It can either be a sweet or bitter ending to Nebraska's existence in the Big 12, and there really is no other way to look at it. Most Nebraska fans have October 16th circled on their calenders. Bitter memories of the Big 12 championship game from a year ago still sting, but nothing more than standing up to the bully that tried to push us down on more than one occasion and then took our lunch money.
That's right, Texas, a team and program that has become known as the tyrants of the Big 12 have their final shot at Nebraska on Oct. 16, 2010. Make no mistake about it— Nebraska would like nothing more than to kick Texas in the butt with a big "screw you" on the way to the Big Ten; and Texas would like nothing more than to beat Nebraska once again and send the Huskers running with their tails between their legs to their new home in the Big Ten.
One game does not make a season (unless you're Colorado) however, and Nebraska has 11 other chances to win on a schedule that speaks more of championships than revenge. In the past, Nebraska would have never bothered with petty squabels against a Conference foe, instead, they would fix their eyes on the prize of playing for another National Title and rest on that as their goal.
2010 marks a beginning to getting back to that way of thinking for the Big Red. So how does the season look in the eyes of this Husker fan? Follow the show to Find out.
Coach: Willy Taggart (first season)
2009 Record: 0-12
Conference: Sun Belt
OFFENSE: Western Kentucky goes into its second full year as an FBS school with a new head coach, new offensive system and a new quarterback in JUCO transfer Matt Pelesasa. It's tough to start a career with a team like WKU against a defense like Nebraska but Bobby Rainey (939 yards in 2009) will be the guy that the Hiltoppers looks to so they can keep the game close.
Really the edge obviously goes to Nebraska on offense in this one, Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead most likely both get over 100 yards rushing and Zac Lee leaves the fourth quarter early giving Cody Green a chance for some mop up duty as well as Taylor Martinez. Nebraska is more talented, bigger, faster and more physical than the inferior Hilltoppers and should have no problem asserting themselves offensively in this one. Remember, against 3 Sun Belt Opponents last season Nebraska put up 142 points.
DEFENSE: Clint Bowen is the new defensive cooridanter for Western Kentucky and should start to turn their defense around in year one. Switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 scheme, Bowen has an experienced squad with playmakers at the linebacker position in Chris Bullard and Thomas Majors. However, this team ranked 118th against the run last season and I don't believe it was purely scheme issues. Nebraska should role up some serious yardage on the ground with Burkhead and Helu and possibly even Robinson in this game.
Again, Nebraska has a huge edge defensively in this game. Western Kentucky's best threat offensively is running back Bobby Rainey, but with the front seven Nebraska has it will be tough for Rainey to get going. The Hilltopper offense ranked 115th in giveaways in 2009, and shouldn't do much better under a completely new system in 2010. Nebraska will most likely force at least three turnovers in this game to put the game out of reach by the second quarter.
Projected Score: NU 52 WKU 3 (W)
Coach: Robb Akey (11-26 in 3 years)
2009 Record: 8-5
OFFENSE: North Platte, Nebraska product Nathan Enderle had a great season under the radar in 2009 (thanks to Kellen Moore and Colin Kaepernick) throwing for 2,900 yards and 22 touchdowns. Coming into his senior season he would like to do nothing more than beat Nebraska. Believe it or not, Idaho was one of the better offenses in the nation a year ago averaging 33 points a game and 451 yards a game (albeit against WAC defenses mostly).
The good news is that Nebraska will get to sharpen their skills against a decent offense before heading out to Washington to take on Jake Locker. Don't be surprised if Idaho is able to put together a scoring drive here or there against the vaunted Blackshirt defense. Even with only four starters returning from last year's unit Idaho should be okay, but the offensive line lost some key players so Enderle better get used to how turf feels early and often.
DEFENSE: As good as Idaho's offense was last year, there defense was the polar opposite. They ranked no better than 106th in four of five defensive categories, but ranked 77th against the run. That doesn't mean they were good against the run, that just means people didn't want to run because the secondary was so poor. They should be better in 2010 though, because they return all 11 starters from that unit. More experience should yield better results, but experience doesn't make up for a talent disparity and Nebraska should take full advantage.
