The Best of 2010

Yes, the season is almost here, and that means the endless run of speculation in regard to this, that and the other thing. Well, count us in for an early dose of it as Bryan Munson, Kevin Seely and Steve Ryan give you their most important, the future draftees, the breakouts and the best games. It's our early take on the best of 2010.

Most important:

BRYAN MUNSON

  1. Zac Lee – Who would have thought that a spring away from football could cement your position?  Lee is still the best QB on this team.
  2. Alex Henery – I've heard it said about people in basketball that "they are in their range in the gym".  Henery is the first kicker ever in his range when he enters the stadium.
  3. Prince Amukamara – A lockdown guy that helps get that extra half-second or so for the DL to get some pressure up-front.
  4. Niles PaulNebraska 's biggest scoring threat has the potential to score either on the end of a reception or on a return.
  5. Jared Crick – Nebraska 's inside-out pressure last year worked extremely well and should again this year with Crick returning.


KEVIN SEELY

1. Jermarcus Hardrick - I know that name may be a surprise to some, with most probably expecting to see a quarterbacks name in that top spot. But it won't matter who is playing quarterback if the LT position isn't shored up this fall. I look for the mammoth JuCo player to make an immediate impact along the offensive line, and help alleviate some of the problems that plagued that unit last season.

Zac Lee

2. Quarterback - I didn't include a name because if the play doesn't get better from that position it won't matter who is in there. If Lee is healthy come week one, I think we will see a rotation at the position similar to what we saw last year. Hopefully keeping them all fresh in case there is an injury, and with Nebraska using the QB more in the running game, the chance for the starter getting banged up increases dramatically. They all need to be "game" ready if called upon.

3. P.J. Smith - When you consider that NU lost both "QB's" of the secondary in Asante and O'Hanlon, there is certainly a void that needs to be filled. Bo also expects his safeties to be interchangeable, with the ability to play both free and strong. And with P.J. being more of a ball hawk than his predecessors, look for the Husker defense to have a more potent pass defense. The real question is, can he play down in the box as effectively as those he is replacing?

4. Niles Paul - With the absence of any other deep threat that can consistently challenge a defense, I couldn't argue with those who might have him number one on this list. No one has been a bigger cheerleader for Brandon Kinnie than me, but he doesn't have the ability to bust coverage and stretch the field like Niles. Throw in what Paul does as a kick returner changing field position, and he becomes as vital to this teams success as anybody on the roster.

5. Jared Crick - Now with Suh gone, all eyes will turn to Crick. He can expect more double teams and chip blocks than he has ever seen in his life. But I honestly don't see a huge drop off from Suh. Crick is a powerful, explosive defensive tackle with a huge wingspan. The former high school DE also has superb pass rush skills, that could be even better than his running mate from last season.

STEVE RYAN

1. Zac Lee – It could be just as simple as being the quarterback. But based on the Spring, it's Lee or bust. He has to help the defense this year, instead of helping to put them into holes.

2. Alex Henery – He's already saved Nebraska's bacon and kept them in games that they had no business being in. It's too bad this is his last year. He's one of the ages.

3. Jermarcus Hardrick – If he is indeed the anchor on that left side, he becomes the wall that will keep Lee upright and comfortable in the pocket. Lee isn't much good to the team if he can't sit down on some of those passes.

4. Baker Steinkuhler – This is based on the assumption that it is indeed him along side Crick. If it is, he has to become for Crick what Crick was for Suh last year. Yeah, I know, that's asking a lot. But Steinkuhler has the ability to do it.

5. Pierre Allen – If Nebraska could get a difference maker at one of the end spots, that would change everything for that D. Allen has the ability. He just needs to stay healthy and my money is that he can do it.

Most draftable:

Amukamara is considered by some to be the best senior in all of college football

BRYAN MUNSON

  1. Prince Amukamara – Amukamara is really put together and has excellent speed.  What's really crazy is that he was more of a RB recruit out of high school and is now a polished CB.
  2. Jared Crick – Crick is huge and athletic.  Crick is able to sit and occupy a gap or get up field and get after the QB.  His five sack game at Baylor last year was an incredible individual effort.
  3. Niles Paul – I think that Paul actually is getting the highest rating by NFL scouts for WRs nationally, pre-season.  Paul has the build of a LB and runs like a CB.
  4. Alex Henery – Can K and P, but will get his shot in the NFL because he is money from <50 yards and has the ability to come in and kick a 57 yarder to win a game.
  5. Eric Hagg – A big, physical presence in the secondary that has played CB to S.  Very versatile athlete that is a real captain on the field for the entire defense. 

