- I am bullish on Nebraska this season for a number of reasons, including its outstanding special teams unit. Last year, Brett Maher connected on 19-of-23 field goal attempts (long of 51), while compiling 20 touchbacks on 70 kick-offs. What makes Maher even more impressive is the fact that he also averaged 44.5 yards on punts with a net of 38.3 yards. Meanwhile, Ameer Abdullah was Nebraska’s top kick returner (29.3 yards) and punt returner (7.1 yards) last year, and he joins Maher as one of the best special teams units in college football.
- While I am certainly not a big fan of starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, reports from spring practice indicate he he has improved upon his mechanics (including better foot work). Martinez threw for 2,089 yards (56.2% completions) with a 13-8 ratio last season, but he ended the year on a high note by only throwing one interception in his final 132 pass attempts. Martinez also rushed for 874 yards (4.6 yards per carry). If Martinez can stay healthy and show nominal improvement, the Cornhuskers should have enough on offense to procure double-digit wins in 2012.
- Nebraska’s strength remains in its backfield with Rex Burkhead, who ran for 1,357 yards last season (4.8 yards per carry) and Ameer Abdullah, who averaged 3.6 yards per rush attempt in 2011. Burkhead is one of the best running backs in the nation and tied a team record last year by scoring at least one touchdown in ten consecutive games.
- While Nebraska’s running game will garner a lot of attention, they possess one of the fastest wide receivers in collegiate football in Kenny Bell. Bell led the team last year as a true freshman with 461 yards (14.4 yards per catch, and I expect another productive year from him in 2012.
- The Cornhuskers will also take the field with a solid defense, including an outstanding secondary that returns three players who started seven or more games and nine who started at some point last year. The secondary is led by cornerbacks Mohammed Seisay, Jr. and Andrew Green, Jr., along with a very talented junior college transfer. Nebraska also returns seven of its top ten defensive linemen which will further improve the defense under head coach Bo Pelini (he calls the defensive signals; John Papuchis was promoted to DC).
With fourteen returning starters and a head coach who has led them to nine or more wins in four consecutive seasons, look for the Cornhuskers to be a legitimate threat to win the Big Ten Conference Title.