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2012 College Football Team Previews

The Sports Xchange


Nebraska introduced itself to the Big Ten Conference last season by producing its largest comeback victory in school history (Ohio State) and dominating the eventual Legends Division champion (Michigan State) in Lincoln.

The Huskers also suffered a pair of blowout losses (Wisconsin, Michigan) and were humbled at home (Northwestern).

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Such was the rollercoaster ride Bo Pelini's team experienced during the getting-to-know you process.

Now, a year later, the Huskers know more of what expect from the Big Ten. Pelini believes that familiarity could pay dividends in 2012.

"You know, there's one thing seeing it on film, there's another thing living it and seeing it in person," Pelini said of last year's experiences.

Among other things, Pelini said his staff and players came away from their first year in the Big Ten impressed with the depth of the league.

"And you know that I think our players came out of it knowing that we're going to be challenged week in and week out," he said. "You've got to be ready to go each and every Saturday or things aren't going to go your way."

Nebraska, seeking its first conference championship since 1999, returns key cogs in its offense (QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead) under second-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck. The defense, under new coordinator John Papuchis, must replace its heart and soul, linebacker Lavonte David.

Still, Pelini believes this defense will be better than the one that ranked No. 37 nationally last season while struggling with youth and inconsistency, particularly in the secondary, and with decimating injuries along the defensive line.

Pelini's first four teams have won no fewer than nine games, while also losing no fewer than four.

HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, fifth year at Nebraska, 39-16 record at Nebraska and as a head coach

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Rex Burkhead -- Bo Pelini says he wouldn't trade Burkhead for another player in the country. The dependable, trustworthy senior is a fan favorite, and he's what makes Nebraska's offense tick. A darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate, Burkhead rushed for 1,357 yards last season, with seven 100-yard rushing games. Pelini believes Burkhead is vastly underrated on the national scene, saying he's a "tremendous athlete" that is mislabeled as an overachiever.

BREAKOUT STAR: S Daimion Stafford -- Look for a big jump from the senior, whose rookie mistakes as a junior college transfer were as noticeable as his high ceiling. "He's really matured," Bo Pelini said. "He's a physically-talented guy. Everyone's seen that. But mentally, he's in a different place than he was a year ago." The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Stafford was Nebraska's third-leading tackler last season and led the team in pass breakups.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: CB Mohammed Seisay -- He comes from the same junior college that gave Nebraska cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Armando Murillo, but Eastern Arizona coach John O'Mera says Seisay is better than both. Seisay participated in spring practices and made a big impression, literally. "He's a big presence out there, a big dude," coach Bo Pelini said. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Seisay could fill a critical void as a lockdown cornerback with the loss of Alfonzo Dennard.

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KEYS TO SUCCESS: Nebraska returns the core of its offense, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Rex Burkhead and six of its top seven receivers/tight ends. Kenny Bell became only the second freshman in school history to lead the Huskers in receptions and receiving yards last season. While the offensive line must replace three starters, there's ample experience returning. The offense will feel more comfortable under the second season of coordinator Tim Beck. The key question: Are the coaches and players' accounts of Martinez's offseason improvement really true, or merely hype?

AREAS OF CONCERN: Nebraska is lacking depth and experience at linebacker. The serious need has been addressed in recruiting, and junior college transfer Zaire Anderson figures to make a difference this fall. But aside from veterans Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley, there's not much else on the roster, at least not in terms of experience. Nebraska will sorely miss Lavonte David, last year's top tackler and playmaker. Questions also remain about a secondary that was young and struggled with consistency last season, although Bo Pelini expects vast improvement.


-- Quarterback Taylor Martinez has been drawing praise from coaches and teammates for his offseason work to improve his throwing skills. The junior, who's started 25 of 27 games, has worked during the summer with Steve Calhoun, a Los Angeles-area quarterback coach, and also attended the Manning Camp. "From my experience, usually when a guy's that committed and puts that kind of work in, usually you reap the benefits," Bo Pelini said. Martinez, whose footwork and throwing motion have been heavily critiqued and criticized, completed 56.3 percent of his passes last season. But Martinez has also produced the top total offense seasons in school history for both a freshman and a sophomore, and he sits in third place on the career total offense list with 5,559 yards.

-- Linebacker Will Compton began emerging late last season, and enters his senior season determined to carry over that momentum. "It wasn't like I was deciding I had to play better," said Compton, who had 82 tackles last season. "It was more I had to find the root of what was keeping me from being what I could be. And I can still be better." Bo Pelini said Compton is the team's "undisputed leader" on defense. "He's a guy that really, I thought, last year started taking his game to another level," Pelini said.

-- Backup RB Aaron Green, one of the top recruits of the 2011 class, left the team after spring practice and has transferred to TCU. Green rushed 25 times for 130 yards as a true freshman, splitting time with Ameer Abdullah as a backup to veteran Rex Burkhead.

-- Backup RB Braylon Heard, who moved to cornerback during spring practice, has moved back to running back in light of Green's transfer. But coach Bo Pelini said Heard, a sophomore, will also continue to work in specialized roles on defense.

-- LB Jared Afalava and LB Thomas Brown, members of the 2012 recruiting class, are still waiting for NCAA clearance, although Pelini said he's confident the freshmen will be ruled eligible.

-- DT Chase Rome, DT Thaddeus Randle, DT Kevin Williams, DT Todd Peat and OL Jake Cotton, all of whom missed spring practice with injury, are ready to participate in fall camp.

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