June 17, 2008

Coach: Bo Pelini (first season) | Staff
In 2007: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the Big 12 (fifth in the Big 12 North).
Returning starters: Offense: 5. Defense: 6. Special teams: 2 | Depth Chart
Key losses: Offense—C Brett Byford, QB Sam Keller, T Carl Nicks, WR Terrence Nunn, TE J.B. Phillips. Defense—FS Tierre Green, CB Cortney Grixby, LB Corey McKeon, LB Steve Octavien, LB Bo Ruud.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 74th. | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
2008 Breakdown: Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule | Depth Chart


THE SCHEME: It's basically a West Coast system, except with more of a power running element and zone read options. While there is a new head coach, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson retained his job.

STAR POWER: Last year, senior running back Marlon Lucky had the best season of his career with 1,019 rushing yards. Lucky is the Big 12's top returning rusher. He has rushed for 1,876 yards in his career, and he could break into Nebraska's top-five career list with 1,162 yards this season. He also led the nation's running backs in receptions with 75.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Nebraska is in need of a deep receiving threat, and redshirt freshman Curenski Gilleylen could fill the bill. The fastest player on the team, Gilleylen had a strong showing in the spring.

IT'S HIS TIME: Senior tackle Lydon Murtha is a 6-foot-7, 315-pound specimen who arrived in Lincoln five years ago with great expectations. He has been solid but unspectacular. The Huskers are hoping he'll raise his level of play, especially because he has moved from the right side to the left side this season.

STRONGEST AREA: Just like the good ol' days, the Huskers are talented and deep at running back. Lucky is a proven runner and receiver and has All-American potential. Meanwhile, sophomores Quentin Castille and Roy Helu showed they could contribute as freshmen. Castille rushed for 343 yards in a backup role, while Helu had 209. Helu looked good this spring and figures to get more chances in '08.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Senior tight end Hunter Teafatiller has nine career receptions, which makes him far and away the most experienced and productive tight end on the roster. But he has had some off-field issues, so his availability is uncertain. Sophomores Mike McNeill and Dreu Young each had one catch a year ago. That area definitely needs more production. The Huskers need a big-play threat at wide receiver, too.

OVERVIEW: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in total offense last season. Senior quarterback Joe Ganz started the last three games of the 2007 season because of an injury to Sam Keller. Ganz threw for more than 400 yards in each game, totaling 15 touchdowns in that span. Lucky is a big-time back and will run behind an experienced line that has four returning starters, though two – Murtha and C Jacob Hickman, who moved from guard – have changed positions. Sure-handed Nate Swift and Todd Peterson are reliable receivers. But the Huskers need to add a receiver who can get behind the secondary. If a deep threat emerges, the offense could be better than it was a year ago.


That's the number of turnovers the Huskers forced last season (eight interceptions and three fumbles), which was fewer than every team in the nation except Marshall.


THE SCHEME: Pelini favors a 4-3 alignment with a "Cover-2" scheme. The Huskers will look for creative ways to create pressure and increase turnovers.

STAR POWER: A converted junior college linebacker, Larry Asante established himself at strong safety a year ago by posting 78 tackles, including 38 solo stops. He gives the Huskers a physical presence in the secondary and figures to flourish under Pelini's guidance.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: It would come as no surprise if true freshman linebacker Will Compton, a four-star prospect, contributed immediately. He plays a position at which Nebraska needs help.

IT'S HIS TIME: End Barry Turner set a Nebraska freshman record with six sacks in 2005. Unfortunately, he's managed only 4.5 since. The Huskers' pass rush was among the nation's most anemic last season, and Turner's ineffectiveness (three sacks) was a big reason. He needs to upgrade his performance.

STRONGEST AREA: The secondary returns two starters in Asante and senior cornerback Armando Murillo, the only returnee to start all 12 games last season. Free safety Rickey Thenarse is a special-teams standout who may be ready to move into the starting lineup. The Huskers struggled last season in pass defense, but some of that can be blamed on the lack of a pass rush.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Three starting linebackers and the top reserve from last season are gone. This year's starting lineup could feature Phillip Dillard, who started twice last season and made 37 tackles, as well as converted tailback Cody Glenn and former walk-on Tyler Wortman. Blake Lawrence, who appeared in five games last season, also could challenge for a starting job.

