Nebraska Football: Top 5 Cornhusker Seniors for 2011
With each new year of college football, a new group of seniors takes the field in hopes of bringing its program a championship and showcasing individual talents to NFL scouts in hopes of playing pro ball.
In 2010, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were led by one of the program's most talented senior classes in years.
Despite all the talent, the Huskers limped to a 10-4 finish after talks of a national championship in the preseason.
While the seniors of 2010—which included Prince Amukamara, Roy Helu Jr., Dejon Gomes, Eric Hagg and more—will forever be fondly remembered by Husker fans, the 2011 seniors have an opportunity that the previous group, and each before it for 13 years, admittedly failed to accomplish.
Bringing a national championship to Lincoln has been the goal for fourth-year coach Bo Pelini since the day he stepped foot on campus, and although it may be far-fetched to expect that to happen in 2011, Pelini undeniably has enough talent on the team to make a run.
But for that to be the case, a very young and inexperienced offense will have to step up and take some pressure off a defense that will also be experiencing a youth movement. Without good senior leadership, a national championship or even Big Ten championship will be untouchable.
Now we'll look at the five 2011 Nebraska seniors who the team will be riding on most in order to have a successful season.
5. Mike Caputo, C
If you've never heard of Mike Caputo, that's probably a good thing.
Caputo took over at center for Jacob Hickman in 2010 and did very well to keep the attention off of himself by creating seamless exchanges between himself and the quarterback.
Although undersized, Caputo is one of the strongest men on the team. Because of his stocky 275-pound frame, he can get knocked off the ball by oversized nose tackles, but that is one of his few weaknesses.
Caputo has the opportunity to be a great leader. He will need to be one for the offensive line to be effective, something it wasn't at times last season.
His small frame limits his NFL ceiling, but he has a chance to help take this team a long ways in his final year wearing scarlet and cream.
4. Lavonte David, LB
While many of you may think this is too low a ranking for a player who broke the school record for tackles in a season in just his first year, let me explain my reasoning.
David will be working with two other veterans at linebacker in Will Compton and Sean Fisher, both of whom are coming off injuries. David will not have much tutoring to do like some of the others on this list.
If anything, he will be getting tips from two players who may actually know the defense better than he does.
That being said, David deserves a lot of recognition because he showed great leadership on defense last season by stepping up and not only performing adequately, but excelling in the abrupt absence of Compton and Fisher.
I expect more of the same from him this season; he could conceivably leave Lincoln with close to 300 career tackles—and, just maybe, a championship.
3. Brandon Kinnie, WR
Brandon Kinnie ahead of Lavonte David?
Again, let me explain my reasoning.
Brandon Kinnie, who led the team in receptions and was second in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2010, is now the top dog in a very young yet explosive-looking receiving corps.
As much potential as there is radiating from these players, none of that will matter if they don't transform talent into production.
Kinnie, as the most experienced, sure-handed, big-bodied receiver of the bunch, will be relied upon to set an example for an otherwise-inexperienced group of receivers.
He'll be the guy that will need to step up and rally the troops when players are dropping the ball left and right. He'll also need to be the one that isn't dropping passes. If he is to help take this team to the next level, he'll have to get past a problem that plagued the whole team in 2010.
Partly depending on Kinnie's leadership, Nebraska's receivers could be some of the best, or some of the worst, in the Big Ten.
2. Jared Crick, DT
Jared Crick had a slow start to his 2010 season, but began to look dominant towards the end of the year, finishing with over 70 tackles and 9.5 sacks.
Already gaudy numbers for a defensive tackle, he could improve upon those much like Ndamukong Suh from his junior to senior year.
While I don't believe Crick is in Suh's league (who is?), he isn't far off talent-wise and has the chance to lead one of the nation's best defensive lines against some of the best running games in the country.
Like Suh in 2009, Crick can become the unquestioned leader and face of Nebraska's defense on his way to a beefy NFL contract if he can improve his consistency and dominate the Big Ten.
Without Crick, the defense would probably still be very good.
But riding his momentum to close out the 2010 season, the Blackshirts could regain the top spot in 2011.
1. Alfonzo Dennard, CB
This is one of those times where I could go on a rant about how underrated Alfonzo Dennard is, simply because he isn't rated as the top cornerback by every reputable college football analyst in the country.
Instead, I'll just gush about why he is Nebraska's most important senior.
Some are turned off by Dennard's 5'10" frame.
I say to that, "40-plus inch vertical."
Some complain about his physical style.
I say to that, "goes to show he's NFL-ready."
The bottom line is, Alfonzo Dennard is a prototypical NFL cornerback and also one of the best players on Nebraska's vaunted defense.
The reason Dennard is, in my opinion, the most important player to the 2011 team is because he is the lone remaining player among the fearsome foursome of Nebraska's 2010 secondary.
Seldom do you see so much talent packed into one third of the defense on the field at the same time, but Dennard, Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg (along with a handful of different safeties) formed one of the greatest secondaries in Nebraska's history.
Being the only remainder of that group, Dennard now inherits a leadership role to a secondary that will be breaking in a lot of new defenders.
His job will be to show the new guys how to play cornerback at the University of Nebraska.
You can bet your life savings he will be up to the task. All indications are Dennard will be Nebraska's next great cornerback, following in the footsteps of Barron Miles, Michael Booker, Ralph Brown, and Prince Amukamara.
He might even be dubbed the nation's best if the secondary is good enough to help Nebraska to a Big Ten or national championship.