It is Nebraska’s turn for the spotlight in our latest edition of the “Big Ten Tour”. The purpose of BTT is to interview writers who are closely connected with their respective programs from around the conference. It’s always good to know your opponent and what people who cover them have to say.
Husker Mike, blogger for SB Nation’s Corn Nation, took some time to answer some questions regarding the Cornhuskers upcoming season.
JH: Quarterback Taylor Martinez is heading into his final season with the Cornhuskers. Do you feel that he has made enough of a progression from last year to be considered the best quarterback in the conference? In your opinion, how would Martinez compare to someone like a Braxton Miller who is currently being predicted as a potential Heisman winner.
Husker Mike: The coaches voted Martinez first team all-B1G last season, so the gap between Miller and Martinez isn’t all that great. I think Martinez is generally a better passer than Miller, but Miller is a little better with securing the ball. If Martinez cuts down on the turnovers, it’s probably a tossup between the two… In the end, the answer probably has more to do with which team wins more games, and in the case of Martinez last season, the losses had much more to do with the defense than with Martinez’s play.
JH: With Rex Burkhead moving on to the NFL, it is safe to say it is now Ameer Abdullah’s time to shine in this Husker offense? In your opinion, what does Abdullah bring to the table and what are the expectations for him this season?
Husker Mike: Abdullah is faster than Burkhead was. Burkhead had a great first and second gear, and was tough to bring down. But in the open field, he could be caught from behind. Abdullah has breakaway speed, and he’s proven himself as a part-time starter last season while Burkhead was banged up. He’s not the inside runner that Burkhead was, but he fast to the edge. If he stays healthy, he should rush for over 1500 yards in this offense.
JH: The wide receiver group of this Huskers team highlighted by Kenny Bell is incredibly deep. Do you consider this group to be the best in the conference?
Husker Mike: I never would have thought that Nebraska would have the best receivers in any conference three years ago, but yes. Kenny Bell is as sure-handed as they come, and has the speed to break something deep. Jamal Turner matured late last season, and he’s electric in the open field. Quincy Enunwa is easy to overlook, but he’s a devastating blocker. He can hit you like a tight end, but he’s got the speed of a receiver. Now this year, several new guys are worth keeping an eye on. Alonzo Moore and Tyler Wullenwaber are lightning fast. Jordan Westerkamp catches everything thrown his way. And there’s this in-state kid named Sam Burtch who might be the best all-around receiver.
JH: Aside from the previous mentioned offensive players, who else is expected to have a big season this year on the offensive side of the ball? How about the defense?
Husker Mike: Hmm… I’d keep an eye on Jamal Turner; he really came on late last season as a clutch receiver, and they can do so much with him. He’s a former quarterback in high school, so don’t be surprised if they don’t try to insert a few Wildcat plays with him. They’ve held off on doing it because they wanted him to focus on receiver. He finally mastered that job, so now it’s time to have some fun with him – especially now that Rex Burkhead is gone.
JH: Are there any incoming freshman that could make an impact on the program week one?
Husker Mike: Two incoming freshmen to keep an eye on are tight end Cethan Carter and linebacker Nathan Gerry. Carter has picked up the position quickly and is taking advantage of injuries that have hampered Nebraska’s top two tight ends. Gerry came to Nebraska as a safety, but they quickly moved him up to linebacker. He’ll probably be used in dime situations, and with the number of spread teams we’ll see this season, he could see a lot of playing time. He’s picked up the position quickly. He’s not big, but he’s fast; I anticipate him being used like Nebraska used to use Dejon Gomes back in 2010.
JH: What are your expectations for this Nebraska team as a whole this season?
Husker Mike: The elephant in the room is the defensive front seven. (/wisconsin scores again) Nebraska has made defensive line and linebacker a major point of emphasis in the last couple of recruiting classes, and last year’s meltdowns show you why. Now the youngsters are going to play, and without seeing them in game action, I think it’s going to be an upgrade in talent and athleticism. If that’s reality, there’s no reason why Nebraska can’t get back to Indianapolis. And win. On the upper end of expectations: the Huskers could find their way to Pasadena. But with so many youngsters, that’s far from assured.