When a team produces about $11 million worth of talent for the pros, including the Heisman and Outland Trophy winners, it's obviously destined for a year of rebuilding. That is, unless that team is Nebraska. Yes, the Cornhuskers will miss the speed of quarterback Turner Gill and wingback Irving Fryar, but, believe it or not, they can almost compensate for the loss of Heisman winner Mike Rozier with the tandem of Jeff Smith and Paul Miles. Yes, Nebraska will miss right guard Dean Steinkuhler, last year's Outland winner, and 290-pound right tackle Scott Raridon. But this fall Husker fans can look to the left, where Smith, who gained 99 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Orange Bowl after Rozier got hurt in the second half, and Miles, who averaged almost 10 yards per carry as a part-timer last season, can run over 300-pound tackle Mark Behning, guard Harry Grimminger and center Mark Traynowicz, this season's designated Outland candidate.
The line's toughest task will be to protect quarterback Craig Sundberg, a caretaker type who won't be Gill but won't be a fish, either. Sundberg, a typical up-through-the-Nebraska-system guy, threw only 12 passes last season, completing nine of them, as he waited for Gill to graduate.
On defense, everyone of note returns except linebacker Mike Knox, who underwent surgery on his left knee last spring. The D played ugly sister to last year's glittering offense, but in 1984 it may be Cinderella. "The offense set the tone last year," says defensive end Bill Weber. "This year it's us." The defense will have a different look, too. No more sitting and waiting for the run and playing straight zone coverage. "Last year we did some things that a freshman quarterback could read," says Weber. "This year," says middle guard Ken Graeber, "we're going to be flying around."
"The main question for us," says coach Tom Osborne, "is how much better on defense will we be versus how much of a drop-off on offense will we have." Don't expect the 84-13 and 72-29 wins that peppered the Husker record last year, but look for a few 28-0s.
The schedule is one that could beget a national championship, too. Among Big Eight opponents, only Missouri (four victories) and Oklahoma (eight) have given Osborne serious trouble since he took over in Lincoln in 1973, and Nebraska plays both of them at home this fall. Oklahoma State also is a home game. That leaves only a showdown with UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Sept. 22. Should the Huskers win that game, they'll likely ride into the Orange Bowl undefeated, just as they did last year.