Rejoice, Nebraska fans; it's finally game week! Here's a look at 13 Cornhuskers who you should watch particularly closely in Week 1.
The Huskers will begin the 2011 season by taking on the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs, who went 6-5 in the FCS division last season. Nebraska should have a considerable talent advantage against the Mocs, and if all goes as planned, the Huskers won't have much of a problem beginning the year 1-0.
The September 3 contest will be offensive coordinator Tim Beck's first game calling the shots, and there will be several young players itching to get on the field and prove themselves to be capable difference-makers. The Blackshirts will be looking to touch up the depth chart in some areas, while in other areas, players will still be battling it out for starting spots.
Some players on the list have made recent pushes in fall camp, others have a lot to prove from a year ago and still others are newcomers that have a lot of hype to back up with tangible production.
These Huskers could end up being prime difference-makers for Nebraska in 2011.
Let's start with the obvious, shall we?
Taylor Martinez exploded onto the college football scene as a redshirt freshman with some dazzling performances in his first few games.
But after he was infected with the injury bug half way through the season, Martinez was never the same. His explosion was gone, and his deficiencies in the passing game were magnified by inconsistent play along the offensive line and at receiver.
Nebraska coaches insist that Martinez's struggles were mainly a result of the injury, and reports are he's a completely different player than he was at the end of 2010. He seems to be squarely in position to start despite flashes of brilliance from back-up Brion Carnes.
I tend to believe the hype in this situation, but regardless, it can all be chalked up to coach speak until Martinez proves it on the field. And on top of more consistent production, he must be a leader for a very young and inexperienced offense.
He has to come out healthy and composed and, most importantly, consistently complete passes against the Mocs.
By now, most everyone knows about Jamal Turner.
You know, that electrifying freshman "quarterback" who zigzagged his way for 228 all-purpose yards in the spring game? Turner has all the makings of a stud, but he will have to prove it in a real game before he is dubbed Nebraska's Percy Harvin.
Turner will likely be starting at slot receiver from the get-go and should see the field in many more spots. His role will likely be expanded as the competition gets stiffer and the playbook opens up, but it's important that he do well against the Mocs to boost his confidence.
The Arlington, TX native could be one heck of a playmaker over the next three to four years for the Huskers, and we might catch a glimpse of that on September 3.
Nebraska's trio of freshman running backs belong in one group, because nobody really knows which one will stand out and take the majority of the carries behind starter Rex Burkhead.
In fact, there's a decent possibility the three split the carries evenly.
Either way, at least one of the three will have to stand out when it comes gametime and provide the lightning to Burkhead's thunder. Senior Austin Jones, a former walk-on and recent scholarship recipient, has made a recent push as well, but as talented as each of the three freshmen are, it's hard to see Jones keeping any of them off the field much.
The foundation of Tim Beck's offense will be built on speed and tempo, so it'll be important for Nebraska to have a home-run threat in the backfield aside from Taylor Martinez.
If one of the three has a breakout game, we could see that player take the lead for second-string running back.
Brion Carnes made himself known throughout Husker Nation with his outstanding spring game performance, and fans were calling for the redshirt freshman to start immediately after.
The hype has since settled, and Bo Pelini says Martinez is still the starter based on consistency and knowledge of the offense, but if Martinez ends up either struggling or going down with an injury (the latter being the more likely, in my opinion), Carnes will be the guy.
Very recent history has shown that freshmen don't always fare so well at quarterback, so in the event of losing Martinez, Carnes will have to play at the top of his game if the offense is to avoid missing a beat.
Carnes' best chance to prove himself may be against the Mocs. If Nebraska gets a big lead early, as they are expected to do, back-ups should get a lot of playing time, and Carnes will be one of the first to go in.
If he dazzles in garbage time, he'll gain confidence and close the gap between himself and Martinez.
Former linebacker Eric Martin was switched to defensive end early in 2011, and after a solid spring game, Martin has played well enough to garner consideration for a starting spot across from Cameron Meredith.
Nebraska has lacked a dominant pass rushing presence at the defensive end spot since Adam Carriker was wreaking havoc in backfields, but Martin could be a guy who excels in such a role.
