5 Nebraska A new coach and 11 new starters can mean only one thing: the start of another dynasty at Nebraska, where the names change, but everything else remains the same

August 30, 1998

Frank Solich sounds bemused when asked what changes he has made
in his eight-plus months as Nebraska coach. "The way things have
been going would deem that you not make changes," Solich says,
the understatement speaking loud and clear. When a team has gone
49-2 in the last four seasons and won three national
championships, you don't want to wash socks, much less tweak the
practice schedule.

But Solich, a former Nebraska running back and 19-year
Cornhuskers assistant coach who succeeded the retired Tom
Osborne, may not be able to keep the Huskers' wagon on the
national championship track. True, this is Nebraska, so it's not
as if every other coach in the country wouldn't want his lineup
to include a few of Solich's players. But it has been a long
time since a Nebraska offense began the season with so little
proven talent.

It's a good thing, then, that the defense, which is accustomed
to operating in the offense's shadow, promises to be as
unyielding as ever. Eight starters are back, including a Browns
secondary that the NFL expansion team in Cleveland would like to
have next year--and not simply for reasons of nomenclature.
Junior corner Ralph Brown has started every game since he
arrived in Lincoln and already holds the school record for
passes broken up in a career (21). Junior rover Mike Brown is a
steamroller who grew into the job last season after playing
backup corner as a freshman. (And let us not forget senior
kicker Kris Brown, who has made 22 of 26 field goal attempts
since late in the '96 season, and senior wingback Lance Brown,
whose vertical jump is a team-best 38.5 inches.)

With two All-Americas, end Grant Wistrom and tackle Jason Peter,
gone from the defensive line, senior end Mike Rucker needs to
make big plays. He had 7 1/2 sacks last fall, second on the team
to Wistrom.

The defense will need to force as many turnovers as possible
given the uncertainty on the other side of the ball. Take the
offensive line, on which senior center Josh Heskew's 14 career
starts are 14 ahead of the cumulative total of the other four
starters. By comparison, the line that went into the Orange Bowl
last January had 121 starts, including 36 by '97 Outland Trophy
winner Aaron Taylor. "You have to adjust to younger players,"
says Heskew, who has fully recovered from back surgery in the
winter to repair a herniated disk. "They have seen what it takes
to get the job done, but they don't know how. They are used to
playing together [as backups in practice]. I'm trying to do my
best to fit in with them."

In the backfield, senior fullback Joel Makovicka is as
dependable as a telemarketer's phone call at suppertime. The
Cornhuskers need Makovicka's consistency, in part because
third-year sophomore I-back DeAngelo Evans will be returning
from a pelvic injury that required two surgeries and more than a
year to heal. As a freshman in 1996, the 5'9", 210-pound Evans
stepped in for the injured Ahman Green and Damon Benning and
rushed for 776 yards and 14 touchdowns. Evans is getting healthy
but will likely miss the Huskers' first two or three games.
Behind him are sophomore Correll Buckhalter and a bunch of guys
with fancy high school resumes.

Sophomore quarterback Bobby Newcombe is so talented that Osborne
had him play wingback and return kicks last season. Newcombe
scored three touchdowns--on a 16-yard run, a 40-yard catch and a
53-yard punt return. The 6-foot, 195-pound Albuquerque native is
the fastest player (4.46) on a fast team. "Our linebackers are
not slow," Heskew says. "When Bobby can juke them and make them
drop their jocks, that makes me a believer." Solich, not given
to raving, says Newcombe's "speed at the quarterback position is
unbelievable." The coach is even more impressed with Newcombe's
work ethic: the business management major is ahead of schedule
to graduate, and he showed up at the football office every day
this summer to watch tape.

As impressive as Newcombe is, the emphasis, phonetically and
otherwise, is on the new. After all, he has completed only one
pass, for a mere 15 yards. His predecessor, Scott Frost,
developed into an outstanding quarterback, but not before his
inexperience contributed heavily to the 19-0 defeat at Arizona
State in 1996. There's also the issue of a new man sending in
plays from the sideline. Solich hasn't called a game since 1982,
the last of his four seasons running the freshman team. "We'll
do what Tom did," says Solich, adding that calling plays "will
be a team deal" among members of the offensive staff.

With so much inexperience, Solich jumped at the chance to play a
12th regular-season game, the opener against Louisiana Tech.
Osborne liked the extra games too, but in each of the three
Kickoff Classics he coached, the Huskers had a seasoned
quarterback. See, Solich is making changes after all.

