The 2010 college football season is almost upon us and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are ready to return to the nation's elite.
Entering the season at Nos. 8 and 9 in the AP and USA Today Coaches' Poll respectively, the Cornhuskers have a lot to prove.
Head coach Bo Pelini ended 2009 stating that his 2010 unit would be even better overall than the mauling squad he had produced. Last year's offense sputtered and stalled due to injuries and lack of depth.
A favorable schedule and the memory of the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game versus Texas fuel expectations for a thrilling year.
Examining all obstacles that the Huskers face, here are 10 very bold predictions for Nebraska Cornhuskers football in 2010.
Zac Lee is almost certain to see the field in 2010, but he won’t be alone. Taylor Martinez’s abilities have been on display since spring camp and the redshirt freshman has impressed.
All signs point to both of these signal callers taking snaps, but Martinez’ playmaking ability doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll simply be handing off or throwing the football.
A former California Player of the Year, Martinez has the speed and ability to be a threat both running and catching, making life miserable for opposing defensive coordinators.
Cody Green may see some time during mop up duty or should Lee sustain an injury.
2010 mirrors Nebraska’s 1997 season in many ways. They have a roster full of talent, a stifling defense and they’re traveling to Washington for an early season tilt.
While these Huskies don’t have Brock Huard or Marques Tuiasosopo to test the salty Nebraska secondary, they do have Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Locker. The Cornhuskers will lay the foundation for a national championship run by winning the 2010 Battle in Seattle.
The Huskies have neither the necessary rushing attack, nor receivers with the ability to separate from the Blackshirt defensive backs long enough to make plays. Sept. 18 will not be one of Locker’s best days in 2010.
The shifty Roy Helu Jr, do-it-all back Rex Burkhead and the bulldozer Dontrayevous Robinson all complement the 2010 Nebraska offense. Two of these talented backs will cross the 750-rushing-yard threshold.
Burkhead will also find success in the passing and receiving department, as he will throw for somewhere between three to five touchdowns and likely catch two to four.
While Robinson is the dark horse in this race, he has the opportunity to score more rushing touchdowns than any other back. He will be relied upon in short-yardage and goal-line situations specifically.
Johnny Rodgers is a name cemented in Nebraska history, but it’s time that his school receiving record of 942 yards falls. Niles Paul will see to that.
Paul was highly touted coming out of high school and has been considered pedestrian by fans for a while now. At times in 2009, he showed flashes of greatness. The brightest of these flashes was evidenced during the final quarter last year, versus Missouri, and in his MVP performance during the Holiday Bowl.
Paul knows that the spotlight shines brightest on him of all receivers now. He has become a vocal leader and has a more-than-capable supporting cast. Paul is also well aware that he has to step up for his fellow receivers to feel part of an elite unit.
Rodgers attends many of the Cornhuskers games. He will likely attend to see Paul topple his record.
Despite the loss of All-Everything Ndamukong Suh, the cupboard of Nebraska’s defensive talent is still full.
Preseason All-American defensive tackle Jared Crick anchors the defensive line with a bull-rusher Pierre Allen on one end and speedster Cameron Meridith on the other.
The linebacker situation is a bit murky with the loss of Sean Fisher, but talented JUCO transfer LaVonte David looks to take his place.
Nebraska’s secondary is one of the best in the nation, led by Prince Amukamara, and features perhaps as much skilled depth as any in the country.
In 1997, Nebraska didn’t let Kansas and Texas Tech score a point in consecutive games as they marched towards an eventual national championship.
While that feat may be difficult to accomplish, looking at Nebraska’s schedule in 2010, at least one Big 12 foe won’t score a point against the Cornhuskers.
Likely candidates include Iowa State and Kansas, which just happen to be back-to-back games.
To suggest that Nebraska will defeat the Longhorns on Oct. 16 is enough to make those in Austin chuckle. To say that the Cornhuskers’ final tilt with Texas will be a decisive victory in the home team’s favor? That loud noise is the blood rushing to the face of many a Longhorn fan.
As stated previously, Nebraska will be halting teams with their staunch defensive unit. The Nebraska quarterback situation will be settled. Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson will have found their niche and the Husker passing game should be humming.
The Cornhuskers will have also had nine days to come up with a plan to dismantle the Longhorns in front of what will arguably be the loudest crowd Memorial Stadium has heard since Oklahoma came to visit last year.
Texas’ loss of key players at multiple positions doesn’t help them. Their loss to the Sooners in the Red River Rivalry the week prior won’t be a morale-booster, either.
Oklahoma State doesn’t have the talent to knock Nebraska from their perch. Jerrod Johnson and the Wrecking Crew would have to play flawlessly for the Texas A&M Aggies to scratch out a win.
The only thing that Kansas State has going for them is that they face Nebraska during a Thursday night ESPN broadcast. These are known to produce some very entertaining results, but will not on Oct. 7.
Missouri and Texas both travel to Lincoln and Colorado may not even claim Dan Hawkins as head coach by the time the Buffaloes visit.
The only real threat to an undefeated Big 12 slate will be Nebraska’s old rival: the Oklahoma Sooners. They will meet in perhaps the final Big 12 championship game.
Opponents such as Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech have been projected as end of the year matchups for the Huskers. Nebraska may find themselves as more than just an “at large” team in a season-ending BCS bowl.
If the stars align, Nebraska could very well be facing a team such as the Alabama Crimson Tide or even future Big 10 brother THE Ohio State University for the BCS National Championship. The Cornhuskers haven’t brought a title home to Lincoln since 1997, but are mentioned as a team to watch by several publications and analysts.
The closure of the Cornhuskers’ 2010 campaign will only solidify head coach Bo Pelini’s statement on Dec. 31, 2009:
“Nebraska’s back and we’re here to stay.”
Passing over Signing Day and zooming all the way to April 2011, Nebraska won’t have a prospect for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. They will have at least one player taken during the first round, however.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara will be drafted within the top 10 if not top five selections.
Should he decide to declare for the draft, defensive tackle Jared Crick should find himself selected among the top 32 prospects as well. Several factors go into Crick’s decision, including production during his junior season. Whether or not another year of seasoning at the collegiate level would help ease him into the professional level is also at the forefront of this discussion.
Regardless, assuming all goes well with NFL talks, Amukamara will find himself starting in a pro franchise’s defensive backfield come 2011.