Martin is remarkably fast and athletic for his 6'2", 260 pound frame, and he's also very strong and aggressive. His skill set was on display during the spring game, in which he was very disruptive to starter Taylor Martinez.
If he continues to improve and has a great game against Chattanooga, he could be Nebraska's No. 2 defensive end.
Tyler Moore is a highly touted true freshman out of Florida who has made a recent push for playing time at right tackle.
In fact, recent reports suggest he is a legitimate contender to start at right tackle.
Nebraska's offensive line situation has gotten a little bit hairy because of another wave of injuries, something that has plagued the unit for several years in a row now. But if Moore can step up and play at a high level, that will allow the coaches to get creative with some other talented tackles in Jeremiah Sirles, Marcel Jones, Brent Qvale and Jermarcus "Yoshi" Hardrick.
The depth at tackle looks good, but Moore will make it look a lot better if he can build on his fall camp success against Chattanooga.
True freshman Ryne Reeves is another youngster that could see a lot of playing time this season.
Senior Mike Caputo started all of 2010 for Nebraska at center, but behind him, there is little depth. Reeves could easily end up being Nebraska's best option at the position outside of Caputo.
Once again, the game shouldn't be close, and if that is the case, Reeves should get a lot of snaps to prove himself worthy of backing up Caputo.
If he does well, expect him to be the top candidate to take over at center in 2012.
Along with Brandon Kinnie and Tim Marlowe, Quincy Enunwa is the one of the only receivers on the roster with any game experience, catching one pass for 10 yards as a true freshman.
As a sophomore, Enunwa should have considerably more confidence and is in the thick of the race to be a starter opposite Kinnie. He's been mentioned frequently during fall camp and has seemingly made good progress.
If the talented 6'2", 210 pounder stands out against the Mocs, he may solidify himself as the primary No. 2 receiver.
Sean Fisher is finally healthy and slated to start alongside Will Compton and Lavonte David this season. But Fisher hasn't played much football in his college career due to injuries, and even if he stays healthy this time around, he'll have to prove that he still has the skill he was recruited for.
His 6'6", 235 pound frame is excellent for his position, and he hasn't gotten any negative reviews in fall camp. The question still remains: can Fisher be a standout for the Blackshirts?
My bet is yes, but we'll find out come September 3.
Alonzo Whaley is another linebacker who has made a recent push for playing time.
There is a lot of competition for back-up linebacker spots, but Whaley seems to be one of the top contenders to see playing time.
Coaches say they like where Whaley is right now, and he should see the field a lot against the Mocs. Watch for a great performance from the athletic junior.
As the frontrunner to take over the placekicker and punter positions, Brett Maher may have the most difficult job of anyone this season—taking over for the legendary Alex Henery.
Maher has done a good job throughout the spring and fall, but expectations will be high in the wake of Henery's departure, and if Maher struggles, chances are fans won't be too forgiving.
Maher should have plenty of chances to prove himself worthy of taking over the placekicker job, but hopefully, he won't have many chances to punt. No matter what, the junior has to have a good performance.
One of the surprise players of fall camp, Andrew Green has come a long way recently and has already been labeled the starter in the possible absence of Alfonzo Dennard, who strained a muscle.
Green has a great opportunity to prove himself regardless of whether or not Dennard is healthy enough to start. There will be a rotation at nearly every position this season, and Green should see a lot of action, especially in games that aren't as close.
This secondary doesn't look as vulnerable as it did immediately after the departures of Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg, and Green's emergence is one reason why.
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PJ Smith's fall from grace last season was a result of less-than-outstanding tackling, but it seems as though the junior is making his case to earn back his spot this fall.
Already solid in coverage, Smith's main focus during camp has been to improve his tackling, and it seems coaches have taken notice.
The safety position is stacked for the Huskers this season, with incumbents Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne and JUCO transfer Daimion Stafford all legitimately fighting for starting positions in addition to Smith. Young guns Harvey Jackson and Corey Cooper have turned heads as well.
If Smith continues to improve and gets his opportunities, he should see a lot of playing time in 2011. Those opportunities will come early and often against UTC.