Thank goodness for a potential NFL lockout.
In all seriousness, Husker Blackshirts Alfonzo Dennard and Lavonte David likely would have stayed for their senior seasons anyway, but the looming lockout didn't hurt.
The two studs have both decided to earn their degrees, giving the 2011 Blackshirts a huge boost. Both made huge impacts on the 2010 team and will be in line for All-American honors in Nebraska's first Big Ten season.
Dennard, who played in the shadow of likely top 10 pick Prince Amukamara but rivaled his counterpart's performance throughout the year, contemplated foregoing his senior season but was convinced by his mother, whom he was planning to help out with his first NFL check, to finish and earn his degree.
Dennard, a 5'10", 195-pound block of muscle, recorded four dazzling interceptions (including one returned 31 yards for a touchdown) and was rock solid in run support.
His impact was perhaps felt even more when he wasn't on the field, as evidenced by the shaky play of his backups, particularly against Iowa State. His lockdown ability will force quarterbacks to look to the other side of the field.
Ciante Evans will be a busy man, much like Dennard was this year on the other side of Amukamara. If Evans can step up to the challenge half as well as Dennard did, we will have a darn good duo at the corner position.
Who will be Nebraska's best defender in 2011?
Contrary to popular belief, David says he never considered jumping to the NFL, citing the importance of earning his degree to himself and his family.
David was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and with good reason: He recorded 145 tackles and six sacks on the season. That's nothing short of amazing.
David stepped up beautifully for the Blackshirts after injuries to Will Compton and Sean Fisher, and he pleasantly surprised Husker Nation with his blazing speed and uncanny ability to pick up a defense that most take a year or two to grasp.
Simply put, David is a mental and physical beast.
The statistically giant year was very significant because the Huskers didn't have much else to work with. In other words, if they hadn't had Lavonte David, the defense wouldn't have been near what it turned out to be.
His tackle total was almost double the 2009 season high, set by—you guessed it—Ndamukong Suh (guess what folks, that man is going to be a pro-bowler in his first season. I'm not a bit surprised).
David also proved to be a masterful blitzer, as evidenced by his six sacks. His ability to knife through the offensive line and bring down the quarterback is a skill that is a coach's dream.
To best understand the significance of these two returning for 2011, you must understand that Dennard and David will easily be the two best defenders on the whole defense (with Jared Crick in a close third).
Crick, also a junior, will likely also be staying for his senior season, if nothing else because of the current NFL mess.
With those three guys and a bevy of other young talent, we may see Pelini's best defense yet in 2011.
Matchups to watch in the Huskers' first Big Ten season
Lavonte David against Denard Robinson
Alfonzo Dennard against DeVier Posey
David against Terrelle Pryor
Crick against the next great Wisconsin linemen, James White and Montee Ball (kind of a joke, but not really)
Merry Christmas and Go Big Red!