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Preseason college football rankings: No. 7 Nebraska

The first addition to the Big Ten Conference since Penn State, the Nebraska Cornhuskers could lead the conference's new Legends division.

August 24, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Quarterback Taylor Martinez has the fate of Nebraska's offense in his hands.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez has the fate of Nebraska's offense in… (Dave Weaver / Associated…)

Dear Cornhuskers: Welcome to the Big Ten Conference — from all 11 of us. You've been put in the "Legends" division, somehow, along with Minnesota. The lavatory is the first door on your left.

Ignore negative nabobs who bring up last year's 0-5 bowl record Jan. 1 or jokes about half our mascots being road kill: Gophers, Badgers, Wolverines and Hawkeyes.

Don't start a bar fight in Bloomington if someone yells what you think is, "Who's your daddy?"

It might be "Hoosier Daddy."

Big Ten's standard unit of measurement: "Three yards and a cloud of dust."

Here are your spirit pack, parking pass, Red Grange key chain and the final installment of our initiation membership fee: the schedule.

Yes, your first Big Ten game is Oct. 1 at Wisconsin, followed by your home opener against Ohio State.

"Didn't do us any favors in our first year, did they?" Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said.

Actually, Bo, don't take it personally. There are some in the Big Ten who take umbrage that you might walk into a new league and actually win it.

These are exciting times. Nebraska becomes the first addition to the Big Ten since Penn State. You could argue Penn State, football-wise, was better off as an independent. Some thought the Nittany Lions would come in and dominate but, so far, they've gone to only two Rose Bowls.

Nebraska, though, appears a perfect Big Ten fit. Nearby Omaha, after all, sits across the river from Iowa, and the Cornhuskers' offense has always been built low to the ground.

Oddsmakers have already installed Nebraska as favorites to win the Legends division. This has to be based on last year's start, certainly not its finish. The Cornhuskers sizzled out of September and were well positioned at 9-1 before dropping three of their last four games.

The season ended with a 19-7 Holiday Bowl loss to Washington, a team it earlier defeated, 56-21, in Seattle.

A rift between Pelini and quarterback Taylor Martinez has reportedly been patched. Pelini's rant into Martinez's face during the Texas A&M game last year made all the low-light films. There were rumors Martinez would transfer, but he's back for his sophomore season.

"He's had a tremendous spring," Pelini said. "He's had a tremendous summer. I think he's more engaged as a leader."

Martinez instantly becomes one of the league's dynamic players. He is a blazing fast combo quarterback who rushed for 870 yards and 12 touchdowns in the first seven games before an ankle injury sent everything into a tailspin.

Nebraska's defense, which switched from black shirts to "tank" tops under Bill Callahan, is back to its former self under orders from Pelini and his brother Carl, the coordinator.

The Cornhuskers return the nuts and bolts of a unit that last year finished 11th nationally in total defense. Nebraska is particularly deep on the front, led by tackle Jared Crick.

Nebraska will need numbers to counter the Big Ten attrition factor. If Martinez returns to form at quarterback, the Cornhuskers should become instant leaders of the "Legends." Or is that legends of the "Leaders"?

Why couldn't the Big Ten divisions be East and West?

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State; 16. Florida; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Texas A&M; 13. Texas Christian; 12. South Carolina; 11. Notre Dame; 10. Louisiana State; 9. Oklahoma State; 8. Wisconsin.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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