The Nebraska Cornhuskers are back at it again and, according to head coach Bo Pelini, this year it’s for keeps. No more improvement for this squad – it’s conference championship or bust. In an effort to help Husker fans adjust to their new Big Ten surroundings and the wild ride that this coming 2011 campaign promises to be, Opposing Views has put together five can’t-miss predictions that are guaranteed to come true during what promises to be a fascinating run.
5. Bo Pelini will explode on a player in plain view of the TV cameras. Wait, is there even any doubt about this happening? Last season, Taylor Martinez was the unfortunate target of an absolutely vicious display by Pelini when Nebraska squared off against Texas A&M.
What exactly the head coach was trying to express to his guy has been the subject of a lot of media scrutiny, but what remains for certain is: he wasn’t happy. Who is the most likely target of a Pelini eruption in 2011? Without a doubt, it’s going to be Martinez again. Why? Well…
4. Taylor Martinez will have a topsy-turvy campaign. The Huskers quarterback is due for a redemption tour, he really is. Unfortunately that road to redemption will be a bumpy one. You just don’t go from 1,635 yards through the air and 965 yards on the ground in an injury-plagued year to a Heisman – it’s not a realistic transition. That being said, with a full season under his belt -- and more importantly, his health intact -- Martinez will noticeably improve.
3. Rex Burkhead will shine. After serving as a backup to, and learning from Roy Helu Jr., Burkhead is going to surprise some people in 2011. Forget the guy’s stats for a minute and just look at the circumstances he’s being thrust into. He’s going to be the main running back for a team transitioning into the Big Ten – a conference known for their devotion to the ground attack. The new offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, is going to emphasize what he knows as he feels his way through the job, and what he knows is pounding the rock. And, finally, the Huskers don’t boast any other offensive weapons that can be deemed worthy of taking attention away from Burkhead. When you couple all of that with the fact that he averaged 5.5 yards per run on limited carries and put up three 100+ yard efforts in 2010, you can see why some (read: us) are excited about his potential.
2. Nebraska will take down the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin looked strong against UNLV to start the year, really strong. All of the concerns about how Russell Wilson would fit in, whether the new components would gel together and so on and so forth proved to be moot – as they absolutely trampled the competition in Week 1. All of that being said, as good as the Badgers may be, the Huskers have one thing that makes them the squad to beat in the Big Ten. This one factor is what takes them from an also-ran with an unpredictable offense to legitimate championship contenders. And that one thing is…
1. The defense will be as good as advertised. You may not know what you’ll get from the chronically injured Huskers offensive line. Or the new offensive coordinator. Or Martinez. Or the unimpressive wide receiving core. Or the worsened special teams unit. Or the rest of the Big Ten. However, the one thing you can be 100 percent certain about is the quality of defensive talent that Pelini and Co. put on the field on a year-by-year basis, and this year, its top notch. Last season the Huskers ranked ninth in scoring defense and 11th in yards allowed, nationally. And those totals, mind you, were put together with Lavonte David playing as the lone linebacker in charge. This year he, Jared Crick and a healthier defense will not only compensate for the questions in the secondary, but they’ll also likely boast the top-rated defense in the traditionally defense-oriented Big Ten conference.