The last time we saw Nebraska on the football field, it wasn’t pretty.
Wisconsin dismantled Bo Pelini’s team in the Big Ten Championship, racking up 539 rushing yards and 70 points, and the performance (or more specifically, lack thereof) had many wondering what to expect in the Cornhuskers’ bowl game against Georgia.
Many pegged this game as a blowout, although despite Georgia’s 45-31 victory in the Capital One Bowl, it was far from it. Nebraska actually led this game at halftime, 24-23, but in the end Georgia proved to be too much.
Cornhusker quarterback Taylor Martinez exhibited much of the improvements we’ve seen throughout the season, but the ol’ T-Magic also made a handful of cameos. Martinez threw two interceptions, although one of those came at the conclusion of the game when the game was seemingly out of reach.
While the offense left plays on the field, it was the defense that was the issue—a theme throughout the season. Georgia totaled 589 yards of offense while quarterback Aaron Murray—who also had the turnover bug early—threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns.
In total, Nebraska gave up 115 points in the final eight quarters of the season. In their four losses this year, the Cornhuskers gave up an average up 53.5 points, which, of course, points to the main reason for those losses.
Yet, despite the issues on that side of the ball, 2013 could prove to be a monster season for this group, which will return some key players.
On offense, Taylor Martinez will be back (assuming he doesn’t declare for the NFL, and don’t laugh). While Nebraska will lose senior running back Rex Burkhead—a fantastic talent—the position is in very good hands. Sophomore Ameer Abdullah went over the 1,000-yard mark this season, and he is special.
If he stays healthy, he could be destined for a monster season in 2013 with more of a workload. You’ll hear much about him and the spring and beyond, which is exactly how it should be. He’s that kind of talent.
Also returning will be sophomore wideout Kenny Bell. Bell finished with more than 800 yards receiving while catching eight touchdowns. He’ll enter the 2013 season as one of the best—if not the best—wide receivers in the Big Ten, and it’s simply a matter of the offense getting him the ball more in space.
He averaged more than 17 yards per catch, and Nebraska will likely give him more targets next season. If Taylor Martinez can improve as a passer—and we saw how much this offseason helped his game—these two could be one of the best duos in the country.
Martinez’s development was critical in getting Nebraska 10 wins this season, and he now has a passing game to match his incredible mobility. His athleticism was front and center all year, although his run against Wisconsin in a losing effort is one of the better plays you’ll see all season.
More time to improve on his mechanics will undoubtedly be vital for his senior season and this team. He turned a corner in 2012, and the sky could be the limit in 2013.
The defense struggled, although that’s to be expected given the players they’ve sent to the NFL in the past few seasons. They’re going to be incredibly young on that side of the ball, however, which is the good news. More good news, well, news at least?
It can't get much worse.
The Blackshirts will not become one of the Big Ten’s elite in one offseason, but they will improve. And with the potential of this offense, a little improvement could be all they need. The offensive line will also need to get better, and it was a wildly inconsistent in 2012.
In terms of where they fit in relative to the Big Ten, the 2013 schedule is favorable to say the least. Their first five games will come at home next season, and there will be eight games played in their building.
Nebraska’s road games next year include games at Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan (which will be one of the conference’s best games) and Penn State. Given what we know now, this seems rather favorable.
Playing in the Legends Division, the main competition for another trip to the B1G Championship Game will likely be Michigan. Michigan State and Northwestern could also factor in as we examine from a distance, but this is all very ripe for the taking.
There’s (unfortunately) a long way to go before they get there, but there’s plenty to be excited about in Lincoln. Although the season closed with a whimper, the foundation is set for a monster season and another run at a Big Ten title.