With the 2012 season officially in the rearview mirror, now seems as good a time as any to start looking towards 2013.
The staff of Hail Varsity sat down for a roundtable of sorts on everything Nebraska for next season. Here are our predictions and projections for 2013.
PROJECTED RECORD: 10-3
PROJECTED BOWL: Capital One
Would you believe? The Huskers could make a third consecutive trip to Orlando, with Michigan going to the Big Ten championship game (for a rematch with Ohio State).
PRE-SEASON AP RANKING: 13
BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE PLAYER (returning player): Ryne Reeves, OL
Reeves played only briefly as a redshirted freshman. He’ll likely compete to replace the departed Seung Hoon Choi at guard.
BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE PLAYER (returning player): Charles Jackson, DB
Jackson played on special teams as a true freshman. He’ll be in the mix in the secondary in 2013, most likely at safety.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR (freshman, redshirt freshman, or JUCO transfer): Thomas Brown, LB
The coaches were close to playing Brown as a true freshman. But the season of eligibility was preserved and he impressed on the scout team. There will be plenty of opportunity at linebacker in 2013.
MOST IMPORTANT GAME: Michigan
The Wolverines were young in 2012. Though Denard Robinson will be gone, Devin Gardner is a good fit for the offense. Plus, Nebraska, which very well could be undefeated at that point, has to go to Ann Arbor for a game that will decide the Legends Division.
STAT TO WATCH: Individual receiving yards
Wide receiver Kenny Bell wants to become the first Husker with 1,000 in a season. Winning the Biletnikoff Award is also a goal. He caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. He should get to 1,000 in 2013. The Biletnikoff Award will have to wait.
FIRST-TEAM ALL-BIG TEN PLAYERS: Spencer Long, OG; Taylor Martinez, QB; Ciante Evans, CB
PROJECTED RECORD: 11-2
The Huskers schedule is quite favorable in 2013 but a couple games loom large. UCLA confounded Nebraska’s experienced defense in 2012 making the 2013 game, even though it’s at home, a tricky proposition with a bunch of inexperience on that side of the ball. I’ve also got Michigan winning which, ultimately, might play to the Huskers’ advantage.
PROJECTED BOWL: Orange Bowl
With just one conference loss, Nebraska misses out on the Big Ten title game but when Michigan loses to Ohio State for the second time in 2013, the Huskers are there to snap up a BCS at-large bid. The Orange Bowl has the first pick in 2014 and is more than happy to welcome Nebraska fans, who show up in droves, back to Miami.
PRE-SEASON AP RANKING: 15
BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Braylon Heard, RB
If Heard can become a slightly better pass blocker in the offseason, Nebraska will have little reason not to give him serious snaps in relief of Ameer Abdullah. Heard brings a lot of the same traits — namely speed and quickness on the outside — to the table.
BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Zaire Anderson, LB
This is a tough one, but here’s what we know about Zaire Anderson: It takes a lot for this Nebraska staff to throw a player into the defensive mix before he’s “ready.” (See Also: Lavonte David) Nebraska did that only to find out that Anderson was playing with a torn ACL and had been since the spring. That tells me one thing — Anderson has talent.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Jonathan Rose, CB
If not for the knee injury, JUCO DE Randy Gregory might be my pick here but Rose is a worthy choice as well. There are some practice observers that will tell you the Auburn transfer was Nebraska’s best cornerback in 2012. We’ll find out in 2013.
MOST IMPORTANT GAME: Northwestern
Michigan is the game that could decide the division title race, but only if Nebraska gets by Northwestern. The Wildcats have a ton of players back and have won in Lincoln before. There’s a decent chance the Huskers will be in the Top 10 when Pat Fitzgerald and company visit in November, only adding further motivation for Northwestern.
STAT TO WATCH: Opponent’s yards per carry
In its four 2012 losses, Nebraska gave up 7.38 yards per carry. Not only was that last nationally, it was more than a half-yard worse than the second worst team, Oklahoma. The Huskers have to be able to stop the run with some consistency in 2013.
FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG TEN PLAYERS: Spencer Long, OG; Kenny Bell, WR; Taylor Martinez, QB; Ciante Evans, DB
PROJECTED RECORD: 12-2
PROJECTED BOWL: Outback Bowl
Nebraska’s 2013 regular season schedule may boil down to three pivotal games, Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State. The Huskers will host Northwestern, while traveling to Ann Arbor and State College. The Huskers will have the talent to escape the regular season with one loss, but likely won’t get past Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and or their Outback Bowl opponent.
PRESEASON AP RANK: 14
BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Imani Cross, RB
Imani Cross proved he could handle short-yardage situations as a freshman. If he can add speed in the offseason, he could provide a great counter-punch to Ameer Abdullah.
BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Charles Jackson, S
Nebraska will need immediate help on defense next year. Jackson earned early playing time on special teams and should be an immediate force in Nebraska’s secondary next season.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Michael Rose, LB
Michael Rose redshirted in 2012, but he has high ambitions to not only develop into a playmaker, but a leader off the field as well.
MOST IMPORTANT GAME: Michigan
The winner of this game likely advances to the Big Ten title game.
STAT TO WATCH: Turnovers
Nebraska has not been able to consistently create turnovers under Bo Pelini, finishing minus 12 in the turnover battle in 2012. If the Blackshirts can begin to create turnovers they could have a special season.
FIRST-TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS: Spencer Long, OG; Kenny Bell, WR; Taylor Martinez, QB; Ciante Evans, DB