Depending on who you ask, either the Nebraska Cornhuskers or the Wisconsin Badgers are the favorite to win the Big Ten title this year. Personally, I think it is a toss-up between those two teams.
Everyone should know by now that the Huskers will have a championship-caliber defense. The question is, can the offense hold up their end of the bargain? For Wisconsin, Russell Wilson looked like a Heisman Trophy winner in his first game for the Badgers, but can he keep it up against stiffer competition?
I predicted before the beginning of the season that Nebraska would win the conference. I am sticking by that and I've got five reasons for it.
As long as Bo Pelini is in charge at the University of Nebraska, I am confident the Huskers will always be among the top defensive teams in the country.
This year Nebraska should be particularly stout on defense, as they have potential first-round draft picks Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard in addition to All-American Lavonte David anchoring the unit. While the defense will have to adjust to the different style of offenses in the Big Ten, they should be able to adapt.
The bottom line is if there is any truth to the old saying of, "Defense wins championships," then Nebraska is in good shape.
I believe that if a quarterback is going to make a big developmental jump, it will occur between his freshman and sophomore seasons. For Taylor Martinez, the development that was needed was being able to keep defenses honest with his arm.
It appears as though new offensive coordinator Tim Beck will give Martinez every opportunity to air it out as Beck called on his quarterback to throw 22 times against Tennessee-Chattanooga. What remains to be seen is whether or not a higher quantity of passes will lead to a higher quality passing game.
Either way, having a year of experience under his belt should only serve to help Taylor Martinez improve his overall game.
There are some new faces on offense for the Nebraska Cornhuskers that should give them the explosiveness they have been missing. Namely, those players are Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Turner.
While Abudllah and Turner didn't get a ton of touches in their first game as Cornhuskers, I get the feeling the coaching staff has more planned for their talented freshmen than they showed against Chattanooga.
I expect to see Tim Beck finding some creative ways to get these two playmakers the ball.
Nebraska also has Braylon Heard and Aaron Green in the mix. Heard and Green are both talented freshman running backs that should add some spark to the Husker offense as well.
There was a question heading into the season about how Rex Burkhead, Aaron Green, Braylon Heard and Ameer Abdullah would split the carries. If the first game is any indication then Burkhead will be receiving a large majority of the hand-offs this year.
As long as Burkhead continues to get the majority of the carries among the running backs, he should be headed for a breakout season for the Huskers. I believe he is the type of back that can carry an offense and be a workhorse.
Rex Burkhead may not be flashy but he has the ability to put the Husker offense as his back and carry it if given the opportunity.
One of my biggest concerns about the Nebraska Cornhuskers heading into 2011 was the kicking game. Alex Henery was as reliable of a college kicker as I have seen and you can't just replace that.
Luckily for Nebraska, Brett Maher stepped in and the Huskers didn't miss a beat. Now I am not about to place Maher in the same category as Henery, but Maher definitely got off to a good start.
The best thing about Maher going 4-4 in field goals in his first game as the starting place-kicker is that it should give him the confidence to be successful for the rest of the season.
Now the real test for Maher will come when the game is on the line. If he can make kicks in those situations, then the Huskers will be in business.