The Nebraska Cornhuskers officially begin their 2012 season in less than a month with the start of summer practice. This is the time for writers to start looking at the 2012 Cornhuskers and determining what is in store for the team.
Nebraska finished their fourth consecutive season of winning at least nine games (all under head coach Bo Pelini). Husker Nation is not satisfied with nine-win seasons. Fans want championships!
So, what do the 2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers have to do to improve upon their nine-win season in 2011 and make it to the Big Ten Championship game?
Here is a list of five keys to the success of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2012…
Nebraska’s offense sputtered in the second half of the season last year. The Cornhuskers failed to score more than 20 points in their last four games.
The reason for the struggles on offense in the second half of the season was the result of teams figuring out that quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead were the only options for the Cornhusker’s offense.
Martinez and Burkhead accounted for 88 percent of the offensive production for the team. Nebraska’s opponents stacked the line of scrimmage to stop the dynamic dual.
Nebraska must find another option on offense if the team expects to take the next step forward. That option must come out of the passing game.
Martinez is not going to turn into Payton Manning in his third year as the starting quarterback, but if he could eliminate his poor choices and find a receiver to step up, the team could become an offensive power.
Nebraska has some options in the passing game. Wide receiver Kenny Bell was the team’s best freshman last year. Bell caught 32 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns. Bell is the team’s best deep threat in 2012.
The best place for Nebraska to look for a third option is at tight end. Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton are underutilized in the Cornhusker’s offense. Both players have the skills to provide Martinez an option in the passing game and keep the chains moving down the field.
If Nebraska continues to rely on Martinez and Burkhead to win games, it will be another disappointing season for Husker Nation.
The biggest concern for Nebraska heading into the 2012 season has to be the lack of depth on the offensive line. Nebraska only returns two starters on the line and depth was an issue last season.
Nebraska’s offensive line is projected to be:
- OT Tyler Moore (sophomore)
- OG Seung Hoon Choi (senior)
- C Cole Pensick (junior)
- OG Spencer Long (junior)
OT Jeremiah Sirles (junior)
Andrew Rodriguez projects to be the main backup at offensive tackle and guard. He may become a starter by the end of summer camp.
The offensive line has the potential to be good, but it takes time to work as a unit. The leadership of Rex Burkhead should provide some needed assistance to the young linemen. Burkhead must be more patient this year and allow the line time to open up holes to run through.
Nebraska’s defense became a one-man show in 2011. If the Blackshirts' defense made a big play, there was a good chance that linebacker Lavonte David was in on it.
David is now in the NFL, and Nebraska has a huge hole to fill.
It is obvious that Nebraska focused on this issue in recruiting. The Cornhuskers recruited four linebackers to help with the issue of depth at the position.
The addition of Jared Afalava, Thomas Brown and Michael Rose make Nebraska’s future at the position look bright. Junior college recruit Zaire Anderson will be looked upon to play immediately for the Cornhuskers.
The starting linebackers for the Blackshirts projects to be:
- BUCK Sean Fisher (senior)
- MLB Will Compton (senior)
- WLB Alonzo Whaley (senior)
Compton will be the leader of the defense in 2012. Anderson will battle Whaley for the "Will" linebacker position.
Nebraska must have one of its young recruit’s step up and provide depth to the linebacker position.
Nebraska has talent on the defensive line, but it did not show up in 2011. The Blackshirts ranked No. 11 in the Big Ten in sacks and No. 8 in rushing defense.
Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler will anchor the defensive line for the Cornhuskers. Both players have showed potential, but they've underachieved in the past.
Jason Ankrah and Eric Martin will both see playing time opposite Meradith. This could be the season Ankrah takes over as the leader of the defensive line.
Chase Rome and Thaddeus Randle both saw playing time at defensive tackle when Jared Crick was injured last year. The injury to Crick provided Rome and Randle some much-needed experience. Now the two players must build upon that experience and take the next step forward.
It will be up to the new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski to light a fire under the group so they are not ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in 2012.
It is no secret the Nebraska’s schedule is more difficult in 2012. The Cornhuskers must manage the tough schedule and not panic if things do not go their way.
Nebraska’s nonconference schedule does not look tough on paper, but when you look closer, the teams are better than people think.
Southern Mississippi (12-2 Conference USA Champions in 2011), Arkansas State (10-3 Sun Belt Champions in 2011) are quality opponents. A trip to Pasadena to play UCLA will not be a walk-over. Idaho State will not be a threat to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.
Nebraska will make it through their nonconference schedule undefeated (some games will be closer then fans think). When the Cornhuskers begin their Big Ten schedule is where Nebraska may have problems.
Nebraska hosts Wisconsin to begin conference play. Following that game, the Cornhuskers will travel to Columbus to play Ohio State and end the four-game stretch against two teams who beat them last year: Northwestern and Michigan.
Nebraska may find some bumps in the road in this part of the schedule. The Cornhuskers must take one game at a time and not panic if they lose one.
If Nebraska worries too much about the middle part of the schedule, they may find themselves losing games to Penn State and Iowa as well.
Nebraska is not going into the 2012 season as the favorites to win their division. This is a good thing for the Cornhuskers.
Last season, Nebraska had high expectations to fill in their first season in their new conference. A little less pressure on the Cornhuskers might be just what they need to sneak into the Big Ten Championship game.
Nebraska's offense should take a step forward in their second year under offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Finding more linemen will be the key for Nebraska's offense.
The defense had high expectations in 2012 with star players at each level (Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard). The Blackshirts may not have the skilled players they had in 2011 on defense, but more depth will go a long way to providing success in 2012.
The difficult schedule will not be easy for Nebraska, but if they take one game at a time and don’t panic if they lose a game, they should be fine.
My early prediction for the Cornhuskers is 9-3. That could change once summer practice begins.
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