WITH ASTRONG-ARMED SENIOR QB AND A PASS-HAPPY ATTACK, THE HUSKERS CAN END A FIVE-YEARBCS DROUGHT
2005 RECORD 8-4(4-4 in Big 12)
August 20, 2006
KEY RETURNEES MLBCorey McKeon (Jr.) Top tackler on a defense that led the nation in sacks lastyear CB Zackary Bowman (Sr.) Shutdown corner broke up five passes in the AlamoBowl RB Cody Glenn (Soph.) Short-yardage back was the talk of the spring inLincoln
BIG MAN ON CAMPUSSince last season, when he led Nebraska with 91/2 sacks and 17 tackles forloss, defensive end Adam Carriker has added 15 pounds to his 6'6" frame andnow weighs 295. And the senior from Kennewick, Wash., still runs a 4.68 40.Carriker is poised to become the Cornhuskers' best defensive end since GrantWistrom in the mid-1990s.
In the fall of1994, Zac Taylor sat in the top row of Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., andwatched as top-ranked Nebraska beat the Sooners 13-3. Taylor, who was 11 yearsold at the time, marveled at the Huskers' option running attack and the mammothoffensive line that mowed down everything in its path. An aspiring quarterback,he wished he had the speed to one day play for a national power. "I runlike a 5.8 40, so I never thought Nebraska would be a place I could play,"says Taylor, a native of Norman whose father, Sherwood, was a defensive backfor Oklahoma from 1977 through '79, "but then Coach [Bill] Callahan cameand changed the whole offense."
Callahan replacedFrank Solich in January 2004, installed the West Coast offense and in February'05 lured Taylor to Lincoln. Now, for the first time in five years, the Huskersenter the season as the favorite to win the Big 12 North. Sixteen startersreturn from a team that finished last year with a three-game winning streak,including upsets of Colorado (30-3) and No. 20 Michigan (32-28) in the AlamoBowl. But the defining moment of Nebraska's season-and of the Callahan era todate-came at the start of that run, a 27-25 win over Kansas State on Nov. 12.That's when the pass-happy offense finally started clicking and, as Taylor putsit, "the light came on for everyone."
"Everythingstarted to slow down for me against K-State," says Taylor, a 6'2",210-pound senior who threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns that day beforeleaving the game with a concussion. "I finally felt like I had chemistrywith my receivers."
Over those lastthree games Taylor completed 59% of his passes for 779 yards and seventouchdowns. Who needs foot speed to run the Nebraska offense? Taylor began hiscollege career at Wake Forest (after redshirting in 2002, he served as theDemon Deacons' backup quarterback in 2003), then made a stop at Butler County(Kans.) Community College, where he passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 29touchdowns and caught the attention of Callahan. Now Taylor's right arm is thekey to the Cornhuskers' season, and he'll be throwing to perhaps the mosttalented receiving corps in school history.
The two topwideouts from last year-Nate Swift (45 receptions) and Terrence Nunn (43)-havebeen joined by Maurice Purify, a 6'4" 210-pounder who was a junior collegeAll-America at City College of San Francisco. "Maurice can be adifference-maker for us," says offensive coordinator Jay Norvell."Zac's going to have a lot of weapons, and he's got the talent in his armto make things happen. He can make throws that guys in the NFL can't."
Nebraska, whichhas not been to a BCS bowl since 2001, will find out quickly if it's ready torejoin the national elite: On Sept. 16 the Huskers travel to Los Angeles toplay USC. "It's taken some time," says Taylor, "but we feel likethis is the year that we're going to bring Nebraska back to the top."