“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
Alexander Pope probably didn’t have college football in mind when he penned those words, but no other sentiment quite exemplifies what spring brings to the sport’s die-hard fanbase.
Last season’s triumphs and failures are in the past. It’s time to look ahead to what 2013 holds in store.
On April 6, Memorial Stadium will once again be packed with red and white jerseys for the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ annual Spring Game. For the first time this year, fans will get a glimpse at what to expect from one of the most storied programs in the history of college football.
The Red-White Spring Game is the most highly anticipated event of the young season (short of opening weekend), and there will be plenty of intriguing storylines to follow. We’ll break down those storylines, as well as the position battles and fresh faces to watch for in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Date: Saturday, April 6
Start Time: 3 p.m. ET
Television: Big Ten Network
Streaming: BTN2GO (Big Ten Network streaming service)
Weather Report: 70 degrees, mostly sunny, 20 percent chance of rain
Full Season Schedule (Dates TBD): ESPN.com
2012 at a Glance
Record: 10-4 (7-1 Big Ten)
Bowl Game: Capital One Bowl (Georgia 45, Nebraska 31)
Total Offense Rank: No. 26 (460.8 yards per game)
Total Defense Rank: No. 35 (360.6 yards allowed per game)
USA Today Finish: No. 23
AP Finish: No. 25
Key Win: Oct. 27 vs. Michigan (23-9)
Players to Watch
Imani Cross, RB, Sophomore
The 2012 Spring Game was cancelled due to thunderstorms. Hopefully, the only thunder Nebraska hears this year is the low rumble of sophomore running back Imani Cross bruising his way to a big performance.
As a true freshman last season, Cross carried the rock 55 times for 324 yards and seven touchdowns. Primarily a short-yardage back, the 6’1”, 225-pound bruiser will look to take the reins as Nebraska’s No. 1 option in the backfield this season.
According to Chip Patterson of CBS Sports, incumbent leading rusher Ameer Abdullah “suffered a knee injury that could result in missing the rest of spring practice.” As reported by the Omaha World-Herald, Abdullah will miss the Spring Game.
With Abdullah on the shelf, Cross has an opportunity to shine on Saturday. Hopes are high for the bruiser, who could look to fill the vacancy left by Rex Burkhead’s departure.
Vincent Valentine, DT, Redshirt Freshman
The 6’3”, 325-pound Valentine was redshirted last season, but he’ll have an opportunity to showcase his immense potential this season for a team lacking depth on the defensive line.
Nebraska’s inexperience at defensive tackle is all too evident this year. Thaddeus Randle is the only senior worth mentioning that has seen any noticeable amount of playing time, and he’s coming off an injury that limited his productivity in 2012.
According to Huskers.com, Randle will sit out spring activities and return in the fall, leaving the door wide open for Valentine to show what he can do at the position. The Spring Game will be a huge opportunity for Valentine to do just that.
Tommy Armstrong, QB, Redshirt Freshman
Taylor Martinez will return in 2013 as Nebraska’s unquestioned starter, but backup quarterback battles are always intriguing. Martinez won’t be back next year, and scouting his potential replacement will be one of the more interesting storylines on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong (6’1”, 220 pounds) sat out last season to allow for another year of eligibility. Given his immense potential, the highly touted dual-threat quarterback stands to gain quite a bit from a strong Spring Game performance.
Senior signal-caller Ron Kellogg III won’t make earning the No. 2 quarterback spot an easy task, though. With experience and a strong arm on his side, Kellogg’s veteran presence may give him an edge in the race—though a strong Spring Game showing from Armstrong may change that.
Freshman recruits won’t arrive until August, but Nebraska already has plenty of question marks heading into the 2013 season.
Major roster overhaul makes predicting the Cornhuskers’ prospects a little dicey. Nebraska’s offense should mirror its 2012 success with a stable of returning starters facilitating the smooth transition, but inexperience and vacant starting roles on defense remain a major uncertainty.
Which game presents the biggest challenge for Nebraska this season?
Seven senior defensive starters departed this offseason, meaning youth will play a big role in Nebraska’s scheme and defensive adjustments going forward. After allowing 63 plays of 20-plus yards last season, expect Bo Pelini to simplify his defense to accommodate the youth on that side of the ball (h/t Gerry DiNardo, Howard Griffith and Derek Rackley of Big Ten Network).
Fortunately, the Cornhuskers face a fairly easy schedule this year, especially in Big Ten play. Nebraska will avoid playing both Wisconsin and Ohio State in the regular season, with a Nov. 9 matchup against Michigan being the most challenging contest on its schedule.
Pelini is one of the best coaches in the Big Ten, and he’ll get the most out of his young defense, especially after its struggles last season. With Martinez at the helm of an established offense and friendly conference schedule, expect the Cornhuskers to put together another quality season in 2013.
Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 Big Ten)