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Big 12: Rebuilt Nebraska eager to avenge haunting loss to Texas


It is the One-Second Obsession.

Had that one agonizing click passed, maybe we wouldn't be sitting here speculating about the Big Ten, Nebraska's place in it and maybe the biggest payback game in Big 12 history. We speak, of course, of last season's Big 12 Championship Game won by Texas 13-12. While Nebraska accounted for itself well on the field, the fallout has lasted nine months.

At the time a lot of Nebraskans, and coach Bo Pelini, felt their team was jobbed. Even though video replays proved that Colt McCoy's out-of-bounds throw did leave a second on the clock, enough for Hunter Lawrence to kick the game-winning field goal, there is lingering animosity.

"In Lincoln, it will be the clock," Texas coach Mack Brown said, "and in Austin, it will be the comeback."

Were there enough bad feelings to cause Nebraska to up and change conferences in the offseason? We'll never know. But here we are with Nebraska heading into its final Big 12 season obsessing over that one second. Don't say you aren't, Huskers. Win that game and you win the conference for the first time in 10 years and go to a BCS bowl. Maybe all that garbage about Texas ruling the conference slides. Now? An offseason promotional video for Nebraska football had to be edited, eliminating a pointed reference to the 2010 season beginning with the Oct. 16 Texas game in Lincoln.

Did we say one-second obsession? Make that an entire offseason. The passage of time has not ended the angst. There is already speculation as to how Texas will be received in Lincoln in what could be the first of two Big 12 meetings.

"To me Nebraska has the best fans in the country," Brown said. "If there has been some tension between Texas and Nebraska I don't see it carrying over to the kids. I don't see it carrying it over to the coaches. By and large, Nebraska has the classiest setup in the country."

It's on you, then, Nebraska. All of it. Your fans' conduct, the Big 12 North race, the Texas game, the argument over whether your Huskers are, in fact, "back."

Nebraska is approaching prohibitive favorite status in the North. A retooling Texas once again will have to fight off Oklahoma in the South. The difference is that Texas is much more comfortable with its place in the college football world than Nebraska. Brown has the program on cruise control, having won at least 10 games in nine consecutive seasons. The loss of McCoy and a load of playmaking receivers and defenders is just more reason to memorize new numbers in the program. The offense is being changed to accommodate the drop-back stylings of sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The running game will get better. It can't be much more sedentary than 61st in the country. It seemed worse than that because the 'Horns had absolutely no between-the-tackles strength.

Bo Pelini's defense and special teams will be one of the best in the nation. (Getty Images)  
Bo Pelini's defense and special teams will be one of the best in the nation. (Getty Images)  
As mentioned, Nebraska should win the North, but that's where the questions begin. The Huskers want to compete for championships. Last year's scare thrown into Texas and an inspiring 33-0 shutout of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl buried the needle on the hype meter. But there are questions. Several. Nebraska debuted at No. 8 in the preseason AP poll on Saturday. Most, if not all, in that Top 25 have a returning starter at quarterback or have named one.

Going into this week, three quarterbacks were still in the mix in Lincoln. A Saturday scrimmage did not distinguish any of them, although a lot of folks believe Zac Lee eventually is going to win the job. Lee, though, lost the starting job at midseason last year and was replaced by Cody Green, a sophomore. Lee required surgery on his throwing arm in January and more surgery that caused him to miss spring practice. Taylor Martinez, a redshirt freshman, is the least experienced of the three but has perhaps the best playmaking ability.

The defense is world class. The unit might actually be better without Ndamukong Suh. Tackle Jared Crick, Suh's sidekick, was overshadowed after contributing 9½ sacks and 15 tackles for loss. This could be the nation's best defense, led by senior Prince Amukamara, an All-Big 12 corner about to evolve into an All-American (five picks, 11 passes broken up).

The special teams might be the best in the country. Alex Henery placed 30 punts inside the 20 and hit 24 of 28 field goals. The Huskers led the Big 12 in kickoff coverage.

There are land mines on the schedule. There's a tricky trip to Washington in the third week of the season and a Thursday night game at Kansas State. The Missouri game on Oct. 30 in Lincoln likely will decide the North. As a reminder of Nebraska's past and future, Oklahoma isn't on the schedule. The once-glorified series is ended for at least the near term unless the teams meet in the Big 12 Championship Game.

If the Huskers are truly back they will have to avoid what happened against Iowa State in '09. Eight turnovers allowed the Cyclones to hang on for a 9-7 win in Lincoln. The Huskers did win six of their final seven after that mess.

There is a long way to go, but the season does have a focus two months from now when Texas takes the field.

"Emotion is natural in athletics, but you've got to keep it under control," Pelini said. "The last thing I want to do is have everybody think we've got this asterisk for the Texas game."

Big 12 Quick Hits
Best offense: Oklahoma
Best defense: Nebraska
Sleeper team: Kansas State
Coach of the year: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Offensive player: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
Defensive player: Jared Crick, Nebraska
Game of the Year: Texas at Nebraska, Oct. 16
Big 12 Championship: Texas over Nebraska
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Try a bullseye.

