There don't appear to be many problems offensively. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was retained from Callahan's staff and will actually be allowed to do his job in 2008. As a former offensive coordinator on Gary Barnett's staff at Colorado, Watson has proven he'll bring a real commitment back to the running game - and why not? The offensive line has the looks of being one of the best lines at Nebraska in recent memory. The upper-classmen (OG Matt Slauson, OT Lydon Murtha, C Jacob Hickman) provide stability, while a quartet of sophomores (OG Keith Williams, OT Jaivorio Burkes, T/C Mike Smith, OG D.J. Jones) provide excellent promise for the future. This should be one of the better offensive lines in the Big XII for the next few seasons.
There's also tons of talent in the backfield too. Senior Marlon Lucky is the top returning rusher in the Big XII (1,019 yards, 9 tds), and he set the Nebraska school record for most receptions in a season as well with 75. But Lucky might be giving up more playing time this year due to the emergence of sophomore Roy Helu. Helu played so well in the spring that he is currently listed as co-starter with Marlon Lucky on the depth chart. Lucky and Helu will form an excellent duo, but there's also the burly Quentin Castille to pick up the tough yards, the veteran Kenny Wilson, and the speedy freshman Marcus Mendoza, who will probably be used more in the return game.
Sharing the backfield with all these talented backs is senior quarterback Joe Ganz. After waiting patiently for almost four full years in the program, Ganz finally got his shot to lead the team when Sam Keller went down due to injury. Ganz flashed the leadership that was missing from the team all season and not only averaged 466 passing yards per game in his three starts, he also threw more touchdowns (16) than Keller did the previous nine games (14). However the loss of Maurice Purify, a big target in the red zone, leaves a hole in the offense. Nate Swift is a steady receiver with good hands, but he'll need help from youngsters Curenski Gilleylen (who had a big spring), Menelik Holt, and Niles Paul to keep the passing game potent.
What is there to say about a once proud defense that finished in the bottom ten nationally in all major statistical categories? Luckily defense is a specialty of new head coach Bo Pelini. He's already going to work putting his stamp on the program by coaching intensity and effort (there's that word again) back into the Blackshirts. It's hard to say how much talent is on the roster because they have been so woefully underused the last four years, but it's safe to say there will be significant improvement no matter what.
Up front the Huskers are hoping Barry Turner can once again regain the form he showed as a true freshman when he racked up six sacks. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has flashed the potential to be a fine player in the middle if he fully recovers from off-season surgery. The secondary also appears to be in good hands with cornerback Armando Murillo and safety Larry Asante returning. Murillo is a solid all around corner and Asante is a big hitter who may thrive in Pelini's system. Overall you can count on this unit forcing more turnovers than they did in 2007.
The big question mark on defense is at linebacker. A slimmed down Phillip Dillard is ready to breakout and anchor the unit in the middle, but the other two spots are filled with inexperience. Converted running back Cody Glenn embraced his new position and showed flashes of being a playmaker in the spring, but he's been a running back his whole career. Consistency could be an issue. Tyler Wortman is a senior walk-on with 9 career tackles, but he impressed the coaches and is listed as the starter at the other spot. He'll probably share a lot of time with sophomore Blake Lawrence. Even with the loss of the top four linebackers, and with all the questions surrounding this unit, it's hard to imagine them playing any worse than they did in 2007.
KEEP AN EYE ON
The defense will be better, but by how much? If they can force some turnovers and start swarming to the ball again, an 8-win season is within reach.
Running back Roy Helu. The sophomore seems to have really impressed the new coaching staff and they won't hesitate to use him this season.