2009 CFN Nebraska Preview
Nebraska SS Larry Asante
Nebraska SS Larry Asante
Posted Jul 12, 2009

The CFN 2009 Nebraska Cornhuskers Preview, Breakdown, and Analysis.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 20

By Pete Fiutak

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- 2009 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2009 Nebraska Offense
- 2009 Nebraska Defense | 2009 Nebraska Depth Chart
2008 Nebraska Preview | 2007 Nebraska Preview | 2006 Nebraska Preview 

Head coach: Bo Pelini
2nd year: 10-4
Letterman Returning
Off. 20, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Husker Players
1. DT Ndamukong Suh, Sr.
2. DE Pierre Allen, Jr.
3. SS Larry Asante, Sr.
4. TE Mike McNeill, Jr.
5. DE Barry Turner, Sr.
6. RB Roy Helu, Jr.
7. OT Mike Smith, Jr.
8. LB Phillip Dillard, Sr.
9. QB Zac Lee, Jr.
10. DT Baker Steinkuhler, RFr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 Florida Atlantic
9/12 Arkansas State
9/19 at Virginia Tech
9/26 UL Lafayette
10/8 at Missouri
10/17 Texas Tech
10/24 Iowa State
10/31 at Baylor
11/7 Oklahoma
11/14 at Kansas
11/21 Kansas State
11/27 at Colorado

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 7-5
2008 Record: 9-3

8/30 Western Mich W 47-24
9/6 San Jose State W 35-12
9/13 New Mexico St W 38-7
9/27 Virginia Tech L 35-30
10/4 Missouri L 52-17
10/11 at Tex Tech L 37-31 OT
10/18 at Iowa State W 35-7
10/25 Baylor W 32-20
11/1 at Oklahoma L 62-28
11/8 Kansas W 45-35
11/15 at Kansas St W 56-28
11/28 Colorado W 41-30
Gator Bowl
1/1 Clemson W 26-21

To quote former Arizona Cardinal head coach Dennis Green, they are who we thought they were.

Former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan was able to bring in an interesting mix of talents, and his teams weren't that bad, at least when compared to how hammered he was in the court of public opinion, but he wasn't the right man for the job. Bo Pelini was the right man, at least when it came to putting together a good team that did a better job of represented what Husker fans want. Now, after showing he could take the program from point A to point B, he has to show he can take things to another level. A championship level. A level that Husker fans had come to expect and miss so dearly.

Pelini was able to get his team to win the games it was supposed to. It might have been a struggle to put away Kansas and Colorado, and beating Clemson in the Gator bowl certainly was a fight, but no matter how it might have looked compared to the history of the program, going 9-4 with a bowl victory was still impressive. But how long will it take before Pelini can do more?

It's not enough to go bowling and be competitive at Nebraska. The program will never be able to outrun its glorious past, but at the very least the Huskers have to become the beast of the North again. To do that, Pelini will have to get more out of his still-improving team that's still in a state of transition. Only now, the program is transitioning back to the days when the defense dominated and the offense was precise and explosive.

Pelini will have to count on the formula to carry the team on offense. There aren't any stars, the skill players are speedy, but mediocre, and the line is fine, but nothing sensational. There's a nice blend of rock-solid college players, like new starting QB Zac Lee and most of the linemen, and tremendously talented players who haven't lived up to their hype, like most of the receivers, to do what the attack did last year. Nebraska didn't get any attention in a league with Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech, but it did a fine job of moving the ball finishing 12th in the nation in total offense and 17th in scoring.

But the 2009 Huskers will rely on defense and will be in Pelini's wheelhouse. This is a veteran D with a loaded line that should camp out in opposing backfields, while the back seven is experienced, if not all that talented. There are a slew of underclassmen who will upgrade the skill, but for the time being, this is a defense the fans should love with a bunch of try-hard types that will revolve around DT Ndamukong Suh, end Pierre Allen, and a deep front four.

This isn't a good enough team to win the national title, so unless there's a major shocker, this isn't going to be the year Nebraska returns to elite of the elite status. However, with the great defense, decent promise on offense, and one of the nation's best kickers in Alex Henery, there's no reason this can't be the year Nebraska gets back to the Big 12 title game and is more than just a speed bump against the South champion. It might take a little while longer, and everyone will have to be patient, but the program is moving forward.

What to watch for on offense: The tight ends. The wide receivers are speedy, and the veterans have great high school résumés, but the tight ends will be the stars of the passing game.  Mike McNeill is a great pass catcher who can block a little bit, while Kyler Reed is a great-looking prospect for the midrange throws. Ben Cotton would start for most teams without a problem, and he's expected to shine when he's in. Zac Lee will have plenty of outlet targets to rely on who'll do more than just move the chains; they'll come up with deep balls.

