From January through August, Nebraska fans were waiting to hear the four most beautiful words in the English language.
“It’s Southern Mississippi Week.”
With the 2012 season about to start, it’s time to take an in-depth look at Nebraska. What happened this offseason? What should we be looking for from the offense? From the defense? Who will be Nebraska’s standouts? What will Nebraska’s record be at the end of the season?
Most importantly, this will be the last week of reading previews of the season. After this week, we finally get a chance to talk about actual football.
The biggest question facing Nebraska as the 2011 season ended was how NU would replace defensive standouts Lavonte David, Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard, all lost to graduation.
Taylor Martinez spent the offseason working with a quarterback guru in California improving his throwing motion, spurring the Infinite Monkeys into action discussing Martinez and his impact on NU in 2012. Rex Burkhead was subject of an is he or isn’t he Heisman Trophy candidacy, ending with a website being established touting his candidacy.
There were unexpected departures, as Aaron Green and Ryan Klachko transferred and Tyler Moore mysteriously left the team. There were also some unexpected recruiting successes, highlighted by the commit of Elite 11 quarterback Johnny Stanton.
But, mostly, this offseason was the same as every other offseason—just far too long to wait for Nebraska football.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck will be entering his second full season at the helm of Nebraska’s offense. The main offensive engines for Nebraska—Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, Kenny Bell—will be back for another season. Ameer Abdullah will take over the role of backup tailback, and bruising backs Mike Marrow and Imani Cross enter the mix as well.
Bell and Quincy Enunwa lead a deep and dangerous corps of wide receivers, and Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed are two NFL-quality tight ends available for use. True freshman Tommy Armstrong has been impressing in fall camp and may force himself into the backup role.
The biggest question is the offensive line, which is young and thin in places. Nebraska will also be replacing the center, with Cole Pensick in pole position to take over the role.
Nebraska’s offense has a lot to work with in 2012, but as always it will go as far as the quarterback takes it.
Replacing a Lavonte David-sized hole in a defense that struggled in 2011 was always going to be a huge challenge. Will Compton looks to take over leadership of the linebacker corps, with Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher looking to be the opening day starters. Potential lies behind them in David Santos, Trevor Roach and Zaire Anderson.
The defensive line will have some questions to answer. Baker Steinkuhler and Cameron Meredith are the most solidly entrenched as starters, with a number of players competing for positions at the other defensive tackle and defensive end positions. Look for Chase Rome and Thaddeus Randle at defensive end, and Jason Ankrah and Joseph Carter at defensive end.
In the secondary, Andrew Green looks to have solidified his hold as a starting cornerback, and it is hard to believe that junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay won’t win the other position. Ciante Evans will be pushing both and seeing time at nickel as well. Daimion Stafford may be the best returning Blackshirt at safety, with P.J. Smith looking the strongest best to line up at safety with him.
Brett Maher continues to do his best Alex Henery impression, providing Nebraska solid production both punting and kicking. The new rules bringing kickoff touchbacks out to the 25 will make Maher’s abilities all the more important to bottle up opposing kick returners.
It’s difficult to know what Bo Pelini has in mind in terms of kick returners. Ameer Abdullah impressed at the start of 2011 but lost the trust of Pelini, who favored Tim Marlowe and Rex Burkhead toward the end of the season.
Bo Pelini starts his fifth year at the helm of the Cornhuskers, meaning the team well and truly should be considered his at this point.
His brother, Carl, left to coach Florida Atlantic, and John Papuchis was promoted from within to be defensive coordinator. Terry Joseph is the new secondary coach, and Rich Kaczynski was poached from Iowa to help coach the defensive line.
Nebraska’s 2012 schedule might be even a little more challenging than the murderer’s row NU faced in 2011.
The non-conference schedule includes a home opener to a Southern Mississippi team that went bowling last year, a road trip to UCLA under new head coach Jim Mora Jr. that screams trap game, and against Arkansas State coached by Gus Malzahn, the man who was the offensive coordinator for Auburn’s national championship run.
The conference schedule opens against Wisconsin, with both teams wearing consonant-inspired alternate uniforms. Nebraska faces road conference tests at Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern, and a day-after-Thanksgiving rivalry match against Iowa.
NU does get Michigan and Penn State at home, as well as Minnesota.
Sure, it’s a bold limb I’m perched on, saying Nebraska absolutely will knock off the two-time defending B1G champions who demolished NU the year before. But don’t forget, last year’s contest was a tight affair until the turnover bug struck and the boulder started rolling downhill for Nebraska.
Russell Wilson is busy winning the starting job for the Seattle Seahawks, and Danny O’Brien isn’t nearly the type of dual-threat danger that took over the game against Nebraska last season.
The Spartans boast what looks to be the best defense in the B1G, and they simply do not lose in East Lansing. But gone is Kirk Cousins and a number of Sparty’s best offensive weapons, and Michigan State’s offense is much more vulnerable to Nebraska’s defensive game.
A game that could be a de facto Legends Division title game could be one of the best of the season.
MarQueis Gray is one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in the B1G. Jerry Kill is a criminally-underrated head coach, and hopefully will not have the type of health struggles he did in 2011. The Minnesota game is nestled between Penn State and a trip to Iowa, at the end of a long season.
And Nebraska has developed a disturbing habit of dropping games at home to teams it should be beating. Goldie looks to be the best candidate for Nebraska’s head-shaking loss in 2012.
Yes, Rex Burkhead is the star of the show on offense for Nebraska. But it is Martinez, not Burkhead, that has the game-breaking potential that can change the direction of a season.
And with his ankle fully healed, an offseason of work on his throwing mechanics, a fourth year in the Nebraska program, and a second year under offensive coordinator Tim Beck all lead to suggest that 2012 should herald the return of T-Magic.