KEVIN SEELY

1. Prince Amukamara - I've got a pretty close friend who has been a NFL scout for 6 years, and he describes Prince as "technically perfect", which is pretty amazing when you consider he was a running back in high school. Scouts will tell you that speaks to his football aptitude or IQ, which is highly sought after on the next level. Throw in those other things you can't teach like his size and speed, and it becomes apparent why Prince is already so high on draft boards.

2. Alfonzo Dennard - Probably the most underrated player on the team when it comes to national perception by non-Husker fans, but all the scouts are fully aware of what Dennard brings to the table. And he is the antithesis of Prince, he's a gambler out on the field, but has the short area quickness to get away with it. And his run support is second to none, a 300 pound guard pulling out in front of the RB? No problem, Dennard will launch his helmet into the OL's chin, shed the block, and then make the tackle. And part of the reason Prince had so many opportunities for interceptions? No one is open on the other side of the field. Even when that WR make look open, he's not, its Alphonzo baiting you to throw it.

3. Jared Crick -  When people think about Crick going in the draft, they say no way he goes as high as Suh. But the reality is they will play different positions at the next level. Crick will be drafted by a team running a 3-4, and will be slotted to play either LDE or RDE.  But the beauty of Crick, he can play in both 1 and 2 gapping schemes, which shoots his stock through the roof. There just aren't a lot of 6-foot-5 guys around 300 pounds who can get legit pressure on the QB and stop the run, and because of that Crick will be  projected as a top 10 pick when his time comes, assuming he stays healthy and continues to improve in the Pelini system.

4. Niles Paul - Niles has been a productive player for Nebraska, and possesses an ideal size/speed ratio that NFL teams covet at the WR position. He also has kick return abilities that will make him attractive come draft day, and you could even use him on kickoff and punt coverage if needed. But he needs to go the whole season without any off-the-field incidents so NFL GM's will feel comfortable signing him to a contract. With a great season, on and off the field, I see him going in the mid second round.

5. Alex Henery - Kickers don't usually get drafted, but in this case there will be an exception. Alex is basically automatic from 40 and in, which is where you make your money in the NFL. But he is also extremely accurate from beyond that, and I think that will lead to him being the top kicker in the draft. Throw in his punting, and kickoff ability, and he could go as high as round 4.


Henery has been larger than life most of his Husker career.

STEVE RYAN

1. Prince Amukamara – What can you say about the guy? He's got better than NFL size for the position, as good as NFL-type speed. And unlike most corners, even in the professional league, he has superb hands. A lock for the first round provided he stays healthy.

2. Marcel Jones – He's got the size, the arms, the hands and the athleticism. He just needs to have a solid year where he can prove that any edge rusher can take him off the ball. Not a LT, but he'd make a good RT in the league.

3. Dejon Gomes – A stud with instincts for the ball. That's how I see him. He's got the athleticism to do everything Larry Asante did last year. But this guy makes plays on the ball, something Asante hardly ever did.

4. Niles Paul – Outside of mental hiccups, athletically and from a size standpoint, this kid is a flat out stud. He's got the world as his upside. If he had a QB who could get him the ball consistently, there wouldn't be many records out there yet for him to bust.

5. Alex Henery – I'd draft him. Maybe not in the first round, but guys like this win games for you. They can win titles. You just need to give them a little help. We'll miss him and the NFL could use another big Nebraska leg.

