Nebraska Football: Is Rex Burkhead Worthy of Huskers' All-Time Top 25 Status?

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJuly 17, 2012

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 25: Running back Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers tries to slip past linebacker Christian Kirksey #20 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during their game at Memorial Stadium November 25, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Iowa 20-7. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

It's no secret that Rex Burkhead has become an icon in the state of Nebraska. The tough, gritty, unflappable senior from Plano, Texas defines all that Cornhusker fans have come to desire in their football program.

Burkhead's legacy as a Husker is already firmly cemented after three brilliant seasons, but is it one of historical proportions? Is his name worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier and Tommie Frazier?

Before we consider such a major proposition, we obviously have to consider Nebraska's history. Names like Rodgers, Rozier and Frazier come to mind instantly, while others such as Grant Wistrom, Dean Steinkuhler, Dave Rimington, Turner Gill, Rich Glover, Trev Alberts, Will Shields, Jerry Murtaugh and more illicit fond memories for those of us old enough to remember the glory days.

And one cannot forget the more recent past, in which the Huskers have been less successful but have still produced names like Eric Crouch and Ndamukong Suh.

It doesn't take long to realize that Burkhead would be in legendary company were he to be considered one of the 25 best Huskers in history.

Even so, the likelihood of such an eventual distinction for No. 22 is not unrealistic at this point.

The first thing to look at is the statistics. Burkhead saw action early in his career, which has helped him to begin moving up the all-time list for rushing yards in Nebraska history. His 2,526 career yards—the vast majority of which he accumulated over the past two seasons—put him just outside the top 10, which is respectable.

However, Burkhead is expected to easily break the 1,000-yard barrier again this season (knock on wood), and if he does so, he would skyrocket into the top three—ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch.

And if Burkhead is able to match his 1,357 yards from last season (again, knock on wood), he would pass Ahman Green for second all-time, behind only Mike Rozier.

Those are some impressive possibilities for Burkhead, but what might have an even bigger impact on his status as a potential legend is the fact that he likely won't be gunning for those records, at least not openly.

Despite being the team's best player, Burkhead has one of the most humbling attitudes you'll find across the college football landscape and has always showed himself to be a team-first guy. His "lead by example" approach seems to be rubbing off on his teammates as well.

It would be easy for a player of Burkhead's caliber to get a big head. An All-Big Ten first team selection from last season, he has been selected to several preseason All-Conference and All-America teams and is even getting a little recognition as a dark-horse Heisman candidate.

His stats speak for themselves, and his balance and toughness combined with deceptive agility make him an elite college running back. Despite all this, however, he usually remains quiet and reserved and always gives the credit to his teammates (his offensive line in particular) for the success he enjoys.

That combination of humility and consistently phenomenal on-field play has made Burkhead a fan favorite on all levels.

Anyone who is going to be considered a legend must be more than just a great football player. He has to be the face of a program, making his coaches, teammates and fans proud both on and off the field. Burkhead is, by all indications, exactly that type of player.

Based solely on his unfinished business on the football field, it seems too early to put Burkhead in a category as lofty as "all-time top 25." But if all goes well, 2012 could go a long way towards earning him that kind of distinction.

We should not only look at his rushing numbers to determine that, but also examine the team as a whole and whether or not Burkhead is able to have a huge impact as one of the team's unquestioned leaders—in other words, do the Huskers go as Rex goes?

Only time will tell, but based on what we've seen from Burkhead's career up to this point, he's a legend waiting to happen.