Can Nebraska Football Overcome the Loss of 29 Seniors in 2013?

Adam JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterJanuary 23, 2013

Eric Martin (left) is among several departing defensive leaders for Nebraska, but Stanley Jean-Baptiste (right) has a chance to step up at CB.
Eric Martin (left) is among several departing defensive leaders for Nebraska, but Stanley Jean-Baptiste (right) has a chance to step up at CB.Eric Francis/Getty Images

One cursory glance at the Nebraska roster shows a healthy class of 23 seniors for 2013, including longtime QB Taylor Martinez and star offensive lineman Spencer Long. And, y'know, 21 others.

But for as healthy as a 23-man senior class is, Nebraska's in a bit of a tough spot as it prepares for 2013, simply because of who it loses. Here's more from the Omaha World-Herald:

The Huskers return to the Osborne Complex not long after the bowl game to start their winter conditioning program, and the annual search begins for the next batch of leaders.

It's also the point where NU players look around and realize that the seniors from the previous season are officially gone — and that was a hearty class of 29 in 2012, and the first that had gone through the first five seasons of the Bo Pelini era together.

These aren't just hordes of backups and walk-ons leaving the Nebraska program due to graduation, either (though that would also be a tough blow in its own right). RB Rex Burkhead is gone. The dynamic tight end duo of Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed is also gone, as is valued offensive lineman Seung Hoon Choi. 

On defense the losses are borderline catastrophic. Seven of the 11 starting defenders from Nebraska's last official depth chart are all gone, including First Team All-Big Ten safety Daimion Stafford and defensive end Eric Martin. All in all, the defense loses over 200 combined career starts from its 2012 version, and although that 2012 defense got torched in most of its big games, imagine how much worse it'd be with that defense's second unit in there instead.

What's worse for Nebraska is that the starting defenders that do return weren't exceptional players last season. Ciante Evans, who was listed as the lone nickelback on Nebraska's depth chart, was the only underclassman Nebraska defender to get even an Honorable Mention nod from either the coaches or media in 2012.

That's not to say that guys like DE Jason Ankrah or CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste can't make that leap in 2013, but make no mistake: The core of the Nebraska defense is now gone.

The good news for the Huskers is that the offensive line is more or less intact, with four starters returning and rising senior Cole Pensick functioning as the chief backup at the one spot being vacated by Choi. Between that and a backfield that already learned how to function at a high level without Burkhead during his injury-plagued 2012 season, the high-octane Nebraska option rushing attack isn't going anywhere.

Moreover, Taylor Martinez will be ready for a monster senior season, and the only significant loss of his at wideout is top backup Tim Marlowe. He will miss Kyler Reed in the passing game as much as the Huskers will miss Ben Cotton in the run game (which is to say, quite a bit), but there's a great opportunity for (at least) one of the six tight ends on Nebraska's roster to step up here.

All told, even with 29 departing seniors, don't expect much different from Nebraska next year. The offense will still probably rack up yards and points on nearly everybody. The defense will still probably falter against the best of the Big Ten and the tough nonconference opponents. In fact, if there's one major alteration from last year, it'll be on special teams, as kicker/punter Brett Maher departs. Fortunately, the cops in Nebraska are already working on fixing that problem.