Offensive Player of the Year

Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State: This former juco quarterback exploded on the scene with a 1,265-yard season. A 1,500-yard season is definitely possible this season with K-State lacking punch at quarterback. There already is buzz about NFL potential from the first Wildcat to open his career with back-to-back 100-yard games in 43 years. Thomas looks like the tailback version of Michael Bishop -- a juco quarterback turned major-college superstar.

Defensive Player of the Year

Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska. Or whoever makes the most plays for the conference's best defense. Crick is the most likely choice because he was the other tackle beside Suh. Crick doesn't have to be Suh, just close. The other tackle's name is Steinkuhler (Baker). You might have heard of his dad, Dean. The secret is, this defense is better without Suh.

Predicted order of finish

Big 12 North

1. Nebraska: The last time Nebraska was this relevant, no one cared if the coach closed practice. Twitter hadn't been invented and the only rivals (as opposed to were Oklahoma and Colorado.

The Huskers are close to being back among the elite. Now it's a question of finishing that way. I'm all in with the defense. Along with North Carolina, TCU and Iowa, it is among the best in the country. But I can't get past an offense that sputtered badly at times last season. That eight-turnover game against Iowa State sticks in my mind. There are significant issues at quarterback, and if the offensive line can't grind it out with the running game there are going to be problems. The Big 12 is tougher than it was three years ago. Must-see game: Oct. 16 vs. Texas. Second meeting in 10 months. We can only hope for a third meeting in 12 months in the Big 12 title game.

2. Missouri: Not much has changed in Missouri's football culture. It has a trigger man at quarterback (Blaine Gabbert), a tailback who can catch (Derrick Washington) and a bushel of receivers. The problem was, is and has been the defense. Gary Pinkel can change coordinators (Dave Steckel in his second year, 10th at Missouri overall), but there is a fundamental disconnect between the two sides of the ball. Injuries hit the Tigers hard early in camp, which doesn't help the situation. They'll have plenty of pass catchers but not enough guys who can master the backpedal technique. This looks like an 8-4 season with one of the losses coming at Nebraska in the game that decides the division. Must-see game: Oct. 30 at Nebraska. Missouri would like to make up for blowing a third-quarter lead last season at home. Nebraska would like to use its home-field advantage. It has won 15 of the past 16 against the Tigers in Lincoln.

3. Kansas State: When Bill Snyder rescued the program by coming back a year ago, he was looked upon by some as a caretaker after the sometimes-rocky reign of Ron Prince. Snyder not only proved he had something left in the tank, he showed it was flammable. K-State took the division race to the last game of the season before losing at Nebraska. The Wildcats couldn't go to a bowl at 6-6 because they played two I-AAs (surprise). They are well positioned this season to be more than a dark horse in the North. Thomas is the conference's best offensive player. K-State gets Texas and Nebraska at home. Snyder is recruiting better than he ever did in his previous purple life. He's in it for the long haul. Are the 'Cats? Must-see game: Oct. 7 vs. Nebraska. With the division title on the line last year in Lincoln, the 'Cats coughed up a hair ball, losing 17-3. The Huskers can't overlook this Thursday night game which will have KSU Stadium in frenzy mode.

4. Colorado: One big reason Dan Hawkins hasn't been able to recruit an effective quarterback: When the coach's son is in the mix, recruits figure, "What shot do I have?" Junior Tyler Hansen has been named the starter but for how long? Hansen and Cody Hawkins have yo-yoed for years. The best thing about the Buffs is a healthy Rodney Stewart at tailback. Stewart was headed for a 1,500-yard season in 2009 before being injured. With another year shaved off Hawkins' contract (buyout), CU might actually be able to afford a new coach as it heads to the Pac-12. A bowl would save CU a lot of money and spread a lot of optimism. Let's please cut to the last regular-season game. It's fitting that CU plays its last Big 12 game at Nebraska. Back in the day, they both made each other better. Must-see game: Sept. 4 vs. Colorado State in Denver. An always uncomfortable rivalry pitting the state school against little brother.

5. Kansas: Mark Mangino could coach. We know that. You can argue about his tactics, but you can't argue against an Orange Bowl-winning season three years ago. We don't know if Turner Gill can coach, not at this level. His career record is 20-30. His best season is 8-6. Good guy. Good player. But we still don't know about the coaching thing. It won't help that there are huge holes to fill. Sophomore Kale Pick (five career attempts) won the job at quarterback. Last season's leading rusher, 240-pound Toben Opurum, has been moved to linebacker. But no Todd Reesing, no Dezmon Briscoe, no Kerry Meier, an uncertain offensive line (all five starters return but that's not necessarily a good thing). Worse news: The past five KU coaches have averaged three wins in their debut season. Must-see game: Nov. 27 vs. Missouri in Kansas City. Longest rivalry west of the Mississippi has flourished even more since moving to Arrowhead. KU lost on the last play of the game in '09.

