Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 22 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska Cornhuskers made some noise in their second season as a member of the Big Ten. Following up a successful 2011 season with an even more successful 2012 season, the Cornhuskers look to be favorites to win the Legends Division.

Bo Pelini has led this team to two solid Big Ten seasons including an appearance in the conference title game last year. Even though they were blown out by Wisconsin, the Cornhuskers still prove to be one of the conference’s best.

Returning most of their key players, the Cornhuskers will look to make a run at roses and make it eight straight bowl games. Let’s see how they stack up against the competition in 2013.

KEY PLAYERS

Losing Rex Burkhead will be a big blow to the run game, but Ameer Abdullah has shown he can be a star in this offense. Abdullah ran the ball 226 times for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore, proving his worth and need on this team in Burkhead’s absence.

Taylor Martinez is back and that’s great news for this team as well. The senior quarterback improved his entire game last season, becoming one of the best dual-threats in the nation. He passed for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing for 1,019 yards and 10 scores.

Kenny Bell is the team’s leading receiver and also one of the best in the conference. The junior caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight touchdowns last season — the next closest receiver had just 470 yards last year.

OFFENSE

Nebraska had one of the top scoring offenses in the conference last season with over 34 points per game to go along with the eighth-best rushing attack in the nation. Abdullah and Martinez combined for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground last season. Look for more of that in 2013.

The pass game could use a bit of improvement under the senior quarterback. Improving his completion percentage from 56 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2012 was a huge step in the right direction. If he cuts down his interception numbers, he could be an early Heisman-favorite.

Bell will take a lot of pressure off Martinez, because he’s the kind of receiver that if you throw it in his general direction he will catch the ball.

DEFENSE

While Nebraska had a potent offense, their defense was lackluster at best last season. Giving up 70 points in the Big Ten title game and 45 points in their bowl loss, the Cornhuskers must improve on their intensity and tenacity.

Losing Will Compton will be a huge blow to the defense as he led the team in tackles, 110, and was third in sacks, three. In fact, the lead returning tackler from the 2012 squad is cornerback Ciante Evans. The senior had 56 tackles, two sacks and an interception.

The defense will definitely need some work in 2013, especially without sack leader and defensive monster, Eric Martin. Maybe losing most of the starters from the mediocre 2012 defense will be a good thing.

SCHEDULE

With an overall record of 19-8 since joining the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers will look to make it three straight seasons as members with nine-plus wins in 2013 and six straight under Pelini. As one of the most underrated teams in the nation, let’s see how this team will fare this season.

Here’s a look at their toughest games: vs. UCLA Bruins, vs. Northwestern Wildcats, at Michigan Wolverines, vs. Michigan State Spartans and at Penn State Nittany Lions.

While their schedule is far from a cake-walk, they will still have the upper hand on a majority of the teams they face, making another nine-plus win season likely. I believe they will finish 10-2, making a strong case for the Big Ten title game yet again.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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