Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead will lead a powerful Husker offense into their most pivotal games in 2012.
When Nebraska announced its intent to join the Big Ten in the spring/summer of 2010, it was welcomed with open arms. "Big Red in the Big Ten" became the slogan.
Thoughts of Missouri, Syracuse and Rutgers joining the nation's oldest and most respected conference vanished. Nebraska brought instant tradition, name recognition and strength to the league. It was welcomed with open arms.
Then the football schedules came out. Wisconsin. Ohio State. Michigan. Michigan State. Penn State. Minnesota was the only doormat on the schedule, and the Gophers were only there because they were in the Legends Division. Indiana, Illinois and Purdue were absent for Nebraska's first two seasons in its new conference.
Welcome to the Big Ten, fellas.
Nebraska finished tied for second in the Legends Division in 2011, and it has aspirations of taking the step up to the Big Ten Championship Game this year. With seven starters returning on both sides of the ball, it is certainly possible.
In order to play the Leaders Division Champion on Dec. 1 (most likely Wisconsin), here are five games the Huskers must win in 2012. They are in no particular order of importance.
Wisconsin has two great running backs, and Nebraska will have to stop both of them to win in Lincoln.
It's always fun with the defending conference champion is your first conference game of the season, especially when they whooped your butt at their place last season.
It can't be stated enough how difficult it is to beat a team twice in one season. Since Ohio State was banned from postseason play for the 2012 season, Wisconsin clearly has the inside track to the Leaders Division crown.
That means Nebraska will most likely have to beat the Badgers twice if it wants to win the Big Ten. It's difficult to do, but you have to start somewhere. Sept. 29 is the date to start. You can't win twice if you don't win the first one.
In order to win in Evanston in 2012, Nebraska must find a way to stop each and every mobile Northwestern quarterback.
Nebraska's game with Northwestern might not seem like a must-win in order to win the Legends Division, but it's probably the most important game on the conference schedule. It isn't that the Huskers must win; it's that they must not lose this one. Under head coach Bo Pelini, there seems to be one game every year against an inferior opponent that Nebraska gives away. Northwestern isn't close to Nebraska's level, but the timing on the schedule is pivotal.
The Huskers travel to Ohio State and have a bye week before traveling to Evanston and welcome Michigan to Lincoln the week after they tangle with the Wildcats. If they lose two of those three games, winning the Legends Division will seem nearly impossible.
Michigan ran and passed all over Nebraska in Ann Arbor last year. That can't happen in Lincoln this year.
The Legends Division may come down to a two-team race in November, but it all starts when the Huskers welcome the Wolverines to Memorial Stadium on Oct. 27.
Beating Michigan is probably the most important piece of Nebraska's puzzle for the 2012 season, and it is easily the toughest test for the Huskers in October. Denard Robinson, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Roy Roundree are looking to make a statement in 2012. Nebraska must win this game.
After hemming up Michigan State in 2011, Nebraska's biggest game in 2012 will be in East Lansing
If Northwestern is the most important game to not lose on the conference slate, their tussle with Michigan State might be the most important game of the season for the Huskers. The Spartans might not have much offense, but they will be tough to score on. They might have the best defense in the Big Ten, and they are the reigning Legends Division Champions.
Rex Burkhead and Nebraska must win at Iowa to finish strong.
Iowa wants this rivalry. Badly. The Hawkeyes also want to beat Nebraska. Badly. What better time to beat the Huskers than when they could knock them out of contention for the Big Ten Championship Game?
Iowa isn't on Nebraska's level, but if the Huskers need a win to lock up the Legends Division, the Hawkeyes could be the most dangerous team on the schedule.