Bo Pelini has done a great job rebuilding the Nebraska football program. They are still a few classes away from being in the national title chase but they can line up and play with anybody in the country on the right day. The move to the Big Ten will create plenty of excitement in Lincoln but the pipeline of Texas talent will need to be replaced with more Midwest talent in the future.
Nebraska returns ten starters on an offense that was only ranked 99th in the country last season. The QB position is up for grabs between Sr Zac Lee, So Cody Green, and RS Taylor Martinez. Whoever wins the job needs to do a much better job of passing the ball in 2010 for the Huskers to entertain thoughts of going to a BCS Bowl.
Lee a former JUCO transfer was the starter last season and he responded by completing 59% of his throws for 2,143 yards and 14 touchdowns and ten interceptions. Those stats are a little misleading because seven of those TD's were rung up in only two games. In games against Oklahoma and Texas the Cornhuskers were virtually shut down through the air. That has to change in 2010 if the Big Red has hopes of departing the Big 12 with a conference crown.
Sr Robert Helu Jr is Nebraska's go to running back. He earned Big 12 honors last season and is one of the best RB's in the conference. Nebraska has a great tradition of running the ball and they have plenty of talented depth behind Helu if he goes down. Keep an eye on So Rex Burkhead who has the speed to take it to the house and gives Nebraska a great one-two punch.
Nebraska has the talent to catch the ball. The question is if Zac Lee can deliver it consistently enough to improve on last years passing numbers? Sr Niles Paul led the team in receptions with 40 catches for 796 yards and four TD's. Sr Mike McNeil is a big receiver who is built like a TE. That muscle makes him a good target over the middle. Jr Brandon Kinnie is cut from the same mold. Sr Tight End Dreu Young has talent as a receiver and is also a good blocker.
Four starters return up front for the Cornhuskers but they need to find a new starting center. As usual there is plenty of Midwestern beef to go around and it has been well seasoned featuring three senior starters. It isn't a collection of all stars but it will be a solid line that will match up well against the majority of their opponents.
Ndamukong Suh and four of the top five tacklers are gone from a dominating defense. Some back in "Corn Country" are saying that Nebraska's defense has the potential to be just as good in 2010 even with those type of losses. Jr Jared Crick and So Baker Steinkuhler will be the starters at DT. Neither are as dominating as Suh but who really is? They are both very potential first round draft picks.
Pierre Allen and So Cameron are a pair of great looking DE's. Allen had five sacks last season and Meridith added five tackles for loss. Both of these guys are prototypical ends who will give the Washington offensive line and in particular the TE's a problem. These kids can stop the run and apply pressure with the best of them.
So Sean Fisher, So Will Compton, and Jr Micheal May are the likely starters at LB. Fisher has superstar written all over him and his coaches feel that he will take it to another level this season. He can line up anywhere but the coaches seem to prefer him on the strong side.
Nebraska runs something called a Peso which features a fifth defensive back to act like a third linebacker. Word on the street is that they are going to use it a lot more this season. Sr Eric Hagg seems to be the best fit for that hybrid position.
Sr Prince Amukmara is a big time talent at CB. He was first team All Big 12 last season as he picked off five interceptions. Jr Alfonzo Dennard lines up on the other side of the field and could have a banner year if teams avoid throwing in Amukmara's direction.
Jr Austin Cassidy and PJ Smith are slated to take over at the safety positions. Neither of these guys are elite talents but they will get plenty of support from the rest of the defense while they learn the ropes.
Washington Vs Nebraska
Washington has a huge advantage on the offensive side of the ball while the Cornhuskers could be just as dominating on the defensive side. The key for Washington is getting Jake Locker enough time to set up and get the ball to his play makers.
Make no mistake about it...this will be one if not the toughest defenses Washington will face all year. The Huskers lost to Virginia Tech, Iowa State, and Texas last season by a combined margin of only four points. Texas Tech was the only team to actually exploit the Husker defense to a certain extent in a 31-10 Big Red loss in Lincoln. Despite the total points scored the Huskers only gave up 259 total yards to the Red Raiders.
Does Nebraska need to be more productive on offense in 2010 to beat Washington? I think they do. Jake Locker will give them plenty of things to think about and thinking rather than just reacting kills the rhythm of any defense on the road. Washington is more than capable of putting twenty or more points on the board so Nebraska will have to answer on offense.
Overall I think this will be a close contest that will go down to the wire. Nebraska will be favored in Las Vegas but I would pick Washington because of the home field advantage and an offense led by Jake Locker. Until Nebraska proves they can score over 20 or more points per game against quality opponents they are going to struggle in the quest to regain their elite status.