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Nebraska Cornhuskers 2010 college football preview

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Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Nebraska Cornhuskers

2009 Record: 10-4 (6-2 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Bo Pelini
Jared Crick :: Brad Schloss/Icon SMI
2010 Schedule
Sept. 4Western Kentucky
Sept. 11Idaho
Sept. 18at Washington
Sept. 25South Dakota State
Oct. 7at Kansas State
Oct. 16Texas
Oct. 23at Oklahoma State
Oct. 30Missouri
Nov. 6at Iowa State
Nov. 13Kansas
Nov. 20at Texas A&M
Nov. 26Colorado
2009 Results
Sept. 5Florida AtlanticW49- 3
Sept. 12Arkansas StateW38- 9
Sept. 19at Virginia TechL15-16
Sept. 26UL-LafayetteW55- 0
Oct. 8at MissouriW27-12
Oct. 17Texas TechL10-31
Oct. 24Iowa StateL7- 9
Oct. 31at BaylorW20-10
Nov. 7OklahomaW10- 3
Nov. 14at KansasW31-17
Nov. 21Kansas StateW17- 3
Nov. 27at ColoradoW28-20
Dec. 5vs. Texas (Arlington)L12-13
Dec. 30Arizona (Holiday Bowl)W33- 0
2009 Rankings
OFFENSEPER GAMEBig 12NAT'L
Scoring25.1 ppg875
Rushing147.1 ypg662
Passing175.7 ypg11101
Total322.8 ypg1199
DEFENSEPER GAMEBig 12NAT'L
Scoring10.4 ppg11
Rushing93.1 ypg39
Passing178.9 ypg118
Total272.0 ypg27
TO MARGINPER GAMEBig 12NAT'L
+5+0.36333
2010 Projected Rosters
OFFENSE
WRNiles Paul (Sr.)Khiry Cooper (So.)
WRMike McNeill (Sr.)Curenski Gilleylen (So.)
WRBrandon Kinnie (Jr.)Tim Marlowe (So.)
LTJermarcus Hardrick (Jr.)Jeremiah Sirles (Fr.)
LGKeith Williams (Sr.)Brandon Thompson (So.)
CMike Caputo (Jr.)Mike Smith (Sr.)
RGRicky Henry (Sr.)Brent Qvale (Fr.)
RTMarcel Jones (Jr.)D.J. Jones (Sr.)
TEDreu Young (Sr.)Ben Cotton (So.)
QBZac Lee (Sr.)Cody Green (So.)
IBRoy Helu Jr. (Sr.)Rex Burkhead (So.)
DEFENSE
DEPierre Allen (Sr.)Josh Williams (So.)
DTJared Crick (Jr.)Thad Randle (Fr.)
DTBaker Steinkuhler (So.)Terrence Moore (Jr.)
DECameron Meredith (So.)Jason Ankrah (Fr.)
LBWill Compton (So.)Alonzo Whaley (So.)
LBEric Martin (So.)Sean Fisher (So.)
CBPrince Amukamara (Sr.)Anthony Blue (Jr.)
CBAlfonzo Dennard (Jr.)Andrew Green (Fr.)
NEric Hagg (Sr.)Austin Cassidy (Jr.)
SDeJon Gomes (Sr.)Anthony West (Sr.)
SP.J. Smith (So.)Rickey Thenarse (Sr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
1Alex Henery (Sr.)KRNiles Paul (Sr.)
1Alex Henery (Sr.)PRNiles Paul (Sr.)
RETURNING LEADERS
Passing: Zac Lee (2,143 yards, 14 TDs, 10 INT)
Rushing: Roy Helu Jr. (220 car, 1,147 yds, 10 TDs)
Receiving: Niles Paul (40 rec, 796 yds, 4 TDs)
Tackles: Jared Crick (73, 31 solo)
Sacks: Jared Crick (9.5)
Interceptions: Prince Amukamara (5 for 63 yds)
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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jared Crick, DT: The new leader of the defense will be charged with picking up the slack left by Ndamukong Suh.