Nebraska's defense will face it's first test in Enderle, but Amukamara and Dennard should have no trouble in shutting down Preston Davis and Maurice Shaw. The offensive line lost All-American Mike Iupati and a few others which should mean easy pickens for Jared Crick and company. Idaho will make a game of it in the first quarter but Nebraska's depth, experience and talent will take over quickly in the second to fourth in route to an easy victory.
Projected Score: 45-10 (W)
Coach: Steve Sarkisian (5-7)
2009 Record: 5-7
OFFENSE: For the first time in 2010 Nebraska will face a team with a perceived better offense. Jake Locker, a sure bet to be a high first round NFL draft pick in 2011 is one of the best quarterbacks ever to have gone 9-28 as a starter. Players like Jermaine Kearse and Chris Polk anchor an offense that is experienced and only getting better under Sarkisians control. However, the Huskie's will run head long into their first real defense after playing BYU and Syracuse to open the season and the losses on the offensive line, especially at Center could prove costly in a big game against Nebraska.
Last season Zac Lee had us all singing his praises after dismantling Sun Belt opponents, don't think Husker faithful will be doing the same thing after games against Idaho and Western Kentucky. The good news is that Lee will be facing one of the worst defenses in the PAC-10 statistically, the bad news is that this same team also ranked 3rd in the PAC-10 in takeaways. Look for there to be a heavy dose of Helu and Burkhead early and often in this game with a passing game opening up more in the second half against an inexperienced secondary.
DEFENSE: As hinted at above, the defense for Washington left much to be desired in Seattle. They ranked in the lower half of the nation in every major category except turnovers which they ranked 35th in. Washington's defense will be better in 2009 and will have already faced a quality opponent in BYU by the time they take on Nebraska. However if their secondary doesn't stay focused and disciplined Nebraska could put the game away in the third quarter with a few well placed play-action plays.
Nebraska's defense is far superior to anything that the Huskie's will put on the field on September 18th. However, they must contain Locker to win the game and they must stop 1,000 yard rusher Chris Polk if they want to control the line of scrimmage. Enter Prince Amukamara and Jared Crick, and all of the sudden the Huskie offense doesn't seem as daunting. Nebraska will struggle early in this one before seizing control of the game in the third quarter and putting it away in the fourth.
Projected Score: 27-13 (W)
Coach: John Stiegelmeier (83-60 in 13 years)
2009 Record: 8-4 (lost in first round of FCS playoffs to Montanta)
Conference: FCS (Missouri Valley)
OFFENSE: South Dakota State is the same team that took an FBS school, the Minnesota Golden Gophers to the brink last year in a 16-13 loss. However, this season's Jackrabbit squad will look a lot different because they are returning only 12 starters combined on both sides of the ball. Kyle Minett (RB) is their leading offensive threat, he rushed for 1,300 yards a year ago and a semi-new starting quarterback Thomas O'Brien will be the two threats to watch in this one.
Nebraska holds the obvious edge in talent, scheme, conditioning and depth in this one, and believe it or not it is thought that the Husker's offense is a bit better than Minnesota's a year ago without Eric Decker. Zac Lee and the Nebraska offense should jump out to an early lead, and if they do the Jackrabbits most definitely cannot fight back through the air returning only one receiver with experience from 2009.
DEFENSE: The Jackrabbits lost their best defensive player from the 2009 squad Danny Batten, and look to rebuild from a fairly scrappy team that only allowed 17.4 points a game last season, take away Montana's 61 in the playoff game and SDSU allowed only 13.45 points a game during the regular season. Many players are gone from that dominant squad of a year ago, but leading tackler Derek Domino is back and will be charged with stopping the Nebraska running attack.
Nebraska's defense should make easy work of the Jackrabbit's offense, all they really have to do is take the ball out of Minett's hands and into O'Brien's. If Nebraska does this early in the first quarter this game will get ugly quick. Grab a breather starting squad and get ready for opening day in the Big 12.
Projected Score: 55-6 (W)
Coach: Bill Snyder (142-74-1 in 18 years)
2009 Record: 6-6 (4-4)
Division: Big 12 North
OFFENSE: For all the hype that goes into Snyder's ability to turn the Wildcat program around he was never quite able to dethrone the Huskers going 5-13 against them all time. This season he looks to tally a sixth win against Husker Nation but if he does it must be with the legs of Daniel Thomas.
