Rex Burkhead: Nebraska Star RB's Return Signals Big Ten Surge for Cornhuskers

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2012

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 22: Running back Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers runs past defensive back Phillip Pleasant #24 of the Idaho State Bengals on his way to the endzone during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 22, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Rex Burkhead made his long-awaited return from a knee injury in Saturday's game against the Idaho State Bengals, and he did not disappoint.

The senior star opened his day in fine fashion, bolting for a 61-yard touchdown off the left tackle to give the Huskers their first score of the day. Unfortunately for the Bengals, that score was only a sign of things to come.

Nebraska went on to eviscerate the overmatched Idaho State squad 73-7 as most starters sat out the final two quarters. Though Burkhead got just eight carries on the day, he took advantage of nearly every opportunity, rushing for 119 and two touchdowns before giving way to the backups.

For the Huskers, the return of their star running back could not have come at a better time. The All-Big Ten selection had been out of commission since spraining his MCL against Southern Mississippi in Week 1. And after a critical loss at UCLA the following game, Nebraska's chances at a strong run at a Big Ten crown were looking bleak.

Nonetheless, a return to prominence seems imminent for the Huskers' vaunted rushing attack.

Though Burkhead's absence certainly was the last thing the Nebraska staff wanted, it allowed for replacement Ameer Abdullah to emerge into a star in his own right. A sophomore, Abdullah had gained 367 yards on just 61 carries in the starter's stead coming into Saturday's action.

Considering Burkhead ran for 1,527 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and came into 2012 as a preseason sleeper for the Heisman Trophy, his return gives the Huskers the best one-two punch in the Big Ten.

That is especially important when taking into account the struggles of top-tier Big Ten schools in stopping the run. Upcoming opponents Ohio State and Michigan have struggled mightily to contain elite rushing attacks, meaning that the Huskers could be in line to make a Cinderella run on Burkhead's back. 

The obvious weaknesses for Nebraska's defense remain. However, the sensational return of their superstar running back could prove to be a turning point for a Huskers team whose prospects looked so downtrodden two weeks ago.