CFT preseason No. 9: Nebraska


2010 record: 10-4, 6-2 (T-1st Big 12 North)

2010 bowl: 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 20th/19th

Coach: Bo Pelini, fourth year; 30-12 overall, 17-7 conference

Offensive coordinator: Tim Beck, first year

2010 offensive rankings: 39th, scoring offense (30.9 ppg); 44th, total offense (398.1 ypg); ninth, rushing offense (247.6 ypg); 113th, passing offense (150.6 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Carl Pelini, fourth year

2010 defensive rankings: ninth, scoring defense (17.4 ppg); 11th, total defense (306.8 ypg); 63rd, rushing defense (153.1 ypg); fifth, passing defense (153.6 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 5

Returning defensive starters: 7

Location: Lincoln, Neb.

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf; 81,067)

Last league title: 2007

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot: That angst that seemed to be in the air after the Cornhuskers lost three of their last four games — two of them by three points — at the end of the 2010 season? It appears to be gone, washed away for the clean slate that the move to the Big Ten has provided. Far beyond anything else, NU’s official bolt from the Big 12 to the Midwest conference will be the overriding theme throughout their first year in the league.

Of course, there will be games to play, and Nebraska appears to be stocked with the kind of talent that will propel the school on a serious run to a title during their virginal tour through the conference. A top-10 scoring defense in each of the past two years, there’s little to suggest that unit will slip much if any, especially as they return more than half the starting unit that allowed less than 18 points per game in a conference known for it’s high-flying scoring binges. The running game should also be solid as last year’s top rusher, Rex Burkhead, returns for at least one more season in Lincoln. The biggest question mark, in tandem with the first year after offensive coordinator Shawn Watson “parted ways” with the program, is Taylor Martinez. While Martinez showed flashes of brilliance in his first season as a starting quarterback at this level, he was also hampered by both nagging foot/ankle injuries as well as what some considered to be a suspect attitude.

If Martinez can be the player and, perhaps more importantly, the teammate/person those around him feel he can be, the Cornhuskers will be set for a run to Indianapolis. In fact, how Martinez goes could very well portend which direction the 2011 season heads, especially when the experience level of the personnel behind him at the position is taken into consideration.

Make-or-break game: Oct. 1 at Wisconsin

Simply put, there can be no other game underneath the above category. Not only will the ‘Huskers open Big Ten play against the Badgers, but it’s a matchup that could also serve as a juicy preview to the conference’s first title game in early December. The fact that it will be played in Madison — probably at night in that atmosphere — ratchets up what will already be an unbelievably hyped contest. While this may be the litmus test for the ‘Huskers for the 2011 season, the schedule makers did them no additional favors; yes, they get Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa at home, but, in addition to the Wisconsin trip, will have to travel to Penn State and Michigan in mid- to late November. The schedule’s certainly full of potential stumbling blocks, particularly in conference play, but it’s nothing the ‘Huskers can’t handle given the level of talent they will bring to the playing field.

Heisman hopeful: Martinez

In early October, and after a couple of fairly brilliant games, a case of premature speculation struck some across the collegiate landscape, placing the then-freshman into the Heisman discussion. Injuries, poor play and other “issues”, however, doused that talk almost as quickly as it ignited. This season, the Heisman talk will certainly resume, although Martinez putting himself seriously in the mix or simply becoming stiff-armed small talk will depend solely on Martinez and whether he can take his considerable talent and produce on the field on a consistent basis.

Postseason projection: Capital One Bowl

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