Sports

Watch Out Big Ten, Nebraska Poised to Impress in 2011

| by Alex Groberman

If you’re expecting the Nebraska Cornhuskers to struggle adjusting to their new Big Ten digs in the coming year, then 2011-12 may end up being a very rude awakening.

Coming off a solid all-around effort in 2010, which saw them finish the year ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll and earn a share of the Big 12 North Division title, Nebraska comfortably moves on from their old conference knowing they did just about everything they needed to do to establish momentum.

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Although their particularly impressive 5-0 start ended in a horror of a game versus Texas -- the Cornhuskers rebounded and ultimately proved they are on a promising path for the future. At the beginning point if you will, to what should be some very interesting seasons to come.

As expected, Taylor Martinez showed glimpses of brilliance in between his spurts of painful-to-watch inexperience last season. Like most young quarterbacks with undeniable talent and promise, by virtue of his sheer ability to awe, he came through with several stellar performances against notable opponents -- e.g.  rushing for 241 yards against Kansas State -- only to return to earth and ultimately end up getting benched in that nightmare game against Texas.

But the quarterback, who has been given the keys to the program for the foreseeable future, popped back up impressively the very next week and threw five touchdown passes against Oklahoma State.

Martinez is a dual threat who can hurt opposing teams in multiple ways on every single down. He was a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award in 2010 (as a freshman) following his 1,600+ yard, 10-touchdown campaign through the air, and 952-yard, 12-touchdown effort on the ground. Between his versatility and the expected improvement of running back Rex Burkhead, who put up nice totals in his own right last season (951 yards, seven touchdowns), look for the Cornhuskers offense to present problems for Big 10 defenses.

After the Texas debacle, the Nebraska offense experienced the typical ebbs and flows of a college football season with some particularly striking victories and some rather unfortunate losses to a couple of tough teams in Texas A&M and Oklahoma (who is poised to win a national championship this season). In a somewhat lackadaisical effort, which may just be a one-off performance, the Huskers also fell to Washington in the Holiday Bowl to end the year.

Although the offensive line will return only two starters in 2011, look for Brandon Kinnie (with some seasoning and additional experience under his belt) to pay dividends when Martinez airs it out.

Defensively, Nebraska brings back seven starting Black Shirts to an especially stellar top-10 defense that also happened to rank 11th nationally in yards allowed. Lavonte David set a school record with 152 tackles a year ago, and so far his is one of the names being tossed around as a possible Big Ten Player of the Year. Between David, Sean Fisher and Will Compton – the Huskies boast a defensive attack to be reckoned with. Even with their massive Prince Amukamara-sized hole in the secondary, look for Nebraska to surprise a lot of people with their defensive prowess this season.

The squad caught a rough break with an immediate test in their first "hard" game of the year versus No. 10 ranked Wisconsin on October 1 followed immediately by No. 16 Ohio State on October 8, but that’s the way the system works. Nevertheless, this annoyance may end up playing in Nebraska’s favor what with the heavy emphasis placed on losses later in the year versus those earlier in the year in the system of absurdity known as the BCS. Thus, even if they fall to Wisconsin or Ohio State, they’ll have some time to make it up during the rest of the season.

Not that people are expecting them to fall, of course. In fact, Bodog is already listing the freshly Big Ten-minted Cornhuskers at 8:5 to win the Big Ten, cementing the notion that even though they are the new kids on the block, nobody is underestimating this school’s ability to come in with a bang.

Nebraska is filled with talent from top to bottom, has a smart and capable coach, and a devoted fan base. If ever there was a group that could make the Big 12 to Big Ten jump with minimal hassle, this year’s Cornhuskers squad is it.

Buckle up and prepare for a bumpy ride, traditional Big Ten powers –  Nebraska is coming for that No. 1 spot.