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6. Iowa State: Picking the 'Clones last hurts because Paul Rhoads is an accomplished coordinator and squeezed blood out of a tomato while winning a bowl in his first season in Ames. For all the hype in Lincoln, Rhoads was the author of that "I-am-so-proud-to-be-your-coach!" moment that went viral. If dual threat Austen Arnaud can continue to improve at quarterback and Alexander Robinson can run for 1,200 yards, I know one team that better watch out when it visits Ames on Nov. 6 -- Nebraska. Must-see game: Sept. 25 vs. Northern Iowa. Could be the difference between a bowl and staying at home. Embarrassment potential high playing against an in-state I-AA opponent. The Panthers have proven in football (vs. Iowa) and basketball (vs. Kansas) that they are a tough out.

Big 12 South

1. Texas: There have been three Garrett Gilberts -- the one who couldn't find his helmet when called upon to play against Alabama, the one who was winging the ball in spring practice and one who is supremely confident heading into this season. Brown has wisely changed the offense to suit his new quarterback's drop-back style. That means the Longhorns will be more physical. The biggest issues are cranking up a running game that has been absent, developing new receivers and developing toughness at defensive tackle. There's no reason to doubt a team that has won at least 10 each year since 2001. Oh yeah, and they've won four of five against Oklahoma. Must-see game: Oct. 2 vs. Oklahoma in Dallas. Did you have to be told? Texas defense held OU to -16 rushing last season, a Red River shootout record.

2. Oklahoma: Landry Jones put up numbers last season when the pressure was off (3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns). Now the pressure is on with Oklahoma retooling from an injury-filled 2009. Expect Jones to throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He's a year older and has all his weapons healthy. Ryan Broyles (89 catches) is an all-purpose type. Tailback DeMarco Murray is talking about a 2,000-yard season. The offensive line responsible for Bradford's injury struggled at times. The defense is back with ends Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal bringing the wood. Can the Sooners beat Texas? That's why they're second here. Must-see game: Sept. 11 vs. Florida State. In a rematch of the 2000 national championship game, brother goes against brother. FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops meets OU head coach Bob Stoops.

3. Texas Tech: There's a reason Tommy Tuberville is going to be the Big 12's Coach of the Year. He will bring a sense of calm to a program ravaged by the continuing Mike Leach saga. These Red Raiders will play better defense and be more physical on offense than under Leach. In short, Texas Tech will look a lot like Tuberville's best SEC teams. The top six rushers and top six receivers all return. So do seven of the top nine tacklers. Tuberville gets Texas at home in the season's third week. Even Leach agrees there's a lot of talent left. Must-see game: Sept. 18 vs. Texas. The home team has won the past three in a row.

Jerrod Johnson finished third in the nation in total offense. (Getty Images)  
Jerrod Johnson finished third in the nation in total offense. (Getty Images)  
4. Texas A&M: Mike Sherman has one of the nation's best defenders, linebacker Von Miller, but his unit can't stop anyone (105th nationally). It had the nation's No. 5 offense but is missing three starters on the offensive line. The whole program seemed to be contrarian. The Aggies lost a game by 48 (to Kansas State), yet won a week later by 22 at Texas Tech. It lost by 55 to Oklahoma, then beat Baylor by 35. The defense definitely has to be fixed. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has installed a 3-4, which has somewhat been the answer to combating the spread of the spread offense lately. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson might be the best in the Big 12, but the Aggies will go only as far as the defense takes them. Must-see game: Oct. 9 vs. Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. Aggies still embarrassed about last year's 47-19 debacle at Cowboys Stadium.

5. Oklahoma State: This is a big year for Mike Gundy. Whether fair or not, word is a certain billionaire sugar daddy expects more for his investment. The Cowboys have won only 36 times in Gundy's five seasons. He is a combined 0-8 against Texas and Oklahoma. There isn't much to suggest that it won't be 0-10 after this season. Only eight starters return. Still, Gundy is coming off consecutive nine-win seasons. Dana Holgorsen has been brought in as coordinator to install the spread. The old play-caller (Gundy) is stepping aside for a guy whose unit finished no worse than sixth nationally from 2005-07 at Texas Tech. Must-see game: Sept. 30 vs. Texas A&M. Pokes have never beaten Aggies three straight times.

6. Baylor: Maybe this is the year. A 15th consecutive season without a bowl was assured the moment quarterback Robert Griffin went down in the third game of 2009 with a torn ACL. The Bears limped home 4-8 with their spiritual and athletic leader on the sidelines. Griffin is back at 100 percent. So is the optimism that preceded 2009. Under Art Briles, the Bears will play loose, fast and confident. The swing games are at Rice (Sept. 25), Texas Tech in Dallas (Oct. 9) and Texas A&M at home (Nov. 13). Win those and Baylor could finally be bowling again. Must-see game: Nov. 20 vs. Oklahoma. It would benefit the Bears to get off to a fast start this year. If a bowl hinges on this season finale, it could be tough. Baylor is 0-19 vs. OU and 2-15 in its past 17 season closers.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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