2011 marks a brand new era for Nebraska’s football program as the Cornhuskers join what will now be the SEC’s main rival among college football conference powerhouses — THE BIG 10. And the early prognosticators like Nebraska’s odds of competing for a conference championship right out of the gate.
Early predictions all have Nebraska ranked somewhere in the preseason Top 25, but in a wide range of positions. A handful of lists came out in January before all the bowls had finished playing. The Cornhuskers themselves ended the 2011 season on December 30 with a clunker of a rematch versus Washington. Nebraska had throttled the Huskies in Seattle to the tune of 56-21 (Washington’s worst defeat at home in decades) only to lose against the same squad in San Diego 7-19. That’s a jaw-dropping 47-point swing.
The rapid deterioration of Nebraska’s offense by the end of the 2010 season probably had the early predictors wary of ranking the Cornhuskers too high as none of the early lists placed Nebraska in the Top 10. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated was the most bullish on Nebraska, putting them in at #12. Dennis Dodd of CBS put the Huskers at #14. Rivals.com had Nebraska #17 while ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Nationalchamps.net listed them at #19.
But the departure of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and the promotion of Tim Beck to fill the spot has seen Nebraska’s preseason stock rise considerably with Rivals.com bumping the Huskers up to #9 and ESPN punching them in at #13 in their latest 2011 previews.
I concur with the later assessments and have Nebraska ranked #10 in my own preseason Top 25
Yes, the downward spiral of Nebraska’s offense in 2010 (a repeat of the same thing in 2009) was not pretty. And the Huskers’ debut Big 10 schedule is even uglier (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa are all on the docket), but there are signs of offensive life returning to Lincoln with the healing of Taylor Martinez at quarterback along with the emergence in spring practice of a formidable wide receiver by the name of Jamal Turner (a one-time qb recruit). Looking for a big year out of junior tailback Rex Burkhead and up-and-comer back-up quarterback Brion Carnes.
Nebraska gets a manageable nonconference schedule with a pair of gimmes (Chattanooga and Wyoming) a near-gimme (Fresno State) and a revenge game (Washington) in Lincoln. From there, the Huskers begin Big 10 life in style — or under a rain of bullets as it were — getting a pair of night games versus Wisconsin and Ohio State. This tandem will likely be the apex of the Husker 2011 schedule, but the rest of the slate is no picnic with trips to Ann Arbor and Happy Valley before finishing with vowed border rival Iowa in Lincoln.
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