CFN Preview 2013 - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Posted May 7, 2013 2013 Preview - Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2013

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Nebraska Week One Opponent 2013 Wyoming Preview

By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bo Pelini
6th year: 49-20
Returning Lettermen: 43
Off. 24, Def. 18, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 32
Ten Best Nebraska Players
1. QB Taylor Martinez, Sr.
2. RB/KR Ameer Abdullah, Jr.
3. WR Kenny Bell, Jr.
4. OG Spencer Long, Sr.
5. WR Jamal Turner, Jr.
6. DE Jason Ankrah, Sr.
7. S/CB Ciante Evans, Sr.
8. WR Quincy Enunwa, Sr.
9. RB Imani Cross, Soph.
10. TE Jake Long, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Wyoming
9/7 Southern Miss
9/14 UCLA
9/21 South Dakota St
10/5 Illinois
10/12 at Purdue
10/26 at Minnesota
11/2 Northwestern
11/9 at Michigan
11/16 Michigan State
11/23 at Penn State
11/30 Iow
Nebraska is in a strange spot in the college football landscape going into the 2013 season, stuck between reasonably high expectations while also needing a ton of work. Considering the way the 2012 season went, you can forgive Husker fans if they're a bit confused about what they should be hoping for.

Last year's regular season couldn't have been more fun with wild and crazy rallies to beat Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan State, a tough victory over Penn State, and a strange win over Iowa to seal up a spot in the Big Ten championship. And then with one disastrous performance against the Badgers – displacing the stunning 62-36 clunker against Colorado in 2001 as the strangest big game meltdown in relatively recent Husker history – everything came apart.

All of the great things that happened throughout the year, and all of the excitement, were blown away by the Badger running game, not helped by the bombing to deal with from Aaron Murray and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl loss. But in the end, the last two games of the season could turn out to be the best thing that could've happened to the Big Red.

It has been a while – a long, long while – since Nebraska was a dominant force in the national title picture, but that's still where the program thinks it can and should be. Sleeping powerhouses bounce back, and while it's asking a lot of anyone to do what Alabama has grown into under Nick Saban, Brian Kelly showed that Notre Dame could get into the national title picture again while Michigan appears ready to get rolling again in a big way over the next few seasons. It takes a special mix of talent and luck to be national championship-worthy, and this year's Nebraska team might have both.

No, this isn't one of the five best teams in college football this year, and it might barely be hanging around the top 20, but the offense has some tremendous pieces to work around.

It only seems like Taylor Martinez started off his career throwing the option pitch to Jarvis Redwine, but he's a seasoned veteran who has worked hard on the little things to improve his passing skills while managing to keep his body in one piece despite all the big shots he takes. It's not crazy to think he could take his game from very good to Heisman-worthy with a strong line in front of him, a nice group of backs to take the pressure off and a fantastic trio of receivers to stretch the field. With Ameer Abdullah proving to be a top-shelf all-around playmaking back, and with Kenny Bell an NFL-caliber receiver to make defenses worry, all of a sudden, the offense that led the Big Ten in total yards and finished second in scoring could be unstoppable.

The special teams will be a major positive if the coverage teams improve, and the defense … the special teams will be a major positive if the coverage teams improve.

And here's where the end of last season could turn out to be a plus. With the defensive problems, and with almost the entire front seven needing to be replaced, the coaching staff can downplay the expectations by correctly pointing out just how many big adjustments need to be made. Meanwhile, the Huskers could sneak up on everyone and slowly and somewhat quietly build up the record – more on the light and breezy schedule in a minute – while the new starters can start to figure out what they're doing.

But this time around, the end of the season needs to be much, much stronger, and if the coaching staff can play this right, the finish could be in Pasadena.

