2011 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten (3rd in Legends)
2011 postseason: Capital One Bowl (30-13 loss to South Carolina)
2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 24/No. 24
Head coach: Bo Pelini (39-16 in five-plus seasons at Nebraska)
Offensive coordinator: Tim Beck (third season at Nebraska, second as OC)
2011 offensive rankings: 15th rushing offense (217.2 ypg); 104th passing offense (162.7 ypg); 66th total offense (379.9 ypg); 50th scoring offense (29.1 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: John Papuchis (fifth season at Nebraska, second as DC)
2011 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (158.5 ypg); 18th passing defense (192.2 ypg); 37th total defense (350.7 ypg); 42nd scoring defense (23.4 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Lincoln, Neb.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (81,067; FieldTurf)
Last league title: 1999 (Big 12)
2011 statistics: [view]
The Cornhuskers return a total of 16 starters — two on special teams — which ties it with 11 other teams for 29th most in the country. The schedule sets up relatively favorably, with the ‘Huskers getting both Wisconsin (Sept. 29) and Michigan (Oct. 27) in Lincoln, although they do have to travel to Ohio State (Oct. 6 night game) and Michigan State (Nov. 3). After a solid debut season in the Big Ten, Pelini’s charges will be looking to make their mark on the conference race sooner rather than later.
While the Cornhuskers return seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, they lost three of the best Blackshirts to the NFL. And that was on a defense that was fair-to-middlin’ in the first place; the Huskers nearly gave up as many points per game in 2011 (23.4) as it did in 2009 and 2010 combined (27.8). For a program used to defensive prowess — and for one looking to get itself back to national prominence — that’s unacceptable, although the odds that was merely an aberration are fairly good.
Taylor Martinez. Entering his third season as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, one would think that there would be a fairly good handle on what Martinez will bring to the table. One would obviously be wrong, although, based on the reports coming out of Lincoln this offseason, the light bulb may have gone on for Martinez. All Husker Nation has to worry about is whether it dims before the start of the regular season.
Make-or-break game: vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 29
Last season in Madison, the Badgers laid a 48-17 woodshedding on the ‘Huskers in the program’s first Big Ten game. Nebraska will get Wisconsin first out of the conference gate again this season, although, as mentioned, this time the Badgers will be on the road. As was the case last year, the league opener will serve as a barometer for where the ‘Huskers are headed in 2012 — or how far they (still) have to go to catch the heavyweights in the Big Ten.
Heisman hopeful: running back Rex Burkhead
As one of the most unheralded backs in the country, Burkhead rushed for a team-leading 1,357 yards (16th in the country) and 15 touchdowns as a junior. With uncertainty, at least early on in the season, over how big of an offensive load Martinez will be capable of handling, Burkhead will once again be looked upon to shoulder much of the heavy lifting on that side of the ball. A long shot for a trip to New York City in December, let alone a Heisman win, Burkhead could sneak into the conversation with a solid start to the season, including a breakout performance in the nationally-televised primetime affair vs. Wisconsin.