Michigan vs. Nebraska: Star Players to Watch in Epic Clash of Big Ten Foes

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 08:  Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a third quarter touchdown while playing the Air Force Falcons at Michigan Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

All eyes in the Big Ten will be focused on Lincoln Saturday night when the No. 22 Michigan Wolverines take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a contest that could decide the Legends Division in the conference.

For both sides, this is a matchup that could define their season. With so much on the line, however, it's likely that Carl Pelini and Brady Hoke will rely on their stars more than ever on Saturday to come through with a huge performance.

As much as football is a team-oriented game, the stars are what matter most in collegiate action. And that's especially true for Nebraska and Michigan, two teams that don't exactly have the most depth in the world. 

With that in mind, here is a look at players that need to step up for each side to get a victory on Saturday.


Denard Robinson

As always is the case with this Wolverines squad, they can only go as far as Robinson takes them.

That has especially been the case in big games this season, where horrendous is about the only way to describe the Wolverines star's play. Facing Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan State, Robinson combined to go 38-of-79 (48.1 percent) passing for 501 yards with just one touchdown against seven interceptions. 

Luckily for Brady Hoke's bunch, the Spartans' anemic offense allowed Michigan to keep its undefeated record in the Big Ten last week.

Regardless, Nebraska has one of the highest powered offenses in the nation, so the Wolverines won't be afforded that luxury again on Saturday.

That means it's time for Robinson to step up in a big moment. The Huskers defense is not on the level of the three aforementioned squads, which should leave plenty of room for a strong performance.

Still, it's understandable for Wolverines fans to be a little wary coming into Saturday night's showdown. 


Ameer Abdullah

The lingering knee issue that has derailed star running back Rex Burkhead's season will likely keep him out this week.

Without Burkhead, the Wolverines can look forward to a healthy appetite of Abdullah, who has been absolutely sensational in Burkhead's stead.

The sophomore back leads Nebraska with 615 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this season. He's also been remarkably effective as well, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. In fact, there is only one game this season where Abdullah has averaged below the five yards per carry mark.

Keeping that trend going may prove to be difficult. After flailing early in the season, the Wolverines front seven has become quite strong against the run. The unit allowed Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell to gain just 68 yards on 26 carries last week and is improving on a weekly basis.

How Abdullah does on the ground may ultimately be the difference in Saturday night's contest.


Taylor Martinez

A strong performance from Abdullah is huge because it should allow Martinez to continue his ascent toward the top of Big Ten quarterbacks.

After struggling with inconsistency as a freshman and sophomore, the dual-threat has seemingly figured it all out this season. Martinez has completed 67 percent of his passes this season and has thrown 15 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

The junior has also continued his elite prowess on the ground, scoring rushing touchdowns in each of the past three weeks and hitting the 100-yard mark twice this season.

With Braxton Miller also in a season-defining contest against Penn State on Saturday, we may finally get to see which of the dual-threat quarterbacks is the Big Ten's best.


Courtney Avery/J.T. Floyd

If the Wolverines hope to stop Martinez and the Nebraska passing attack, they will need one of their two starting cornerbacks to step up and have a big day.

Through seven games, neither Avery nor Floyd has an interception, and Michigan's defense has picked off a mere six passes all season.

That will have to change on Saturday. Martinez has massive big-play ability, but has also shown a penchant for turning the ball over in the past, meaning there should be opportunities.

For the Wolverines to come out on top, either Avery or Floyd will have to make a key play to quiet the crowd and siphon the energy out of the Huskers.