Lavonte David was the runaway star of Nebraska’s defense in 2011. Compton isn’t the same type of sideline-to-sideline player that David was, but his size, awareness and leadership will be the cornerstone upon which the Blackshirts will base their attempt at resurgence in 2012.
Nebraska, under Bo Pelini, has enjoyed tremendous success with junior college transfers, and Seisay looks to continue that trend.
Brought in to address a need at cornerback, look for Seisay to win the starting job and hold onto it throughout the season, earning newcomer honors on a team otherwise full of experience.
As as a particularly smart and handsome analyst discussed here, Stafford looks the most NFL-ready prospect on Nebraska’s squad.
A hard-hitting safety with good instincts and ability to find the ball, Stafford needs to work on his cover skills to round out his game.
But look for Stafford to be the first name called in at Radio City Music Hall next April.
Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip): The consummate insider, and a good follow to get that inside perspective.
Dirk Chatelain (@dirkchatelain): Chatelain provides a balanced and insightful professional analysis of Nebraska football.
Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini): One of the five funniest follows on Twitter. Not funniest Nebraska accounts. Funniest accounts period. If you’re not following him now, there’s something wrong with you.
Patrick Runge (@patrickrunge): Why wouldn’t you follow one of the smartest and handsomest analysts around?
Yes, degenerates, you can get your action on Nebraska even now. The early lines, according to Beyond The Bets:
Southern Mississippi at Nebraska (-13.5)
Nebraska (-9) at UCLA
Arkansas State at Nebraska (-24.5)
Idaho State at Nebraska (-49)
Wisconsin at Nebraska (-4)
Nebraska (+5) at Ohio State
Nebraska (-9) at Northwestern
Michigan at Nebraska (-3.5)
Nebraska (+2.5) at Michigan State
Penn State at Nebraska (-13.5)
Minnesota at Nebraska (-23)
Nebraska (-3) at Iowa
Capital One Bowl.
As you will see in, oh, about one slide, I think Nebraska will just miss out on a trip to Indianapolis in December. Without making the title game, it’s tough to see NU getting an at-large BCS berth.
Look for Nebraska to make a return trip to Orlando against an SEC school. My guess would be Georgia, to avoid a rematch from last season.
Ellis Johnson’s team went bowling last year, but lost a lot from that squad. While the Golden Eagles shocked NU in their last trip to Lincoln, a repeat seems unlikely.
SHOULD WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 35, Southern Mississippi 17.
A dangerous trip west for Nebraska, facing a Bruins team with talent that underachieved, a new disciplinarian coach, and a squad looking to make a statement on national television.
MIGHT WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 20, UCLA 16.
Guz Malzahn took Cam Newton to a national title, and brings a mini-Cam into Lincoln in Ryan Aplin. A dual-threat quarterback usually gives Nebraska fits, so the Red Wolves could make the home return for NU an uncomfortable one.
SHOULD WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 41, Arkansas State 28.
The FCS Bengals come in for a paycheck and should provide Nebraska with a comfortable win.
BETTER WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Idaho State 9.
The payback match for Nebraska’s drubbing in Madison last season. But Danny O’Brien is no Russell Wilson.
SHOULD WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 28, Wisconsin 17.
At Ohio State
If the Buckeyes’ postseason ban dulls their edge, or if they’re having trouble picking up Urban Meyer’s program, then the game becomes much more of a tossup. But neither seem likely, and Ohio State provides terrible matchup issues for Nebraska.
MIGHT WIN. Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 38, Nebraska 21.
The Purples will always be a challenge, although the road trip will not be Nebraska’s most daunting task. Look for Nebraska to reclaim the “NU” title and get a little payback.
SHOULD WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 24, Northwestern 14.
Denard Robinson will bring the Wolverines to Lincoln full of confidence after the drubbing given to Nebraska in Ann Arbor. Again, matchup problems will make this a tough game for NU.
MIGHT WIN. Fearless Forecast: Michigan 35, Nebraska 21.
At Michigan State
Sparty doesn’t lose much in East Lansing. Sparty’s defense should be the best in the B1G. But asking a new quarterback with a whole bunch of new offensive talent to pick up the slack from a division-winner is a tough ask.
SHOULD WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 17, Michigan State 14.
The Nittany Lions lost Silas Redd a whole host of talent when the NCAA opened a window for transfers after sanctions on the school were announced. Bill O’Brien looks to be working wonders to keep the program together, but Nebraska should be able to win a talent battle in Lincoln.
SHOULD WIN. Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 20, Penn State 10.
Nebraska’s most dangerous game on the schedule.
MarQueis Gray has the kind of athletic ability that will give Nebraska fits, and Jerry Kill is one of the best coaches in the B1G. If you’re looking for Nebraska’s annual head-scratching loss, this would be the one. Look for Bo Pelini to get that monkey off his back in 2012.
BETTER WIN. Nebraska 45, Minnesota 31.
Take note, Nebraska fans. The rivalry game in Iowa City will be like nothing Nebraska has seen since trips to Norman in the Big 8 days. While Nebraska matches up well against a quarterback like James Vandenberg, the atmosphere in Kinnick Stadium makes this game a tossup.
MIGHT WIN. Nebraska 23, Iowa 20.
Final Nebraska regular-season record: 10-2
With Nebraska losing to Michigan and beating Michigan State, the Michigan-Michigan State game will determine if Nebraska gets a ticket to Indianapolis.
The game is in Ann Arbor, and I don’t see Denard Robinson ending his career without a win over his in-state rival.
The nod goes to Michigan, which would give the Wolverines a tiebreaking win in the Legends Division and send them to face (almost assuredly) Wisconsin.
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