Nebraska Football: Previewing the 2012 Schedule
The Cornhuskers will lose defensive coordinator Carl Pelini in 2012, along with three All-Americans on defense. The Blackshirts were incredibly disappointing this year, and a lot of young players will have to step up to get back to an elite level next season.
Offense is a different story. Rex Burkhead could be a dark horse Heisman candidate, and Taylor Martinez showed enormous growth as a game leader and looked much more competent in the pocket. The only Husker skill position player not returning is Brandon Kinnie, and he didn't exactly do much anyway.
Yes, we are still in the midst of this season, but it's never too early to look ahead.
Week 1: Southern Miss
Date: Sept. 1.
Last Meeting ('04): Southern Miss 21, Nebraska 17
Nebraska's season opener is against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The Eagles very recently improved to 11-2 after knocking off No. 7 Houston to win the C-USA conference championship.
Southern Miss loses a bunch of players this year, including star quarterback Austin Davis. Nebraska will have a clear advantage in every facet of the game, but the Eagles are still a dangerous team. This game probably won't be competitive for very long, but if it is, watch out.
Week 2: At UCLA
Date: Sept. 8
Location: Pasadena, CA
Last Meeting ('94): Nebraska 49, UCLA 21
The Cornhuskers travel to Pasadena in Week 2 to go to the beach and do some recruiting. Oh, and they have a game, but that's more of a secondary thing.
UCLA was 6-7 this season, including a 50-0 shellacking at the hands of arch-rival USC. While they technically managed to win the Pac-12 South, the Bruins were probably the fourth-best team in the division. This led to the firing of coach Rick Neuheisel.
A sea of red is likely to appear at the Rose Bowl in a game that should be over quickly.
Week 3: Arkansas State
Date: Sept. 15
Last Meeting ('09): Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9
The Red Wolves of Arkansas State come to Lincoln in Week 3. The 2011 Sun Belt champions have an outside shot to become the first ranked team in conference history after crushing Troy this week.
There's really not much interesting about this game as the Cornhuskers will be big favorites and should roll. It will be the 320th consecutive sellout.
Week 4: TBD
Nebraska has yet to schedule a team for this spot in the season. Which is fine, since it will probably be another Chattanooga or Western Kentucky coming to Lincoln and serving no purpose besides extending the sellout streak and giving Taylor Martinez an excuse to run for 150 and three scores.
So I will use this opportunity to talk about Rex Burkhead, who is awesome. Superman carried the rock 38 times against Iowa last week, breaking a single-game Nebraska record formerly held by Heisman trophy winner Mike Rozier. A sign of things to come? Hopefully.
Burkhead ran for over 100 yards seven times this year and scored 16 touchdowns. He also single-handedly defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Week 5: Wisconsin
Date: Sept. 29
2011 Result: Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17
We know the story. Nebraska was supposed to be a national championship contender. That's not how it turned out. Fortunately, star quarterback Russell Wilson graduates this year, and Montee Ball (he of the 34 touchdowns) may be gone to the NFL.
Of course, Wisconsin will still be a formidable opponent, but it loses a bunch of players from this year, and this time the game is in Lincoln. This is the kind of game where that home-field advantage can come up big.
Week 6: At Ohio State
Date: Oct. 6
Location: Columbus, OH
2011 Result: Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27
Some are claiming that Urban Meyer brings Ohio State football back immediately. While I don't think it will be quite that drastic, there is no questioning that Meyer is a great hire for the Buckeyes. Sophomore-to-be quarterback Braxton Miller fits his offense beautifully and Ohio State still has a ton of talent from the Tressel era.
The sea of red played a huge role in this year's 34-27 comeback win, but this time around it's in Columbus, an equally tough place to play. Nebraska is certainly capable of winning at the Shoe, but it will take a quality effort on both sides of the football.
No word yet on whether Meyer will be wearing the vest.
Week 7: Bye
Nebraska doesn't play this week.
Look, it's Rex Burkhead again. Well, you know what? When you're freaking Rex Burkhead you deserve multiple slides of recognition.
As a junior, Burkhead posted 1268 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while rushing for 15 touchdowns. He ranks 11th on Nebraska's career rushing list, and will move up to second if he is able to duplicate this year's performance in 2012.