What to watch for on offense: Even more from the passing game. Nebraska will always be about the ground attack, and with a runner like Martinez and a back like Abdullah there's no reason to get away from what works, but the passing attack should be even more efficient and more effective. The continued improvement of Martinez is one reason, but having a receiving corps with Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and Quincy Enunwa means there should be even more bombing away. At the very least, defenses are going to have to respect the deep ball more than ever, and the further the safeties are off the line, the more room there is for the ground attack. Give Martinez and Abdullah a little bit of room, and boom.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. With three new starting linebackers and most of the defensive line needing to be replaced, the Huskers have to find a way to be far better against the run and stronger in the backfield with a slew of new players. Eric Martin, Cameron Meredith, Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler, Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith accounted for 21.5 of the 31 sacks, but they're all gone. Martin, Steinkuhler, Smith, Meredith, Compton and Joseph Carter accounted for 48 of the 78 tackles for loss. Bo Pelini is always trying to crank up the aggression on defense, but the line disappeared at times and the pass rush was non-existent way too often over the second half of the season. That has to change in a big hurry.

The team will be far better if … the offense can hang on to the ball. The running game was the best in the Big Ten and the passing game improved as Martinez got better and more efficient, but the team dug itself a hole time and again because it kept screwing up. There weren't any turnovers in the opener against Southern Miss, but the O made up for it with at least two giveaways in every game the rest of the season with Martinez throwing 12 of the 13 interceptions and accounting for way too many of the 22 lost fumbles. It could've been worse – the Huskers put the ball on the ground 35 times on the year. To put this into perspective, Big Ten champion Wisconsin lost just six fumbles on the season and just one over the final eight games.

The schedule: The Huskers have their tune-up games at home against Wyoming and Southern Miss before getting to make amends for last year's rough loss against UCLA. Unfortunately, this year's Bruin team should be even better, but if they can get by with a win, they'll be 4-0 after playing South Dakota State and with an open date to get ready for the Big Ten season.

Illinois shouldn't be a problem, and going to Purdue should be a breeze before getting a week off to prepare for a trip to Minnesota. If Nebraska is up to Big Ten championship snuff, it should be 7-0 before hosting a dangerous Northwestern team and going to Michigan State. With Michigan State to follow, it'll be a rough month before going to Penn State and closing out against Iowa. No, considering there's no Ohio State or Wisconsin from the Leaders, the schedule really isn't that bad.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Taylor Martinez. After improving his passing skills, the veteran set various records last season and should destroy several marks for total offense and passing. While he'll always be known for his quickness, speed and breathtaking rushing abilities, he's improving enough as a passer to make defensive coordinators worry a bit. Ball security is a huge problem with picks coming in bunches and problems with fumbles, he's a high-reward playmaker with 39 career starts and the ability to carry the offense by himself when needed.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Ciante Evans. Where are the defensive stars? There are massive losses across the board on defense, especially on the front seven, and it would be a huge, huge help if end Jason Ankrah or any one of a number of linebackers stepped up and became special, but Evans could be the key to the secondary and one of the strengths of the D. While he's a corner, the Huskers are loaded at the position and could need him at safety or at the nickel. Wherever he is, he'll be one of the team's leading statistical playmakers.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Thad Randle. With Chase Rome leaving the program, and with Cameron Meredith done, the Husker interior needs help at tackle to improve a run defense that was wildly inconsistent and rarely tough enough against the better running teams. Randle is one of the biggest bodies up front, and now he has to grow into an anchor for everyone else to work around. To do that, he has to stay healthy.

The season will be a success if … Nebraska wins the Legends. There are still several holes and question marks to predict a win over Ohio State or Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, but with a shockingly light and breezy schedule – getting almost all the big games at home – nothing less than 10-2 will be acceptable, but it'll probably take at least 11-1 to get back to Indianapolis. It could also take a win over …

Key game: Nov. 9 at Michigan. The Huskers could be favored in every other game this season. With the first road battles not coming until November, going to Purdue and Minnesota, and with the only other road game at Penn State, if Nebraska can hold serve at home, the Legends could come down to this game in some way, shape or form. By this point in the season, the defensive front should be as jelled as it's going to be.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Nebraska 35 (lost 22) – Opponents 21 (lost 10)
- Fourth Down Conversions: Nebraska 7-of-11 (64%) – Opponents 4-of-14 (29%)
- Time of Possession: Nebraska 30:58 – Opponents 29:02

- 2013 Nebraska Preview | 2013 Nebraska Offense
- 2013 Nebraska Defense | 2013 Nebraska Depth Chart