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College Football Top 25: Nebraska Cornhuskers, No. 18

Nebraska Cornhuskers (2011: 9-4 (5-3), Lost to South Carolina in Capital One Bowl 30-13)

Four-Year Trend: 2008 (9-4), 2009 (10-4), 2010 (10-4), 2011 (9-4)

Notable Player: Taylor Martinez. Rex Burkhead is a productive workhorse, but Nebraska’s offensive efficacy hinges on Martinez. The enigmatic quarterback has shown he can be both a poised passer and an explosive runner, just not at the same time or with any consistency from game to game. Martinez is supposedly projecting comfort and confidence. He will need it, as the Cornhuskers will go as far in the Big Ten as he can carry them.

Top Newcomers: Mohammed Seisay (DB), Zaire Anderson (LB), Greg McMullen (DE)

Circle This Game: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin [Sept. 29] Last year’s blowout loss in Madison was a hostile welcome to the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers will want to return the favor at home in 2012. Their benign non-conference schedule will tell us little. Here is where this Nebraska team shows its mettle.

Why We Like Them: Nebraska performed below expectations on both sides of the ball last year, and still won nine games. They return eight starters on offense and seven starters on defense. There is too much talent and coaching intellect for the defensive line not to move back toward Blackshirt level. If the game can slow down for Taylor Martinez in his third year, Nebraska can have a potent, multifaceted offense rooted in a power running game.

Best-Case Scenario: Nebraska’s coaching staff and players are better prepared for a second run through the Big Ten. The defense performs to its potential. Taylor Martinez is competent. The Cornhuskers take the long-awaited step forward into national contention under Bo Pelini. They win the Legends division with an 11-1 overall record and play Wisconsin for a spot in the Rose Bowl. Pelini’s agent has him linked to every prominent coaching vacancy, forcing Nebraska to sign another contract extension.

Worst-Case Scenario: The defense remains not quite equipped for the Big Ten’s physicality. Taylor Martinez keeps hitting the panic button and tossing javelins. Nebraska gets derailed by a rough early Big Ten Schedule, never regains their confidence and finishes 7-5. Pelini still gets a $150,000 bonus.

Projected Bowl: Outback

[Photo via Presswire]

25. Kansas State 24. Virginia Tech 23. Clemson 22. Boise State 21. Stanford 20. Michigan State 19. Notre Dame

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