FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 7 Nebraska
This is it for Nebraska and the Big 12, so look for the Cornhuskers to go out with a bang. Last season, the Cornhuskers came within a controversial phantom second of upending Texas in the Big 12 Championship game and finding their way into a BCS game in Bo Pelini's second season on the job.
Maybe this will be the year Nebraska breaks through and exits the Big 12 the way it entered as one of the elite. In many ways it would be like kicking more sand in the face of the Big 12 before entering Big Ten play in 2011.
Let's just say timing is everything. The Cornhuskers' defense, even minus Outland Trophy winner Ndamukong Suh, is loaded and deep at just about every position. Junior defensive tackle Jared Crick, defensive end Pierre Allen and cornerback Prince Amukamara (right) will lead a unit that again will be among the nation's best and will wear the Black Shirts proudly.
The key will be if the offense can uphold its end and put up numbers far better than the pedestrian ones that ranked among the worst in country in passing (101st), scoring (75th) and total offense (99th) last season. The encouraging -- or perhaps troubling? -- news is that virtually all of the skill players return from that team, including Biletnikoff Award Watch List receiver Niles Paul and 1,000-yard rusher Roy Helu, Jr., along with three quarterbacks who all took meaningful snaps last season. Quarterbacks Zac Lee, Cody Green and Taylor Martinez remain in a battle for the starting job.
But even if the offense has trouble putting points on the board, the Cornhuskers have their most accurate kicker in history in Alex Henery to bail them out. He has made 50-57 career field goals and 139-140 extra points.
The schedule also works out in Nebraska's favor with Oklahoma missing from it this season and Texas and Missouri having to come to Lincoln.
THE BASICS: Nebraska is coming off a 10-4, 6-2 season in which it won the North Division and then went on to crush Arizona, 33-0, in the Holiday Bowl. The Cornhuskers return 16 starters, including six on defense and nine on offense.
KEY PLAYER YOU PROBABLY DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: Tight end Mike McNeil and all his versatility will be huge for the Cornhuskers' offense this season. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, the senior gives the quarterbacks a big target as a safety net. The interesting thing with McNeil is while he is listed as a tight end, he capable of dropping in the slot to create size mismatches in coverage. He was the Cornhuskers' second-leading receiver last season with 28 catches for 259 yards and four touchdowns.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: Replacing Suh and his ability to fill up a stat line from the defensive tackle position may be impossible to do, but look for Crick to make an attempt. Crick benefited a great deal last year from all of the attention Suh commanded from opposing offensive lines. This year, Crick will see those double and triple teams that Suh swatted away like flies. Let's see how Crick handles it.
DON'T MISS: Oct. 16 vs. Texas at Memorial Stadium. This is the game that has been circled on the Cornhuskers' schedule for months now, despite what Pelini says. The Cornhuskers would love nothing more than to beat the team that many feel robbed them of their rightful Big 12 championship last season. This has always been an intense rivalry, but it's magnified this season by the fact of last season's ending and also because it will be the last regular-season meeting for the two power programs for years to come.
PREDICTED RECORD: 11-2
FanHouse's Nebraska team page with schedule