OVERVIEW: The 2007 season was historically awful for the defense, which allowed the most points and most yards by a Nebraska team since 1948. The Huskers allowed the most points ever in one game (76, to Kansas), forced the lowest number of turnovers in school history and ranked an abysmal 113th in total defense - ahead of only North Texas, UAB, San Diego State, SMU, UTEP, Rice and Minnesota. But a key returnee has given hope that the "Blackshirts" can return to form: With Bo Pelini as defensive coordinator in 2003, Nebraska's defense ranked 11th nationally and forced 47 turnovers. Pelini's influence surely will boost the defense, but he has some serious holes to fill.



In the past two seasons, punter Dan Titchener has averaged 40.1 yards per attempt. More impressive is that he has had 42 kicks downed inside the 20. Kicker Alex Henery was 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts and was perfect on extra point tries, while Adi Kunalic forced touchbacks on 28 of 66 kickoffs. The kickoff- and punt-return teams were mediocre, and the return specialists have to be replaced.



If helping LSU win last season's national championship wasn't enough to impress, Pelini already has a victory at Nebraska. He was on the sideline as interim coach in a 17-3 victory over Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, which was one of six games in which Pelini's defense held opponents to a touchdown or less that season. Many Huskers fans grumbled when Pelini wasn't named coach then. Now he's back in Lincoln, where his defensive expertise and intensity are sorely needed to restore the "Blackshirts" to prominence. He brought in his brother Carl as defensive coordinator, but Bo will run the defense. Watson is back for his third season as offensive coordinator. In each of the past two seasons, the Huskers averaged more than 30 points and ranked among the nation's top 14 in total offense. In addition, Ron Brown, who served on the staffs of former Nebraska coaches Tom Osborne and Frank Solich, returns to coach tight ends after spending four years working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.


Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 6 San Jose State
Sept. 13 New Mexico State
Sept. 27 Virginia Tech
Oct. 4 Missouri
Oct. 11 at Texas Tech
Oct. 18 at Iowa State
Oct. 25 Baylor
Nov. 1 at Oklahoma
Nov. 8 Kansas
Nov. 15 at Kansas State
Nov. 28 Colorado


If home field truly is an advantage, expect Nebraska to make a bowl appearance this season. The Huskers play eight home games overall and have their first five games at home. In fact, the first time they leave Lincoln is a game at Texas Tech on Oct. 11. Furthermore, the schedule includes seven opponents who had losing records last season, and five of those visit Lincoln. But Nebraska isn't facing a cakewalk by any means. Four foes – Virginia Tech, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas – managed at least 11 victories in '07, and Texas Tech is coming off a 9-4 finish.


Avoiding a third losing season in five years will require improving a defense that gave up 40 points six times last season. Pelini's presence will provide a boost, and he'll squeeze more out of a defensive line that grossly underachieved in '07. But Pelini can only do so much, and with unproven linebackers, the defense still is an issue for the Huskers. If Ganz's performance in the final three games last season is any indication, the Huskers will have a high-scoring offense that can win shootouts. That won't be enough to produce a championship, but it may be sufficient to secure a bowl appearance. Six regular-season victories are expected, and seven or more would be a bonus.

QB Joe Ganz, 6-1/200, Sr.
Patrick Witt, 6-4/220, R-Fr.
RB Marlon Lucky *, 6-0/210, Sr.
Roy Helu, 6-0/220, Soph.
FB Thomas Lawson, 6-0/240, Sr.
Justin Makovicka, 6-1/235, Soph.
WR Nate Swift *, 6-2/200, Sr.
Menelik Holt, 6-4/215, Jr.
WR Todd Peterson, 6-4/210, Sr.
Curenski Gilleylen, 6-0/210, R-Fr.
TE Hunter Teafatiller, 6-3/230, Sr.
Mike McNeill, 6-4/225, Soph.
LT Lydon Murtha *, 6-7/315, Sr.
Mike Smith, 6-6/285, Soph.
RT Jaivorio Burkes, 6-5/340, Soph.
Marcel Jones, 6-7/300, R-Fr.
G Matt Slauson *, 6-5/335, Sr.
D.J. Jones, 6-5/310, Soph.
G Mike Huff, 6-4/300, Sr.
Keith Williams, 6-5/310, Soph.
C Jacob Hickman %, 6-4/285, Jr.
Mike Caputo, 6-1/265, R-Fr. .
K Alex Henery *, 6-2/170, Soph.
(NOTE: *--denotes returning starter; %--denotes returning starter who has changed positions.)

Olin Buchanan is a senior national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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