Breakout players:

BRYAN MUNSON

  1. Jermarcus Hardrick – Nebraska looks to have found another solid JC player to occupy the LT spot (Carl Nicks).  Hardrick is a little nastier than Nicks was when it comes to run-blocking though.
  2. Josh Williams – Nebraska needs that third DE to emerge and Williams appears to be ready.  Physically, he wasn't there until this past spring and it sounds like the light bulb has really turned on for him.
  3. Baker Steinkuhler – This is the year that everyone should know whether it was a good or bad idea to move Steinkuhler over to DL and never move him back.  Steinkuhler and Crick are a nice duo inside.
  4. Will Compton – After the Missouri game the Huskers really played the nickel more as a base and Dillard ran the MIKE spot.  Compton looks to be the guy this year that will make the peso click.
  5. LeVonte David – I just think that the athleticism of David is going to give him a bit of an advantage over Eric Martin.  Word on the street is that David has looked good this summer.  A little light, but good.


KEVIN SEELY

1. Brandon Kinnie - I spoke at length the other day with Coach Jeff Simms from Fort Scott c.c. in Kansas. He says Kinnie has put on about 8-10 pounds of solid muscle this offseason. He also has been working hard on his

If Brandon Kinnie can build off last season into this year, he and Paul could be one of the best receiving tandems in the league.

routes, and has finally become comfortable with the playbook at Nebraska, something that wasn't the case last year. It's a big jump from JuCo to D-1, especially at the WR position in this offense. BK already has the NFL body, and a strong work ethic. And with the probability of Niles seeing rolled coverage and CB's getting help over the top from safeties, Kinnie should thrive in one-on-one matchups in the underneath zones this season. Look for Kinnie to emerge as a legitimate complement to Paul, and become that secondary WR target this offense needs so badly.

2. Rex Burkhead - From the summer workout reports I'm hearing, it sounds like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead may have had the best offseason of any player. He's put on solid muscle and improved his weight room numbers dramatically, and hasn't lost any speed in the process. Look for Rex to push Helu for playing time early, and if Helu continues to be bitten by the injury bug, we could see Rex in that top spot by seasons end. And with the new wildcat offense being implemented, I'd look for a few touchdown passes from Superman as well.

3. Jason Ankrah - It's my understanding that Jason was one injury away from playing as a true freshman last year, but was able to keep the redshirt because everyone in front of him stayed healthy. The kid specializes in getting pressure on the QB, which is something this defense values. It would not shock me at all to see Jason put up similar numbers to Barry Turner, when he played as a freshman.

4. Chase Rome – I don't care what his birth certificate says, that guy is a full grown man. And with the Husker coaches keeping a steady rotation at DT, which helps keep the players fresh, I see Chase playing as a true freshman. With his quick first step, and ability to bull rush, Chase will play early and often for the Big Red this season. Also, by mid-season, it would not surprise me at all to see him listed ahead of upperclassman at his position on the depth chart, he's just that talented.

5. Brent Qvale - The massive offensive lineman was another player that could have played as a true freshman last year. Luckily for the staff he didn't, and now they have four more years to play with. And with the subpar play by the offensive line last year, the road grader from North Dakota should bring some much needed toughness to the unit. Brent is a natural 300+ pounder, but can still move on his feet like a dancing bear.

STEVE RYAN

1. Baker Steinkuhler – I can't say he's going to be to Crick this year what Crick was to Suh last year, and not have him in this category. This is his time to take the next step.

2. Sean Fisher – His only problem is keeping weight on. Athletically, the kid is a stud, and I think people will get to see the full example of his athleticism this year.

3. Brandon Kinnie – I think he will step up, because he has to. And as we have seen in brief examples, this guy fights. I expect he'll be doing that all season.

4. Kyler Reed – You know they want to use this guy. You know that he has great athleticism and is better than one might think at the line. They will find a way to get him involved, and he could be their best midfield threat, period.

5. Alfonzo Dennard – He might be every bit as good as Amukamara, but hasn't stayed healthy enough to show it. If he does stay healthy this year, people will get to see why I think he's just a very special player.

