Nebraska Football 2011: What to Watch for in Week 1

Matt ZvolanekCorrespondent IIAugust 31, 2011

Nebraska Football 2011: What to Watch for in Week 1

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    It seems like years since the Nebraska football team has set foot on the turf at Memorial Stadium.  Now, it's almost here. 

    Nebraska kicks off the season this weekend against the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. When the Huskers take the field, it will be a time of new beginnings: new conference, new offense and new faces. There will be a lot of new, and if the Huskers hope to win the Big Ten, they're gonna have to show that they have improved from the team of 2010. 

    Here are five things to watch that could indicate how the season will go.

New Offense

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    Gone is Shawn Watson and his West Coast offense that has struggled the past few years.  Now, former running backs coach Tim Beck is in charge of the Husker offense.  How will he do? 

    There have been some doubters saying Beck can't do it.  But look at his track record: Beck was the receivers coach and passing game coordinator for the Kansas Jayhawks the year they went 12-1 and knocked off Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.  He obviously knows what he's doing. 

    As for the new offense?  There has been some speculation as to what it will be, but the general consensus is a no-huddle spread/spread-option attack similar to Oregon's.  While Beck probably won't dive deep into the playbook for the likes of Chattanooga, fans should have some idea after the game of what the offense will look like.

Taylor Martinez's Health

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    Last year, a redshirt freshmen named Taylor Martinez stunned college football audiences with his electrifying play. Martinez dodged defenders left and right on the way to the end zone, generating some Heisman hype.  Then, in a 31-17 victory over Mizzou, Martinez hurt his ankle.  His play never recovered, and subsequently, Nebraska's record reflected it. 

    The Huskers finished out the season 3-3, including a Holiday Bowl loss to a Washington team the Huskers pummeled in Seattle.  One thing is for sure: Martinez's ankle will be one of the most heavily scrutinized details of the game Saturday.  If he's healthy, look out.

Running Backs

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    After splitting snaps with Roy Helu last year, Rex Burkhead looks to be the featured back in the Husker offense.  The big question is, who will back him up? 

    Will it be five-star recruit Aaron Green from Texas? Or will it be 2010 recruit Braylon Heard?  Or maybe Ameer Abdullah?  Each one brings a unique set of skills to the Husker offense.  Which one will be the No. 2 guy? 

    Whoever it is, Nebraska looks to be in good hands at running back.

Kickers

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    Exit one of the most accurate kickers in NCAA history.  Enter a walk-on and a true freshmen.  That is the situation Nebraska faces this year as they try to replace the leg of Alex Henery. 

    Attempting to fill the huge shoes left by their predecessor, Mauro Bondi and Brett Maher will see what they can do.  It would be ridiculous to expect either of them to be the kind of kicker this year that Henery was.  But what kind of leg do these two have?  Could they hit a, let's say, 57-yard field goal? We'll just have to wait to find out.

Problems

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    Last year, the Huskers were plagued by penalties and turnovers.  If the Huskers plan to take the first Big Ten Championship, they'll have to improve on both. 

    Fumbles were a constant headache last year, and flags have been flying more frequently for the last couple years.  If Nebraska truly wants to take another step forward, they must eliminate the penalties and turnovers.