Big Ten football preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Big Ten football preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers
August 6, 2013, 10:00 am
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Vinnie Duber

Though the debate might already be settled, Taylor Martinez’s senior season could cement him as the best quarterback in Nebraska football history.

Martinez finished his junior season a year ago as the school’s all-time passing leader, collecting 6,591 yards through the air in his three years under center for the Cornhuskers. And he enters this season in eighth place on Nebraska’s all-time rushing list with 2,858 yards on the ground after a 1,019-yard rushing season last year.

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Head coach Bo Pelini doesn’t think Martinez is anywhere near done.

“Taylor's made great strides. He had a tremendous year last year,” Pelini said at Big Ten media day. “And...there's still a lot of room for improvement there. He's not even close to what his potential is. And I look forward to what he's going to bring to the table this year.”

Martinez is the leader of an experienced offense for the Huskers, which boasts eight returning starters. It’ll be up to Martinez to lead that offense, and it’s those types of intangibles that Pelini sees improving in his quarterback.

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“He had an improved spring,” Pelini said. “And being a great quarterback comes back to not just the talent thing, it's not just the fundamentals and the technique issues, but it comes down to decision-making and efficiency at the quarterback position and making the offense work for you, and I think he's understanding that. He grew in that area last year and there's still a lot more room for growth...He has the arm strength. He can make any throw there is. And he has tremendous talent. He just needed to refine some things, and he's got to continue to work on that because it's the little things that allow you to have success.”

Last year

Record: 10-4 (7-1 Big Ten)

Bowl: Nebraska lost, 45-31, in the Capital One Bowl to a Georgia team that was very close to making the national championship game.

At the helm

Pelini is in his sixth year as the Nebraska head coach. He’s won at least nine games in each of his first five seasons and led the Huskers to a bowl appearance each time. But after winning in his first two bowl games, the Huskers are riding a three-game postseason losing streak.

On the 2013 schedule

Nebraska plays all four of its non-conference games at home, with that part of the schedule headlined by a Sep. 14 meeting with UCLA, a team that advanced to the Pac-12 championship game last season.

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The Huskers figure to head out of October undefeated, with their first three Big Ten games coming against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. A three-game stretch against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State sets up as the trickiest part of the schedule, but only the Michigan game is on the road.

Under center

Though Ohio State’s Braxton Miller might get more attention, Martinez is just as much as a dual threat as the Buckeyes’ Heisman candidate. Last season, Martinez threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,019 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.

Martinez is the anchor of Nebraska’s experienced offense.

“I really like our offense,” Pelini said. “It's coming back, and obviously it starts with the quarterback position, having a four-year starter at quarterback and some really dynamic weapons around him.”

Back in the fold

As previously mentioned, the Nebraska offense returns a bunch of starters, including almost the entirety of its skill positions from a year ago. In addition to Martinez, 2012’s leading rusher Ameer Abdullah is back at running back, and the three leading receivers -- junior Kenny Bell, senior Quincy Enunwa and junior Jamal Turner -- return with more experience under their belts.

[MORE: Northwestern hits the field on Day 1 of training camp]

“If we can get a couple young kids -- incoming guys -- that can come in and provide us with some extra depth at a couple of positions, it's a pretty potent -- potentially a very potent -- offense,” Pelini said. “And I feel really good about it. I feel good about where our guys are scheme-wise and their knowledge of (offensive coordinator Tim) Beck's offense and what he wants to do. And I'm looking forward to our offense. I wouldn't trade our offense for anybody. I really like what we're doing.”

Season outlook

The three-game stretch to open November should define the Huskers’ season. They host Northwestern, travel to Michigan and host Michigan State, with another road game at Penn State the following week that could also provide a test. If Nebraska can emerge from that gauntlet, a return trip to the Big Ten title game could be in order. And if that opponent is Ohio State, it would be a potential matchup of terrific quarterbacks in Martinez and Miller.