Kansas State has a few things going for them, first conference road game for Nebraska, and a Thursday night kick off. Nebraska's last thursday night game was a thriller against Missouri in which Zac Lee and the Nebraska offense scored 27 fourth quarter points to defeat the Tigers 27-12.
Snyder tried a quick fix last year and got the Wildcats to six wins, however, with Gregory gone and seemingly inept Carson Coffman and no one around like speedy Brandon Banks to take the pressure off the KSU offense will rely heavily on Daniel Thomas. Nebraska's defensive line will need to key on Thomas early and often playing man coverage against less than proven receivers. Do that, and force a few turnovers and the Cats are baked.
DEFENSE: Kansas State's defense got steadily better last season but losing six starters might quell the enthusiasm of picking up right where they left off. Snyder is rebuilding K-State like he built them in his first go around, decent recruits and better JUCO players. Ron Prince tried it and it backfired, but he wasn't a good coach. Snyder is. At home the Wildcats gave up only 15.3 points a game a season ago, and they will look to continue home-field dominance in 2010. Most of the defensive line is new and the few players with experience seem to be in the secondary (Emmanuel Lamur and Stephen Harrison).
Because of the weak front, look for Nebraska to push the ball on the ground early and often in order to force KSU to pull their safeties up in run support. Then, much like a season ago look for play action passes and double move routes accompanied by pump fakes to make the defense bite. The Huskers will start slow in this one, it's on the road, on a Thursday and is coming off a bit of a scrimmage game against SDSU a week and half before. In the third and fourth quarters though Nebraska's depth and maturity should shine for all to see.
Projected Score: 27-10 (W)
Coach: Mack Brown (128-27 in 12 years)
2009 Record: 13-1 (8-0)
Division: Big 12 South
I'm not going to waste more than this sentence on the would've, could've and should've's of the Big 12 title game a year ago. New year, new time, new quarterback for the Longhorns. However, this game is much more than a game between two schools in the same conference. This game is Nebraska vs. the Big 12. For years the Cornhuskers have felt undervalued, underappreciated, and underfunded because of the likes of Texas and none of it has to do with the Big 12 Championship game.
Texas has taken pot-shots at Nebraska throughout the history of the short lived conference and this season's match-up is more about who leaves who on the floor and bleeding. Expect this game to be nasty and physical. Expect Lincoln to be in an uproar and electric and expect one of the most anticipated games of the year to fulfill your hopes and desires.
OFFENSE: Texas lost, Colt McCoy Jordan Shipley, Chris Hall, Charlie Tanner, and Adam Ulatoski from an offense that was as one deminsional as an offense could be a year ago. People rave about the loss of Suh, but Texas lost half of the offensive line that couldn't control Suh and better yet their starting quarterback will be coming off of the Red River Rivalry game, in which they most likely lose.
James Kirkendoll is Texas only sure bet coming back in 2010, even Tre' Newton is somewhat of an unknown and the offensive line is a big question mark once again. Sure Gilbert played okay in the second half of the national championship game, but he also lost Jordan Shipley to throw to. Make no mistake about it, Texas' offense will look very different in 2010.
Nebraska's defense has the horses to match up with Texas. First, Amukamara, Dennar, Gomes and Hagg will close down any real passing lanes for Gilbert and will most likely confuse the first year starter with a few zone blitz packages. Second, losing Suh doesn't mean much in the long run of this game because Texas lost three offensive linemen themselves and Nebraska is returning both Crick and Allen who proved to be studs last season. Gilbert will be rushed on often and put on his back and Newton will be lucky to get over 50 yards against Nebraska's defense in Lincoln.
DEFENSE: Texas lost their two biggest threats to Nebraska's running game, Sergio Kindell and Lamarr Houston, but don't expect a monumental drop off. In the front seven Sam Acho is turning into an NFL prospect and Keenan Robinson might be the best linebacker you never paid attention to. The loss of Earl Thomas will undoubtedly hurt this defense, but Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams are legit shutdown corners with an attitude. Blake Gideon is back with his nack to always be in the right place at the right time as well.
