Starting today and continuing through the summer I will be taking a weekly look at the 12 regular season games on the 2009 schedule for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. At the end of each preview I will make an early season prediction of the outcome and we will see just how close I actually come to the correct prediction.
Up first on the schedule for the Cornhuskers is Florida Atlantic University from the Sun Belt Conference. Florida Atlantic is lead by, the one and only, and former Cornhusker nemesis, Howard Schellenberger.
The Owls finished the 2008 season with a 7-6 record after defeating Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. The Owls will be lead by quarterback Rusty Smith, a 6'5" senior who was the MVP of the Motor City Bowl after passing for 2 td's and 306 yards.
To compliment Smith, they have William Ross returning at FB who was able to run for 300+ yards last year and grab 23 receptions out of the backfield.
On defense, they will be lead by defensive lineman Josh Savage.
Nebraska comes into this game with some big questions on offense after losing quarterback Joe Ganz and wide receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson to graduation.
In 2008 this qb/wr trio accounted for 3800 passing yards, approximately 1500 yards to Swift and Peterson and 25+ td's between the qb/wr trio.
Zac Lee has performed well in Spring Practice up to this point and appears to have a solid grasp of the offense. Lee also appears to have a stronger arm than Ganz and is more likely to beat a team with his feet than Joe Ganz.
Taking some of the pressure of off Lee will be an offensive line that has a good deal of depth and experience.
And we can't forget the dangerous running back tandem of Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille.
Nebraska's leading returning receiver will be tight end Mike McNeil and look for Lee to utilize McNeil often until guys like Menelik Holt, Niles Paul, Chris Brooks, and others get comfortable at the wide receiver positions.
On defense I expect to see continued improvement as the players begin to get more comfortable in the Pelini brothers' defensive system. I expect to see a defense playing with more confidence and more speed after a full year under their belts.
Clearly, the Nebraska defense is lead by DT Ndamukong Suh, but he will have plenty of help along side him with returning starting defensive lineman Pierre Allan and Barry Turner looking to apply pressure from their edge rush positions.
Nebraska will be a bit inexperienced, but athletic at the linebacker spots with young redshirt frosh like MLB Will Compton, SLB Sean Fisher and WLB Alonzo Whaley challenging for starting spots.
The defensive backfield returns a core of experience with guys like SS Larry Asante, FS Ricky Thenarse, FS Matt O'Hanlon, CB Prince Amukamara, CB Anthony West, and CB/FS Eric Hagg.
I expect the Nebraska offense to come out and grind it out and establish a strong rushing attack against the Owls in the opener on Sept. 5. Once this is established I think Shawn Watson will allow Zac Lee to get his feet wet in making some down the field throws.
I expect that Helu and Castille will both have success running the ball on the Owls and have 200+ yards and 3+ td's between them. Lee will also look good throwing the ball against the Owls and could have 2-3 passing td's himself.
I expect the Nebraska defense to come out flying around and just be way too much for the Owls to handle. I also see a possible defensive or special teams TD that was missing all of last year. In the end I think Nebraska runs away with this game to the tune of 45-17.