As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Nebraska Cornhuskers offense looks primed to have another big year. They’ll be led by three year starter Taylor Martinez, who is the active FBS career rushing leader with 2,858 yards, including 1,019 yards last season. And for the first time in school history, the Huskers return two 1,000-yard rushers this season, with Ameer Abdullah joining Martinez in the backfield. Abdullah rushed for 1,137 yards as a sophomore. I expect them to be another top 10 rushing team in the country, and although they lost Rex Burkhead, they have a powerful, explosive back in Imani Cross, who scored seven touchdowns as a freshman.
The Huskers’ offense returns a total of seven starters. Aside from Martinez and Abdullah, they also bring back wide outs Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa, and three of their offensive linemen, including second team All-American Spencer Long, Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Quayle. Also, several important reserve players will be returning, including the third-leading receiver from last season, Jamal Turner, and a number of offensive linemen with starting experience, such as Andrew Rodriquez and Cole Pensick, who are expected to bolster an already formidable line.
Combined, those five o-linemen have started a total of 78 games, and that veteran experience should help keep Nebraska’s prolific rushing game at an elite level. Last season Nebraska averaged just over 250 yards per game on the ground, and rushed for over 200 in 12 of its 14 games, good for eighth in the country in total rushing. One can assume they will improve on that production from last season, as Abdullah will be their go-to guy in every game, whereas he backed-up Burkhead for half of last season until Burkhead went down with an injury. Martinez, too, should have another outstanding season on the ground, given that he’s averaged over 900 yards in his first three seasons at Nebraska while improving every year.
Martinez at times has been both Nebraska’s most effective and ineffective player in his three seasons in Lincoln. While he is undoubtedly a tremendous athlete who can run nearly any team off the field, his passing (although improving) is suspect at best, and he has immense trouble holding onto the football. In fact, Martinez and the rest of the Huskers offense were the worst in the country in handling the rock, and they turned the ball over 22 times via fumble. Martinez in the last two years has lost more fumbles than any other FBS player, losing 29 fumbles, six more than the guy behind him (Army’s QB Trent Steelman – 23). Obviously, being able to fix those offensive woes would make Nebraska’s offense one of the most dangerous and explosive in the country.
Almost half of the Husker’s offense finds themselves on preseason award watch lists. Martinez is on three himself: Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, and Walter Camp; Abdullah is also on four, including the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards – like his quarterback – as well as the Hornung and Doak Walker award lists. Three offensive linemen are on award lists, including Sirles and Long, who are both on the Outland and Lombardi Trophy watch lists, and Cole Pensick, who’s on the Remington watch list. Wide receiver Bell is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list and fellow receiver Turner is on the Jet Award watch list, named after Nebraska’s own Johnny “The Jet” Rogers.
Nebraska doesn’t have the strongest defense going into the 2013 season, as they only bring back five starters. So if the offense can hold on to the ball and put up points like they have in recent years, the lack of a solid defense might not be such a bad thing. That’s a lot to ask for, but there are lofty expectations for the fourth winningest football program in history, especially because the Huskers haven’t been to a BCS game since they lost the National Championship to Miami in 2001. Speaking of National Championships, Nebraska hasn’t won one since 1997, making Husker fans more anxious with each passing season.