--I.M.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Powerball One of the Cornhuskers' favorite numbers to call this year will be the 45 of rugged senior fullback Makovicka. [Joel Makovicka and defender in game] COLOR PHOTO: TED KIRK Evans [DeAngelo Evans]

Fast Facts

1997 record: 13-0 (8-0, 1st in Big 12 North)
Final ranking: No. 2 AP, No. 1 coaches' poll

Rushing Passing Total
1997 Averages Scoring Yards Yards Yards

OFFENSE 47.1 392.6 121.1 513.7
DEFENSE 16.4 73.4 183.9 257.3

Projected Lineup

Coach: Frank Solich
First year as a Division I-A head coach

OFFENSE

WR Kenny Cheatham[*] Sr. Hampered in '97 by pulled quad
LT Adam Julch[*] Jr. 6'5", 315, has played in 16 games
LG James Sherman[*] Jr. Replaces an Outland winner
C Josh Heskew Sr. Only returning regular on OL
RG Ben Gessford[*] Sr. Got scholarship in January '98
RT Jason Schwab[*] Jr. Coaches love his athleticism
TE Sheldon Jackson[*] Sr. 4 rec. in Orange Bowl
WB Lance Brown Sr. Career: 19 rec., 371 yds., 2 TDs
QB Bobby Newcombe[*] So. Fastest player on the team
RB DeAngelo Evans[*] So. 776 rushing yds. in '96
FB Joel Makovicka Sr. No negative yds. in 105 carries
K Kris Brown Sr. 13 pts. shy of team scoring mark

DEFENSE

LE Chad Kelsay Sr. 1997 Academic All-Big 12
NT Steve Warren[*] Jr. 20 career games, 25 tackles
DT Jason Wiltz Sr. Started 10 games at NT
RE Mike Rucker Sr. 7 1/2 sacks as a reserve
OLB Tony Ortiz Jr. 3 1/2 sacks and 5 QB hurries
MLB Jay Foreman Sr. Son of NFL's Chuck Foreman
OLB Eric Johnson[*] Sr. 49 tackles, 3 sacks
CB Erwin Swiney So. Started last nine games
SS Mike Brown Jr. Led team with 77 tackles
FS Clint Finley[*] So. 14 tackles in nine games
CB Ralph Brown Jr. Contender for Thorpe Award
P Bill Lafleur[*] Sr. 4 career punts, 41.3 avg.

[*]New starters
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1997 season.

Pivotal Players

At 5'9", DeAngelo Evans is the Huskers' smallest starting I-back
since 1972, but not as diminutive as their leading rusher in
1964, 5'7" Frank Solich. "We always mess with him about how
little he is," Evans says of his coach. Evans prefers
comparisons to a 5'8" back from his hometown of Wichita, Kans.,
Barry Sanders.... Joel Makovicka, Nebraska's leading returning
rusher, needs 750 yards to become the alltime Husker fullback
rushing leader.... Last season wingback Lance Brown had 12
receptions and 38 knockdown blocks and excelled on special
teams. Like his stepfather, Jackie Brandt, a light-hitting
outfielder in the major leagues from 1956 to '67, Brown has made
a career out of doing the little things well.... Junior
linebacker Brian Shaw nearly has it all--a 4.0 GPA, a 36-inch
vertical leap and a school record in an agility test. What he
doesn't have is a full-time starting job. Shaw shares the
strongside position with Tony Ortiz.

Key Games

Schedule strength: 12th of 112

Sept. 26 vs. Washington In a 27-14 win in '97 the Huskers
exposed highly ranked Washington as a fraud. This
less-experienced Huskies team can expect a long flight back to
Seattle.

Oct. 24 vs. Missouri Mizzou's controversial 45-38 OT loss to
the Huskers in '97 proved that coach Larry Smith's rebuilding is
on track. No team rushed for more yards (153) against Nebraska
last year.

Nov. 14 at Kansas State The Wildcats may have replaced Colorado
as the Huskers' top Big 12 rival, but they have come within
seven points of defeating Nebraska only once in the last 29
seasons.

The X Factor

The 1989 Miami team with Craig Erickson was the last to win a
national title with a quarterback who had never been a full-time
starter. Is Bobby Newcombe talented enough to break this
nine-year trend?

The Bottom Line

A talented defense with eight returning starters will carry the
team until the offense finds itself. With Newcombe under center,
that shouldn't take long.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
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