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By New York Husker

What a long and tumultuous offseason for the Husker nation. Three players decided to leave the program, new uniforms were introduced and Husker coaches felt the heat from the fallout from the last two games of 2001. I have not been this impatient for a new season to begin since 1991 when Nebraska lost to Georgia Tech in the Citrus Bowl. The way the 2001 season ended with blowout losses to Colorado and Miami it should come as no surprise to see many in the media predict that Nebraska will take a fall this year. For the first time since the formation of the Big 12 conference the Huskers are not favored to win the north division. The two game skid combined with the loss of 11 starters, including Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, have lowered expectations for some. Reading college football preview magazines you would come to the conclussion that the Huskers inexperience and tough schedule will result in a lower tier bowl and perhaps an end to our streak of top ten finishes. Although there are a lot of unanswered questions on both sides of the ball the Huskers are prepared to surprise those who feel a dropoff is imminent.

I believe there are several factors which will determine if Nebraska remains an elite team this year. Will QB Jammal Lord be ready? No one has worked harder in the spring and summer. Lord has added muscle and improved his speed. He lifted with the offensive linemen and threw to the receivers all summer. Lord is confident and does not appear to feel any pressure in replacing Crouch. He has earned the respect of his teammates. Lord is very smooth on the option and, although he lacks the explosiveness of Crouch, his ability to scramble will result in fewer sacks and fewer tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Jammal has worked countless hours on improving his passing. He has a strong arm and his accuracy is sufficient.

Will the revamped offensive line come together? How quickly the young lineman develop will go a long way in determining if the offense is able to consistently move the ball and put points on the board. Center John Garrison returns to anhor the line and he was a pleasant surprise last year. Garrison has added weight and strength and should have a very good senior season. Right tackle Dan Vili Waldrop also returns for his junior year. He was inconsitent last year and struggled with his weight. Waldrop is now around 320 lbs and his quickness and stanima should be much improved. Right guard Wes Cody is one of the strongest players on the team and played in every game last year. The left side of the line is more athletic but inexperienced. It is crucial that Richie Incognito and Mike Erickson limit mistakes and know their assignments. The other young players who will conribute include Jake Anderson, Nick Povendo, Josh Sewell and Junior Tagoai. Overall the line has improved depth and unlimited potential.

Will we see an improved pass rush? Seniors Chris Kelsay and Demoine Adams return at RE. Both players have added muscle and there is improved depth with Justin Smith, Trevor Johnson and Benard Thomas. The key will be the interior pass rush. Ryon Bingham and Patrick Kabongo will be improved and Jason Lohr returns for his fifth season. Freshmen Seppo Evwaraye and LeKevin Smith showed signs of becoming dominant players. Others who may contribute include Titus Adams, Jared Helming and true freshman Brandon Greeson.

What about the "secondary" questions? The Huskers suffered a major blow when Willie Amos went down with a serious knee injury. He was making a smooth transition to corner and now the Huskers are scrambling to find someone to play oppositite senior RCB Dejuan Groce. True freshman Fabian Washington has the talent to win the job right away, following in the footsteps of Ralph Brown. If so then Pat Rickets and Lornell McPherson will return to their roles as contributors in dime and nicke packages. Despite incorportaing some zone schemes look for the corners to continue to play man to man in most situations and their ability to hold up against the talented receives in the Big 12 will be of utmost importance. Depth will be provided by Rodney Burgess and walk on Shane Siegel. I'm even more encouraged at rover and free safety where Lannie Hopkins and Phillip Bland are recovered from injuries and freshmen Dan and Josh Bullocks had a solid spring.

Those are the most critical questions that Nebraska must answer on the field this year. We will also need improved blocking from the FB position, sort out the IB rotation and find a TE that can catch the football. Special teams are very solid with Josh Brown and Kyle Larson and kick returners Josh Davis and Dejuan Groce.

This is also an important season for Frank Solich and Craig Bohl. Both faced a ton of criticism last year but the loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl was much more about personell rather than simply being outcoached. The Huskers have a rock solid foundation on which to build and there is simply too much talent within the staff to allow a major dropoff. The 13 game regular season includes home games against Colorado and Texas and trips to Penn State, Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas A&M. As daunting as that may sound look for the Huskers to survive the long season and end up spending the holidays preparing for a BCS bowl and top ten finish.