Top 5 games
:

BRYAN MUNSON

  1. October 16th, Texas – It's Nebraska 's toughest, scheduled opponent and it's a conference game.  NU gets them at home and factor in what ever else you want to and it will be a huge weekend in Lincoln .
  2. November 20th, Texas A&M – I was there four years ago; what an environment.  NU needs a roughing the passer and another shot at the end zone for Maurice Purify to haul in the game winning score.  A&M is much better this time around.
  3. September 18th, Washington – It's one of those games that I have wanted to travel to see since the series was announced.  Jake Locker returns for his senior year and "UDub" is one of the loudest venues in all of America .
  4. October 7th, Kansas State – This is a potential trap game and it worries me a bit; it's the week before Texas and it's a Thursday night game.  Kansas State 's offense outperformed Nebraska 's last year in Lincoln .
  5. October 30th, Missouri – Missouri got edged out by Kansas State because of the week before Texas and it being an away game for Nebraska .  Blaine Gabbert travels to the stadium that he could have started in for four years.  Could be Josh Freeman-like for him and his return.


KEVIN SEELY

You will probably be seeing a lot of this come Oct. 16 when the Horns come to town

1. Texas – I don't think seeing UT #1 on this list will surprise many, considering all the talk that has come from the Longhorn program over the last few months with conference expansion. This game has the possibility of being one of the most watched games of the entire college football season. Friends of mine that are Gator, Bama, and Nole fans are already talking about the matchup. If both Nebraska and Texas enter this game undefeated, it could turn into the most watched regular season college football game of all-time.

2. @Washington - I always view the first big game of the season as what I call a "tone setter". If Nebraska can come out on top against the Huskies September 18th, it could lead to big things down the road. Momentum would start to build, along with confidence, and I consider those two ingredients as the building blocks to a winning program. And with a local/national audience watching, a west coast win would also boost Husker recruiting in the Pac Ten area.

3. @Kansas State - The big 12 opener will be a tougher contest than I think most Husker fans realize. And while KSU may have inferior talent to Nebraska, Snyder will have his boys playing hard. And like all the other teams in the conference, the Wildcats would love nothing more than to send NU out of the Big 12 with a loss. Look for this game to be a blood bath, on the field, and possibly in the parking lot afterwards. That stadium will be thick with animosity, win or lose.

4. Missouri - The Tigers may have more hate in their heart over Nebraska's move to the Big Ten, than any other team in the country. I mean, they thought they were all but a lock to be accepted into the Big Ten, until the Big Red entered the picture. That whole situation was a reality check for everyone in the Missouri program. And now that jealousy has set in, the Tigers will come to Lincoln desperate for the win.

5. @Iowa State - This game is all about payback for me, nothing else. After one of the most embarrassing losses in recent history to the Cyclones last year, I expect to see Nebraska come out on a mission November 6th. They won't have 8 turnovers to rely on this time, and if Nebraska doesn't beat them by more than 20, I'll be surprised. And hopefully Bo will show the team the footage of ISU celebrating in the locker-room after the game in Lincoln last season. If that doesn't help motivate the Huskers, nothing will.

STEVE RYAN

1. At Washington, Sep. 18 – A little bit of a coaches' mentality here, but if Nebraska doesn't win this one, it takes some luster off the rest of the games, even though all the conference contests remain. This is a statement game. A good team, a loud venue and a quarterback trying to find his way. Let's hope the outcome is better than the last time we were talking about this.

2. Texas, Oct. 16 – The ultimate game for symbolism. It could be one where Texas tries to send the Huskers to the Big Ten, once again a loser to the Horns. Or the Huskers could try and put an exclamation point on the "beat Texas" idea. This will have all the hype of any game anyone can remember in Memorial, because forget the symbolism, this game could decide which of the two goes to the conference title game.

3. Missouri, Oct. 30 – Missouri might not have Danario Alexander, but they have just about everyone else back off what finished off the year as a very solid offense. They will also have some big weapons on defense. This is no cake walk. Make no mistake about it. And this game should decide the North.

4. At Texas A&M, Nov. 20 – Believe it or not, the Aggies might end up being the best team Nebraska faces during the entire regular season. They are flat out loaded, especially on offense where they bring back almost every major contributor from last year's potent team. They will be much better on defense as well. Great team, College Station – not a recipe for success. This one is dangerous, maybe the most dangerous of them all.

5. Colorado, Nov 26 – Perhaps only because some really crappy Colorado teams have given some really good Nebraska teams fits, this one even makes the list. But on paper CU will have a very good team. They might actually have the best line in the league. The last regular season game of the year, this one is always going to be big, even if it wasn't against CU.

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