The match-up to watch in this game is Nebraska's veteran offensive line against Texas' rather inexperienced defensive line. If Nebraska can knock them off of the ball early and often creating holes for Helu and Burkhead the Huskers could prove a handful for the Longhorns. But if Texas forces Nebraska to throw the ball there will be a lot of Husker fans holding their collective breaths.
Ultimately I think experience, tenacity, anger, and scheming wins this one. And I think it goes Nebraska's way. Not just because Nebraska returns five more starters than Texas, but because of homefield advantage and a shift in momentum. If Texas is coming off of a loss against Oklahoma they will be pressing, and Nebraska can ride new starter Garrett Gilbert into the forth quarter with turnovers and tough defensive stops. Expect this game to be very similar to the Championship a year ago.
Projected Score: 16-13 (W)
Coach: Mike Gundy (36-27 in 5 years)
2009 Results: 9-4 (6-2)
Division: Big 12 South
OFFENSE: When you lose players like Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson, and Keith Tosten your offense is going to take a step back. But when you couple it with losing your number 2 receiver (DeMarcus Conner) and four out of five starting offensive lineman you are looking at a rebuilding year not a reloading year. Brandon Weeden will be taking over for Robinson and is still a bit of an unknown, and Kendell Hunter will try to stay injury free so the Cowboys can ride him to victory. Offensively OSU has a lot to learn about themselves and quick if they want to compete in the Big 12.
Bo Pelini and the Nebraska defense should be thankful that this year's version of the Cowboys is a lot different than last years. With only Kendell Hunter and Hubert Anyiam (WR) to worry about Nebraska can focus on blitz packages and lineup designs to try to confuse first year starter Weeden.
DEFENSE: The questions marks don't get much better on the defensive side of the ball. A team that was porous at best last season just got a bit worse with the loss of Perish Cox and Andre Sexton. With only three starters returning from 2009 and another bunch of seniors that weren't good enough to start last year taking those roles the Cowboys could be in for a world of hurt in the rough and tumble Big 12 South.
This is a chance for Zac Lee and company to make a statement away from home. The inexperience both up front and in the secondary should make for a good straight forward game plan with none of that fancy stuff in between. A healthy dose of the run, followed by a mixture of play action and short range passing plays should make quick work of a defense that was 4th in the Big 12 in total defense a year ago.
Believe it or not Oklahoma State always seems to give Nebraska all it can handle when the Huskers go to Stillwater. Nebraska will be coming off an emotional game against Texas and might be in danger of a let down in Stillwater. The good news is that Coach Pelini doesn't allow let downs.
Projected Score: 30-17
Coach: Gary Pinkel (67-46 in 9 years)
2009 Results: 8-4 (4-4)
Division: Big 12 North
OFFENSE: Part of me thinks that Blain Gabbert still has nightmares about Suh, Crick and Gomes. The other part of me remembers that Gabbert is a year older, more mature and hungry for a victory. Missouri knows that the road to the Big 12 Championship Game goes through Lincoln this year and they want to do to Nebraska what Nebraska did to them a year ago. However, Nebraska remembers a beat down in 2008 they took from Missouri as well and wants to rectify things for their last conference game in the Big 12 against Missouri.
Gabbert has a lot coming back this year, including most of his offensive line and running back Derrick Washington. The loss of Denario Alexander hurts tremendously and that means Gabbert must find another go to receiver. Missouri fans hope that Wes Kemp can fit the bill. Missouri will rely a bit more on the pass than they did a year ago I think, believing that with experience Gabbert should now be able to find the holes in that Blackshirt defense.
Nebraska has never treated decommits too well and Gabbert won't find a cozy atmosphere in Lincoln this time around. Expect boos to rain down the first time the Missouri offense takes the field and cheers at the first interception. Nebraska picked Gabbert off twice a year ago, but could have had at least five more during the game that slipped through various defensive players' hands. While Gabbert will be more mature, it doesn't matter too much because Pelini has the Missouri offense figured out.
