8 p.m., Oct. 8 TV: ABC (Channel 6), ESPN or ESPN2 Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb. (81,067)

Coach: Bo Pelini, fourth season (30-12 at school and overall)

Last year: 10-4 overall, 6-2 Big 12 (tie, first, North Division); lost to Washington 19-7 in Holiday Bowl

Returning stars

Taylor Martinez passed for 1,631 yards and rushed for 965 and accounted for 22 touchdowns. Tackle Jared Crick might be the Big Ten's best defensive lineman his first year in the league after having 91/2 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season. Linebacker Lavonte David was Big 12 newcomer of the year as a junior-college transfer after setting a school record with 152 tackles. Pelini thinks Alfonzo Dennard is as good a cornerback as there is in college. Tailback Rex Burkhead rushed for 951 yards, had 148 receiving and completed three passes, all for touchdowns.

Newcomers to watch

New coordinator Tim Beck installed a fresh offense during a closed spring practice, so no one saw what he plans to unleash. Freshman receiver Jamal Turner joined the Cornhuskers for spring practice and was "electrifying," Beck said, as was redshirt freshman wideout Kenny Bell. Three freshman backs - Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard - are competing to back up Burkhead.

Keys to the offense

Pelini and Beck are expecting Martinez to improve as a leader and decision-maker in his second season. If he does, the offense could be formidable with the skill-position talent around him. "He's poised to have a great year," Pelini said. Beck's only hint about his plans is that he puts players in position to do what they do best. Nebraska averaged nearly 250 yards rushing per game last season, best in the Big 12, so don't expect much deviation.

Keys to the defense

The Huskers finished 11th nationally in yards allowed and ninth against the score last season, and they return the talent to be as good, if not better. "I've been really fortunate to be around some defenses that have been pretty stout, accomplished some great things. Do we have the opportunity to do that? Yeah," said Pelini, whose brother, Carl, coordinates the defense. (But) it's not just talent. It's about character, it's about leadership, it's about chemistry .  .  . ultimately coming with your lunch pail every day and going to work."

Special teams standouts

This is the area Nebraska most needs to solidify after losing kicker/punter Alex Henery and top return man Niles Paul.

Question marks

The Cornhuskers might have to pass the ball better than they did a year ago to attack defenses in a conference where the best teams hold down opponents rather than outscore them.


Will Nebraska ride into the Big Ten and take the Legends Division by storm? That seems to be the prevailing sentiment, at least for now. What the Cornhuskers could find, though, is a depth of competition that was lacking in the Big 12. Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern finished in the top half of the league more often than not the past three seasons, and the Huskers' schedule also includes games at Wisconsin and Penn State, and against Ohio State at home. That's a not-so-nice welcome wagon.