What to expect on defense: Utter dominance from the front four, no matter what configuration. Ndamukong Suh is an elite pro prospect and is coming off of one of the greatest statistical seasons for a tackle in the history of college football. He's the one everyone will work around, but there are other linemen, like Pierre Allen and Barry Turner, who's returning from a broken leg, on the outside. They should blow up and help lead a defense that will be among the best in the nation at getting into the backfield. Throw in promising sophomore tackles Jared Crick and Terrence Moore, along with superstar-in-the-making, Baker Steinkuhler, and the line will control games.

This team will be much better if… the defense forces a turnover ... again. This has been a problem for the last few seasons. The one thing the Pelinis, head coach Bo and defensive coordinator Carl, were supposed to do right away is create a defense that could wreak more havoc. That happened when it came to getting into the backfield, but not when it came to forcing turnovers. In 2007, Nebraska came up with a mere 11 takeaways, and things weren't much better last year with 12 interceptions and just five fumble recoveries. No, Nebraska didn't lose to Oklahoma because of the four turnovers, and it wasn't blown out by Missouri because it was -2 in turnover margin, but to win the North and be in the hunt for a truly big year, the team can't finish last in the Big 12 and 107th in the nation in turnover margin.

The Schedule: Did Nebraska join the Sun Belt conference? It only seems that way facing Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, and UL Lafayette in non-conference play. At least those three teams are decent. The big test to see how far the program has come under Pelini will be the trip to Virginia Tech. Win that, and all of a sudden Nebraska will become a major player in the national title race. It's a plus to get Texas Tech and Oklahoma at home, and it's an even bigger positive to play Baylor and miss South teams like Oklahoma State and Texas. The tests in the North against Missouri, Kansas and Colorado are all on the road, but if Nebraska turns out to be good enough to beat Oklahoma, it'll be good enough to win those three.

Best Offensive Player:
Junior TE Mike McNeill. Running back Roy Helu could end up being the star of the offense and quarterback Zac Lee should be the ringleader, but McNeill is the one who could be the steadiest producer. He caught 32 passes for 442 yards and six scores, getting into the end zone in three of the first four games and in three straight games to close out the regular season. With nice hands, good route running ability, and the consistency to almost always be open on key downs, he should be a bigger factor.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DT Ndamukong Suh. He should be in the NFL right now. All he did last season was lead the team in tackles (76), sacks (7.5), tackles for loss (19), and quarterback hurries (7), while tying for the team lead in interceptions and taking them both for scores. It was a dominant season for the 6-4, 300-pounder, and there's no indication that the fun is going to stop any time soon. He should be one of the nation's most outstanding all-around defensive performers, and while he's unlikely to repeat the numbers of last year, that doesn't mean he'll be any less valuable.

Key player to a successful season: Junior WR Niles Paul. He has to get past the off-the-field problems that kept him out for part of spring ball, but he'll be back and he needs to be a No. 1 wide receiver. The tight ends are expected to shine brightest in the passing game, but the receivers have to replace the 63 catches and ten scores from Nate Swift and the 62 catches and four scores from Todd Peterson. If it's not the speedy Paul who takes over, it'll need to be senior Menelik Holt, or it'll need to be the young home run hitters Antonio Bell or Marcus Mendoza. The passing game has to stretch the field, and Paul has the upside to do the most right away.

The season will be a success if ... the Huskers win the North. Going to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado won't make it easy, and getting Oklahoma from the South certainly won't help, but the North is there for the taking and Nebraska has as good a chance as anyone with as good a team as any in the division. It'll take a few key road wins and no mistakes in games like the road trip to Baylor or the home battle against a rebuilding Texas Tech, but the bar needs to be set high.

Key game: Nov. 14 at Kansas. The explosive Jayhawks should be deadly by mid-November, and both teams are likely to have some check marks against them with tough Big 12 battles to deal with early on. But if Nebraska can pull this off, and if it can also win in Columbia on a Thursday night game against Missouri, it'll likely be playing in the Big 12 Championship game. Lose those two games and forget about it.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Fourth quarter scoring: Nebraska 155 - Opponents 52
- Fumbles over the last two years: Nebraska 40 (lost 28) – Opponents 32 (lost 8)
- Time of possession: Nebraska 34:01 - Opponents 25:59
- Penalties: Nebraska 94 for 800 yards - Opponents 64 for 477 yards

- 2009 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2009 Nebraska Offense
- 2009 Nebraska Defense | 2009 Nebraska Depth Chart
2008 Nebraska Preview | 2007 Nebraska Preview | 2006 Nebraska Preview


Related Stories
2009 Nebraska Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 12, 2009
2009 Nebraska Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 12, 2009
2009 Nebraska Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 12, 2009

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