Burkhead average 6.1 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, evidence that he gets stronger as the game goes on.
Week 8: At Northwestern
Date: Oct. 20
Location: Evanston, IL
2011 Result: Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25
We know one thing for sure: Nebraska won't take Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats lightly next season. After a shocking loss in early November, the Huskers fell all the way from ninth to 19th in the BCS.
Dan Persa graduates, but he didn't play very much against Nebraska anyway due to injury. The guy we have to worry about is Kain Colter, and he returns next season. Colter is Northwestern's next do-it-all quarterback, and he was the main reason the 'Cats stunned the Huskers this year. He converted key third downs and ran all over the Blackshirts.
Northwestern's defense won't get much better next year, so hopefully Taylor Martinez and company will put up better numbers this time. Nebraska has an obvious personnel advantage, but the Wildcats are a solid team and perfectly capable of springing the trap again.
Week 9: Michigan
Date: Oct. 27
2011 Result: Michigan 45, Nebraska 17
A fitting name for this game would be "Wisconsin, Part Two." Nebraska's special teams doomed them, as Michigan blocked a punt, scored a touchdown on a fake field goal and recovered two fumbled kickoffs. Rex Burkhead only had 10 carries and Taylor Martinez was 9-of-22 in the lopsided defeat.
Michigan will likely be a preseason top 10 team next year, and could be in national championship contention at this point in the season. Denard Robinson is basically a carbon copy of Martinez, except Brady Hoke is slowly redesigning his offensive scheme to fit Robinson's style of play.
If Nebraska's special teams decide to show up, this game should be very competitive next year.
Week 10: At Michigan State
Date: Nov. 3
Location: East Lansing, MI
2011 Result: Nebraska 24, Michigan State 3
Michigan State rolled into Lincoln this year as a top 10 team, still high from the previous week's upset of Wisconsin. They were promptly shown the woodshed and taken behind it. The Blackshirts easily could have tossed a shutout if Damian Stafford was able to hold on to a Kirk Cousins pass that he would have taken back 90 yards to the end zone.
Sparty will be out for revenge in East Lansing next season, and they return plenty of talented players from this year's team, which narrowly missed out on the roses.
Week 11: Penn State
Date: Nov. 10
2011 Result: Nebraska 17, Penn State 14
One of the best moments of the college football season occurred when Nebraska coach Ron Brown led a prayer at midfield before the Huskers' game against embattled Penn State. Nebraska won the game 17-14, but in the wake of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's sexual assault charges, the game wasn't the main focus of the day.
Penn State will be breaking in a new head coach next season for the first time since the Roman Empire, and there are sure to be a few bumps and bruises along the way. Despite being strong on defense, a stagnant offense dashed any Big Ten championship hopes that the Lions had this year.
Penn State will still be in deep trouble when this game occurs next year. I doubt they can overcome all of the distractions to win in Lincoln.
Week 12: Minnesota
Date: Nov. 17
2011 Result: Nebraska 41, Minnesota 14
Nebraska thoroughly dominated Minnesota this year, leading 34-0 at halftime and coasting the rest of the way. The Gophers were hopelessly overmatched, not just by Nebraska, but in most games this year.
In 2012, this game should be more of the same. Rex Burkhead will likely get some much-needed rest towards the end of the season.
This will be the 325th consecutive sellout.
Week 13: At Iowa
Date: Friday, Nov. 25
Location: Iowa City, IA
2011 Result: Nebraska 20, Iowa 7
The Blackshirts shut down James Vandenberg and the high-powered Iowa offense this past weekend. The Cornhuskers didn't exactly put on an offensive showcase, but made enough plays to put the inaugural Heroes Game away early.
Next year's game is in Iowa City, and Kinnick Stadium will be revved up for a rivalry that Iowa fans seem a bit more excited for than Nebraska fans. (Personally, I'd like to wait a few years to officially label it a rivalry.)
Week 14: Big Ten Championship
Date: Dec. 1
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Of course, Nebraska might not play in this game. Michigan will likely be the favorites in the Legends next year, and their Oct. 27 meeting in Lincoln may determine the outcome in the division.
We can only hope that the Huskers make it this far. Here's to improving upon the 2011 season with a Big Ten Championship. Thoughts?