Nebraska football poised to challenge Big Ten

Sarah Kuta and Sarah Kuta

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Taylor Martinez

Position: quarterback

Year: redshirt freshman

The 6-foot-1-inch California native was the first freshman to start the season opener in Nebraska history. In 2010 Martinez passed for 1,631 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, leading his team to 10 victories. Against Kansas State, Martinez broke the records for total offense (369) by a freshman and rushing yards (241) by a quarterback. After a bone bruise injury sidelined him during the Missouri game, Martinez was in and out for Nebraska’s last four games. Coach Bo Pelini has made it clear that the starting QB role will be competitive next season, but a healthy Martinez will most likely get the gig.

Rex Burkhead

Position: running back

Year: sophomore

Burkhead was essential to the Huskers in 2010, serving as running back, receiver, punt returner and even quarterback in the Wildcat formation. The 5-foot-11-inch powerhouse ran for 951 yards and scored seven times. After QB Martinez and RB Roy Helu Jr. were injured in the middle of the season, Pelini leaned on the Wildcat formation with Burkhead at quarterback. Against Iowa State, Burkhead rushed 20 times for 129 yards and scored two touchdowns, one of which came in overtime to give Nebraska the win. Watching Burkhead is like watching a tank plow through defenders; his steely legs and fiery attitude are indispensable for the Huskers.

Lavonte David

Position: linebacker

Year: junior

Without Ndamukong Suh, fans wondered if the historic Nebraska Blackshirt defense would crumble. But then David arrived. The 6-foot-1-inch junior college transfer led the Huskers with 152 tackles in 2010. David now holds Nebraska’s single-season record with 84 solo tackles and 68 assists. Against Kansas, David and the Huskers held the Jayhawks to 87 yards.

Kyler Reed

Position: tight end

Year: sophomore

Against Washington in the Holiday Bowl, Reed’s 15-yard catch for a touchdown was the Huskers only score in the 19-7 loss. It was his eighth of the season, setting the Nebraska record for tight end. He received for 395 yards and his longest catch was a 79-yard pass against Kansas State. At 6-foot-3-inches and 230 pounds, Reed’s small size and speed for a tight end will make him a tough target for the monstrous Big Ten defenders. With several of Nebraska’s receivers graduating, including Niles Paul, Reed will be a friendly face for Martinez’s pass game.

Jared Crick

Position: defensive tackle

Year: junior

The 6-foot-6-inch, 285-pound Nebraska native led the team with 9.5 sacks in 2010, just 2.5 behind Ndamukong Suh. Against Missouri, Crick helped record six sacks and force NFL-bound QB Blaine Gabbert to connect on just 18 of 42 passes. Crick is a two-time first-team All Big 12 selection, and your quarterback’s worst nightmare. Watch out, Persa.

Ciante Evans

Position: defensive back

Year: true freshman

After Alfonzo Dennard was injured against Missouri, Evans stepped up for the Blackshirts. He stopped Gabbert on third-and-goal from the one yard line, broke up a pass in the end zone and made four tackles. In his first year of college football, the freshman played in eight games and made nine total tackles. If his stops against the Tigers are any indication, defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders will lean on Evans after cornerback Prince Amukamara graduates this year.

Brandon Kinnie

Position: wide receiver

Year: junior

The 6-foot-3-inch junior transferred from a junior college last year and made just 15 receptions. This year, Kinnie led the Huskers with 42 receptions for 494 yards. Against Oklahoma State, Kinnie caught three touchdown passes, including a 45-yard catch-and-run. With Mike McNeill and Niles Paul graduating, Nebraska’s receiving situation is iffy, but Kinnie’s performance this season should make him the Husker’s go-to receiver.

Alfonzo Dennard

Position: cornerback

Year: junior

Dennard was second in interceptions this season, nabbing four overall for one pick-six against Washington (the first time). Dennard also led a pass defense that held Texas to 62 yards, its lowest total since 1982. The 5-foot-10-inch Georgia native broke up seven passes and had 30 tackles on the season. Dennard will lead the Huskers against the Big Ten’s pass game.