DEFENSE: Missouri ranked not better than middle of the pack in four of five defensive categories a year ago and the loss of Sean Weatherspoon will make it even harder to improve in 2010. The achilles heal of Pinkel led teams have always been the defense and that is no question the case in 2010 as well. Aldon Smith and Carl Gettis are the only two real legit threats that Missouri has defensively and if Nebraska can isolate these players they should be fine.
Roy Helu Jr. tore up the Missouri defense in fourth quarter last season and then promptly hurt his shoulder. Helu should be healthy coming into this game, and hungry for a win. Nebraska's offensive line will be better and deeper and Niles Paul will be licking his chops at the thought of burning the secondary for a second straight year. I call this one much like last years only more confincing.
Projected Score: 30-17
Coach: Paul Rhoads (7-6 one year)
2009 Results: 7-6
Division: Big 12 North
OFFENSE: Even in a win Iowa State's offense did little last year against Nebraska's defense, save for one play that ultimately decided the game. This year, the Cyclones should be better offensively returning eight starters including quarterback Austin Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson. If Iowa State wants to challenge for a bowl bid for the second season in a row though, they must throw the ball more accurately and with conviction. Ranked ninth in the Big 12 in passing a year ago the Cyclones will continue to rely heavily on their running game. Don't be surprised if a man by the name of Jerome Tiller is the starter at quarterback come this game though.
Nebraska's defense should have little trouble stifling Iowa State's offense. Keeping the quarterback contained and the linebacker's honest against the run should be enough to throw the Cyclones of their game.
DEFENSE: The Cyclones lost Jesse Smith, Big 12 leading tackler and part of the reason Nebraska turned the ball over 8 times in a 9-7 loss a year ago. The defense will be rebuilding from a squad that gave up the 11th most yards a game last season in the Big 12. However, the staple of the Cyclone defense last year was the ultimate bend but don't break philosophy ranking fifth in scoring defense. The defense won't be good this year and they shouldn't count on turning the Huskers over eight times yet again.
Lee, Helu, Robinson and Paul all remember their abysmal performance a year ago would like nothing more than to score a touchdown for each of those turnovers they gave up in 2009.Against this defense, they very well could. If Helu and Burkhead are still healthy coming into this game Nebraska should be at a solid 8-0 coming into Ames. Pelini can't let them come into the game too cocky because make no mistake about it Paul Rhoads will have his team ready to play.
This should be an easy win for Nebraska, but then again so was last year's game. Nebraska starts quick and ends quick on the way to a game against Turner Gill and Kansas the next week.
Projected Score: 35-6
Coach: Turner Gill (First Season)
2009 Results: 5-7 (1-7)
Division: Big 12 North
OFFENSE: The loss of Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Todd Reesing and Jake Sharp will hit the Jayhawks hard in 2010. Also, the transfer to a new coaching philosophy and system will take a while to develop, but when Turner Gill gets them going the rest of the Big 12 better watch out. Good news is, Nebraska fans will no longer have to cheer against one of their own after 2010.
Kansas fans will have you believe that Kale Pick is ready to take the reins but his career statistics say otherwise. 4 for 5 for 22 yards no touchdowns and no interceptions, not exactly a resounding resume. In fact the two offensive weapons that Gill will be relying on operated behind the real stars a year ago. Jonathan Wilson and Toben Opurum.
Nebraska stopped the loaded offense of Kansas easy enough last year and even with the loss of Suh they should be able to do the same in 2010. The problem is that Nebraska struggled against Opurum's running style, however if that's all Kansas has Nebraska should be fine defensively.
DEFENSE: Kansas lost six starters from a porous defense a year ago but none bigger than Darrell Stuckey. For a team that was 10th in the Big 12 in scoring defense that loss is huge and even with Carl Torbush turning the defense around the talent isn't there to hold a pale of water let alone a Big 12 offense.
Jake Laptad and Chris Harris are the two defenders that will effect Nebraska the most, but a veteran offensive line and a decent rushing attack should take care of the Jayhawks early at home. My prediction is that Turner Gill gets one of the biggest ovations an opposing coach has ever had in Lincoln.
