Nebraska entered its first season in the Big Ten in 2011 as the preseason favorite in the Legends Division and a dark-horse national title contender – a Rose Bowl berth at a minimum was expected. Thus, last year has to be called a disappointment as Nebraska finished 5-3 in the Big Ten, good for third in the division, and 9-4 overall after losing handily to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
The Huskers were 2-3 vs. Top 25 teams last year, beating Michigan State and winning at Penn State in the Lions’ first game after Joe Paterno’s firing. But those three losses to ranked foes all came by at least 17 points (the other loss overall was vs. unranked Northwestern). The Huskers did face a very tough Big Ten schedule in their first year. Of course, they had to play each Legends Division team but also Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State from the Leaders Division as opposed to dregs Purdue, Illinois or Indiana. Unfortunately for head coach Bo Pelini, that doesn’t change in 2012.
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Pelini seems to be rumored for other head coaching jobs each season, but he’s still in Lincoln. He has won at least nine games in each of his first four seasons on the Husker sideline, only the sixth first-time head coach of a school currently in a BCS conference (and Notre Dame) to do so. Pelini's 38 wins over the past four seasons are the most among any of the 18 head coaches who were hired prior to the 2008 season and are the second-most most victories in the first four years among all head coaches in Nebraska history, one more than the legendary Tom Osborne.
Pelini had to make a couple major coaching changes this offseason – well, actually he made these moves before the Huskers’ bowl game last December. His brother Carl had been the defensive coordinator, but he left to be the head coach at Florida Atlantic. Bo Pelini promoted defensive line coach John Papuchis, who is only 33, to coordinator and hired former Iowa defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski to fill that same role for the Huskers.
In absolutely no surprise, Nebraska was among the nation’s rushing leaders last year by averaging 233.9 yards per game behind dual-threat QB Taylor Martinez and tailback Rex Burkhead, both long-shot Heisman candidates this season. Martinez started every game last year and accounted for 2,963 yards of total offense, the third-highest total in school history. But his numbers were a bit down from his freshman season. Martinez must complete better than 56.3 percent of his passes this season if the Huskers are going to win the Big Ten and keep defenses honest.
Usually, multiple backs get carries in the Nebraska offense, but Burkhead carried the ball at least 20 times in eight games and finished with 1,357 yards, the most by any Nebraska player since 2002 and tops for a NU running back since 1997, and 15 touchdowns. Burkhead enters his final season 12th on Nebraska's career rushing list, with a chance to finish as high as No. 2.
The Huskers may have found a future star at receiver in Kenny Bell. He led the team with 32 catches for 461 yards and three touchdowns last year, among the best seasons ever for a frosh WR at Nebraska. Coordinator Tim Beck wants to be a more balanced offense this fall, so Bell’s numbers could double. The offensive line must replace three starters.
This unit lost arguably its three best players in tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David (led the team in tackles, sacks and co-led in picks) and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
The line is in capable hands with end Cameron Meredith, who led the linemen in 2011 with 58 tackles and five sacks, and tackle Baker Steinkuhler (NU fans should recognize that last name), who had 40 tackles and two sacks as a junior. Will Compton, second on the team in tackles last year, headlines the linebacking corps. New secondary coach Terry Joseph believes this unit is deeper than a year ago even with Dennard gone. He is counting on big things from JuCo star transfer cornerback Mohammed Seisay.
2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Schedule Analysis
Nebraska’s nonconference schedule is pretty laughable: vs. Southern Miss (Huskers are already 17.5-point favorites at 5Dimes), at UCLA (NU a seven-point favorite), vs. Arkansas State and vs. Idaho State. That should be 4-0, although I suppose UCLA has a small chance for the upset.
The Huskers open their second Big Ten season with a huge home matchup with Wisconsin, which destroyed Nebraska a year ago in Madison. Then come back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Northwestern. It’s tough to win in Columbus even with Urban Meyer having to rebuild the Buckeyes, but winning at Northwestern shouldn’t be a problem, especially with Nebraska wanting payback for 2011. Michigan then visits Lincoln, and the Wolverines stomped Nebraska last year in Ann Arbor. The closing stretch is at Michigan State, vs. Penn State (assuming there is a program), vs. Minnesota and at Iowa.
2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers Big Ten and BCS Betting Odds
At 5Dimes, Nebraska is +6500 to win the BCS National Championship Game and +2100 to play in the game. Huskers are +300 to play in a BCS bowl game and -420 not to. NU is +500 to win Big Ten title and +260 to win Legends Division. “Over/under” wins totals: 8.5 (both -110), 9 (under a -265 favorite), 9.5 (under a -410 favorite). Burkhead is +3500 to win Heisman and Martinez +8000.
2012 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Predictions
I’m already penciling in 4-0 before Big Ten play, but Nebraska probably has to run the table at home in conference to have any thoughts of winning the Legends Division and playing in the conference title game. It’s certainly possible, but I think either the Badgers or Wolverines win in Lincoln but not both. And I believe NU is looking at two conference road losses from among OSU, MSU and Iowa. Thus, I see a 9-3 regular season record and 5-3 in the Big Ten for the second year in a row. That’s not likely going to win the division. So take the over 8.5 wins, but a Big Ten or national title will have to wait another year. No Heisman for the NU duo.
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