March 23, 2010

A look at the spring's five biggest storylines

With the start of spring practice now just a day away, HuskersIllustrated.com has decided to take a look at some of the biggest storylines waiting to be answered during the next month. While there are certainly a number of question marks hovering over the Huskers at the moment, here are five of the most important storylines to watch over the course of this spring.



How do you replace Ndamukong Suh?


Replacing a Heisman Trophy finalist is never easy, but it's exponentially more difficult when to replace one of the best defensive players of a generation.


While Nebraska has guys like Jared Crick who have already proven themselves on the big stage along with a slew of up-and-coming underclassmen, it's not as if this is simply an issue of moving around the depth chart.


Along with his unrivaled ability, Suh gave the entire Husker defense an aura of confidence that it could stop anyone on any day. His leadership alone can be credited as one of the biggest reasons for the Blackshirts' resurgence the past two years.


Whether it's Crick or anyone else on the defense, Nebraska is going to have to find a way to try and duplicate everything Suh brought to the table on and off the field. Seeing how rare of a talent Suh was, don't be surprised if the task will be handled by committee.


Who will thrive with Lee out of the mix?


With senior quarterback Zac Lee sitting out of spring practice, a golden opportunity has been presented for some of Nebraska's younger signal callers.


Though Lee will return in the fall as the frontrunner to be starter this season, this spring will still be a great chance for players like sophomore Cody Green, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Kody Spano to show what they can do with the first-string offense.


For Green in particular, having a full month to run the offense as the No. 1 quarterback could be a huge advantage when he and Lee go head-to-head again for the starting job in the fall. Though Lee has the advantage in experience, Green could gain some major ground with a breakout spring.


What does the future hold for NU's offensive identity?


After a season of struggling to get anything going offensively, Nebraska looked like offensive machine in its win over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. With 396 yards of total offense and 223 coming on the ground, the Huskers seemed to finally put it all together during their bowl preparations.


More than anything, it was the use of the Wildcat offense that was the biggest change to the game plan. By lining up then-freshman running back Rex Burkhead at quarterback in the shotgun, the Huskers caught Arizona off guard and ran right through the defense all night.


So now the question is: do they stick with the same strategy or go back to trying to perfect the previous game plan?


This spring will likely go a long way towards answering that question, as the Huskers bring ball all the major components from last year, which would make for a relatively seamless transition if they wanted to go to the Holiday Bowl strategy full-time.


Coaching continuity


For the third straight spring, Nebraska will feature the exact same coaching staff. While that may seem insignificant to some, only a small handful of teams in the entire country can say the same thing.


Nebraska is just one of 11 teams in all of college football to retain the same coaching staff the past three seasons. What that means is that the Huskers boast as much familiarity between their coaches and players as anyone.


As a result, NU can focus far more of its attention polishing its offensive and defensive schemes while also adding a few new wrinkles as opposed to installing new philosophies and establishing new personal bonds from scratch.


For a team looking to take the next step nationally, having that kind of continuity could go a long way for the Huskers.


Handling success


For the first time in years, Nebraska is coming into a season not only as a favorite to win the Big 12 North, but one of the leading candidates to win the conference championship.


With those kinds of expectations, however, comes an equal amount of pressure. No player on the Huskers' has ever won a Big 12 title nor played in a BCS bowl game, so it will be interesting to see how the team responds to have a target on its back for the first time.


The good news is that NU returns a wealth of experience on both sides of the football, and those same players came just one second away from capturing the program's first conference crown since 1999.


That veteran leadership will be crucial in keeping the Huskers focused through a season that could very well see them ranked among nation's top 10 heading into the start of the Big 12 schedule.

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