kaczenski, and secondary coach, Terry Joseph. Nebraska needs to improve against the run after ranking in the bottom half of the Big Ten, which Kaczenski, who came from Iowa, describes as a “big old physical league,” something the Huskers learned during their first season in the conference.
Tackle Baker Steinkuhler and end Cameron Meredith are two-year starters up front. Lavonte David, the top two-year tackler in school history, must be replaced at linebacker. Will Compton is back to make the check calls from the middle. But depth at the position is again a concern.
Daimion Stafford is a big hitter at safety, and Andrew Green settled in alongside the departed Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback. Junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay could be the other corner, though there are plenty of candidates for the position, as well as at safety.
LaVonte David, LB
David earned Big Ten Linebacker of the Year honors in 2011. He totaled 285 tackles, 24.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks in only two seasons, making him the No. 4 all-time leading tackler in the distinguished linebacker history of Big Red football.
Rex Burkhead, IB—First-team All-Big Ten pick ranks 12th on Nebraska’s career rushing list with 2,654 yards.
Taylor Martinez, QB—Already third at Nebraska in career total offense (5,559 yards), fifth in rushing among quarterbacks (1,839 yards), sixth in passing yards (3,720).
Brett Maher, K/P—Earned both Big Ten Kicker and Big Ten Punter of the Year awards.
|Sept. 1st||Southern Miss|
|Sept. 8th||at UCLA|
|Sept. 15th||Arkansas State|
|Sept. 22nd||Idaho State|
|Oct. 6th||at Ohio State|
|Oct. 20th||at Northwestern|
|Nov. 3rd||at Michigan State|
|Nov. 10th||Penn State|
|Nov. 23rd||at Iowa|
Though Brett Maher, a walk-on, didn’t make Husker fans forget about Alex Henery, he proved to be a worthy successor as a placekicker and punter. He was 19-of-23 on field goals with all but one of the misses from 50 yards or longer, and he averaged 44.5 yards per punt to rank 10th nationally, with 25-of-59 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He also handled kickoffs. Abdullah ranked ninth nationally in kickoff returns, with a 100-yarder for a touchdown against Fresno State.
Nebraska is among only eight FBS schools that have won at least nine games each of the past four seasons, Pelini’s tenure as coach. The Huskers hadn’t had four consecutive nine-win seasons since the school’s NCAA-record streak of 33 from 1969-2001. Even so, Pelini had to defend his program late last season against charges that it was “stuck in neutral.”
Nebraska’s first season in the Big Ten required some adjustment, of course, particularly in dealing with the league’s physicality. The Huskers will benefit from the experience. But they will need to get better on both sides of the ball if they’re going to be title contenders in their second season in the conference.