Eric Hagg, DB: A hybrid player with size and speed, he's started 20 games the past two seasons.

Prince Amukamara, CB: The returning first-team All-Big 12 cornerback put the NFL on hold to return for his senior season.

Roy Helu Jr., RB: The Huskers' offensive MVP in 2009 has averaged 5.7 yards per carry in his two-year career.

Alex Henery, K/P: The most accurate field goal kicker in school history is one of only three players in the top 50 nationally in both field goals and punting average.

IMPORTANT LOSSES

Ndamukong Suh, DT: The All-American was the most decorated defender in school history, leading the team in tackles and ranking second in pass break-ups.

Phillip Dillard, LB: He was the team's second-leading tackler despite not playing in the first two games; a model of persistence.

Larry Asante, S: The three-year starter was named first-team All-Big 12 by coaches and ranked third on the team with 79 tackles.

Matt O'Hanlon, S: The former walk-on started every game and led the team with six picks, the most by a Husker since 2003.

Jacob Hickman, C: The offensive leader had 37 starts in four seasons, including 14 despite injuries and illness in 2009.

NUMBERS GAME

10.4: Nebraska led the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10.4 points per game. The Huskers allowed 28.5 and 37.9 points the previous two seasons.

OFFENSE

The offense returns virtually intact, with a 1,000-yard rusher in Roy Helu Jr., a big-play wide receiver in Niles Paul, a versatile tight end who can line up as a slot receiver in Mike McNeill and a quarterback who completed nearly 60 percent of his passes in Zac Lee. That's the good news.

The bad news is, the numbers haven't added up. The Huskers ranked 75th nationally in scoring offense and 99th in total offense last season, averaging fewer than 150 yards per game rushing, a number that has to increase.

Injuries were a factor. Lee is coming off surgery on the flexor tendon in his throwing arm, an injury he played through during his first season as a starter. Helu had a shoulder problem, and the other running back, Rex Burkhead, missed five games with a broken foot.

But injuries alone can't explain the offensive inconsistency. For starters, the line has been shuffled and bolstered by young players and a junior college transfer.

Also, the quarterback position is far from settled. Lee missed spring practice while recovering from surgery. When he returns to action in preseason practice he will have to hold off sophomore Cody Green, who started twice in 2009, and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, who has the skills to play elsewhere if he doesn't end up at quarterback.

DEFENSE

Though the defense lost some key players, most notably Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner Ndamukong Suh at tackle, it's deeper this year and the players are more attuned to the system. So don't look for a significant drop-off.

Tackle Jared Crick, a first-team All-Big 12 pick last fall, is a star, and third-year starter Pierre Allen is at one of the ends on a line that's two-deep at every position. The Huskers are also stacked with linebackers and cornerbacks -- including another All-Big 12 selection in Prince Amukamara -- and although the starting safeties will be new, they'll be experienced; DeJon Gomes started six times in the dime package.

Nickelback Eric Hagg is key to what this defense does. He can move up into the box against the run like a linebacker, or drop in coverage. He'll rarely leave the field.

SPECIALISTS

Alex Henery is the most accurate placekicker in Husker history. He has made 50-of-57 field goal attempts and 139-of-140 extra points. And he has kicked four or more field goals in six games during his career. He is also the punter, averaging 41.4 yards per kick, with 30 downed inside the 20-yard line.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Huskers have come a long way in two seasons under coach Bo Pelini. They've had a pair of nine-plus win seasons, including two bowl-game victories. Still, Pelini wants more: "We're not there yet," he said. "We're about winning championships."

That's the expectation. Nebraska should be the favorite to repeat atop the Big 12's North Division and could be in the top 10 for the first time since 2002.

"We're right at the verge, I feel, of doing some great things in the program," Pelini said.

The Huskers again will do it with defense after ranking in the top 10 nationally in four major defensive categories, including first in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. The kicking game will provide solid support. But for this team to make a leap forward, the offense must improve significantly.

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