Projected Score: 31-14 (W)
Coach: Mike Sherman (10-15 in 2 years)
2009 Results: 6-7 (3-5)
Division: Big 12 South
OFFENSE: The Aggies have the most experienced and best offense at the skill positions in 2010. An offense that ranked in the top five of every major category a year ago could actually lead the Big 12 in each category this season. Jerrod Johnson is easily the best quarterback in the Big 12 and Jeff Fuller, Terrence McCoy and Uzoma Nwachukwu might be the best trio of receivers that you've never heard of.
Nebraska's defense will have its hands full in this one. Not only do they have to check most likely one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, but they have to do it in College Station, Texas which was home to nearly all of Texas A&M's wins last season going a total of 5-2 at home in 2010. Nebraska will have to play disciplined assignment football which isn't usually a problem with a Bo Pelini type defense.
DEFENSE: Now we get to the issue with Texas A&M and the reason they won't be in most pre-season top 25 polls. As good as Texas A&M's offense was last year the defense was on the opposite end of the spectrum. So bad in fact that Mike Sherman fired the whole defensive staff at the end of 2009 and brought in Tim Deruyter to try to fix the problem. Deruyter has 10 returning starters to work with in implementing the same system that worked so well at Air Force. Of course, the Big 12 isn't exactly the Mountain West.
If the defensive woes aren't fixed by November 20th Nebraska should move the ball decently enough to win the game, if not, this game could go the Aggie's way.
Projected Score: 27-26 (L)
Coach: Dan Hawkins (16-33 in 4 years)
2009 Results: 3-9 (2-6)
Division: Big 12 North
Whether we agree or not that this is an actual rivalry one thing all Nebraska and Colorado fans can agree on is neither wants to be the one to lose the last conference game against each other.
Offense: Dan Hawkins chose family over job security last season by sticking with his son instead of handing the reins over to the more talented Tyler Hansen. However, even if he had given the reins over to Hansen the Buffs most likely wouldn't have won any more games. Colorado was one of the slowest defenses in the nation last season, and had an offense even more inept than Nebraska's. Their offense should be better this year with players like Scotty McKnight and Rodney Stewart back in the fold as well as Michigan transfer Toney Clemons, but the offensive line still lacks depth and a few injuries could mean the end for Hawkins quickly.
Dan Hawkins has a lot of magic to work if he wants to keep his job after year five in Boulder. With games against Georgia and California early in the season though it's going to be tough.
Nebraska's defense should have no problem dispatching the Colorado offense in the last ever Big 12 conference game in Lincoln. Stewart exemplifies a Colorado running back in his stocky size and quick feet, and Hansen has a knack for making plays out of nothing, much like the Colorado quarterbacks of old.
DEFENSE: Like I mentioned above Colorado's defense barely resembled a BCS Conference defense giving up 28 points a game and over 360 yards a game as well. There are seven starters back from the defense of a year ago and it will take better scheming and much better discipline to do better than a year ago. They let Nebraska run all over them in Boulder last season, and even though their focus will most likely be on the run of Nebraska the same will probably be true of the 2010 match-up.
The offense should make quick work of the Colorado defense at the end of the season, but if you think this will be a walk in the park you haven't been paying attention to this match-up in years past. Rarely, if ever, does Nebraska dispatch any Colorado team with ease and this season won't be any different. Nebraska most likely jumps out to an early lead only to let the Buffs back into the game in the second half. Like old times.
Projected Score: 27-20 (W)
Nebraska should also make its second straight and final trip to the Big 12 Championship game, only this time it is Oklahoma that stands in Nebraska's way and it is Landry Jones (who threw five interceptions in Lincoln a year ago) that looks to put Nebraska out of its misery on last time.
Despite all of the advantages it would seem Oklahoma has in DeMarco Murray, Ryan Broyles and a seasoned quarterback in Landry Jones, this team won't be much better than they were a year ago when Nebraska beat them 10-3.
My final take is that Nebraska is able to pull the upset against the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners in stunning fashion locking up a BCS berth but most like not a national title spot, unless Alabama and Boise State both lose.
Project Championship score: 16-10 (W)
In the end, after analyzing the schedule I see one loss for the Huskers in my optimistic opinion (though I could easily see undefeated going into the Big 12 title game).
Going to the BCS (12-1)