Nebraska will likely be favored to repeat as Big 12 North champion in 2010.
But do the Huskers have enough to challenge for a Big 12 Championship, something they haven't won since 1999?
The defense loses All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and there are varying opinions on how his departure will affect the Blackshirts this fall. Some believe it's a significant loss. Coaches, however, say this defense can be as good, if not better, than last season's crew that led the nation in fewest points allowed. Their confidence rides on a talented and deep secondary.
Nebraska's overall success will hinge largely on an offense needing to improve on its No. 99 national ranking last season. Ten starters return, including running backs and offensive linemen who played injured much of last season.
The biggest story line in fall camp: Who's the starting quarterback?
"Everyone is in the race for the starting job," coach Bo Pelini said. "There are no starting jobs locked down right now. Competition is on; (spring) is just a small part of the evaluation. It's a long way to go before we play a football game."NOTES, QUOTES
--Safety Rickey Thenarse had seven tackles, one interception and one forced fumble in the Spring Game, his first action since tearing his ACL early last season. That's a good sign for Thenarse, who received a medical hardship and now has a fifth season of eligibility.
--Running back Rex Burkhead has bulked to 210 pounds, but the 5-foot-11 sophomore hasn't lost a step. He ran six times for 36 yards in the Spring Game, and he's a candidate to run out of the Wildcat formation come fall.
--Former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has promised to give the University of Nebraska $2.6 million for training center renovations and an endowed engineering scholarship. It's the largest single gift ever from a former football player.
QB Taylor Martinez -- The redshirted freshman proved he's a serious player in the race for starting quarterback. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Martinez flashed his speed en route to 60 yards on 9 carries in the Spring Game. If Nebraska coaches opt for a quarterback-run offense, Martinez is the favorite. He attempted only nine passes in the Spring Game, completing five, with two touchdowns and one interception.
DB Austin Cassidy -- A walk-on junior, Cassidy is pushing Eric Hagg for time in Nebraska's new linebacker/safety hybrid position in the "Peso" defense.
WR Brandon Kinnie -- A junior, Kinnie took advantage of his first spring at Nebraska to work on fundamentals, technique, and learn "how to be a wide receiver," he said. Kinnie arrived last fall as a sophomore transfer, and now at 6-2, 230, he's got the strength -- and the confidence, says his position coach -- to be a top receiver.
LB Sean Fisher -- Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Fisher "skyrocketed" this spring. "The light went on. He doesn't make mistakes. He's doing it all -- all of a sudden." Fisher's emergence, oddly enough, came after his old position, BUCK linebacker, was eliminated in Nebraska's new defensive scheme. Now, look for Fisher, a sophomore, to be an every-down linebacker at WILL and/or MIKE.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When we say it's going to be a fair competition, it's going to be a fair competition. We grade every step they take, every pass they throw, every decision they make in the run game." - Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, on the quarterback race.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: All eyes are centered on a Nebraska offense that showed signs of life in the Holiday Bowl, but prior to that had gone into a shell in the second half of last season. What direction will offensive coordinator Shawn Watson go this fall? That could depend on who wins the quarterback job. The defense loses five starters, but defensive tackle Jared Crick anchors a strong line, and the secondary is the deepest it's been in years.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Zac Lee, Cody Green and Taylor Martinez will enter fall camp battling for the starting quarterback job. Lee, who started 12 games last season, missed spring practices while recovering from elbow surgery on this throwing arm, and coaches say a starter can't lose his job because of injury. But Lee must re-earn the job, too, and the enticing athleticism of Martinez, along with the dual-threat ability of Green, will be significant challenges for Lee.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The talk of the spring was Nebraska's new "Peso" defense. In essence, it's what coaches used in the final two games of last season, against Texas and Arizona, only now it has a fancy name. In this base defense, one player will play a hybrid linebacker/defensive back role -- linebacker against heavy offensive personnel, and defensive back against spread looks. That position will never leave the field, therefore saving on substitutions. Senior Eric Hagg, a nickel back last season, is favored to earn that starting spot.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The question entering fall camp is whether Adi Kunalic, one of the nation's top kickers on kickoffs, will redshirt. He will be a senior this fall -- and so will star kicker Alex Henery, who handles extra points, field goals and punts. Kunalic wants to sit a season so he can be the main kicker in 2011. But coaches aren't sure they want to give up Kunalic's powerful leg on kickoffs this season. Kunalic had 29 touchbacks, on 73 kickoffs, which ranked third nationally last season.
--QB Zac Lee should begin throwing footballs this summer and return to the quarterback race come fall camp. The senior has surgery in January to repair a tendon in his throwing elbow.
--OL Ricky Henry, OL Mike Smith, OL Jermarcus Hardrick and LB Mathew May were among notable players who sat out the Spring Game with injury. All are expected to return in time for fall camp. Nebraska emerged from spring practices with no known major injuries.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010