NU Opens With Big 12 Showdown
Lincoln -- Nebraska kicks off its 114th season of collegiate football with a highly anticipated season opener against Big 12 Conference rival Oklahoma State. The matchup pits a pair of teams with their sights set on big things in 2003. Nebraska is looking to rebound from a 7-7 campaign in 2002, its first non nine-win season since 1968. Oklahoma State is coming off its best season in more than a decade with an 8-5 finish in 2002, including its first bowl victory in 14 seasons.
The Huskers enter the season in a rare position-unranked in both major national polls. Nebraska finds itself just outside of the top 25 in the Associated Press poll with 68 points, enough to tie for 27th position in the poll. Nebraska received 64 points in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, also placing it just outside of the top 25. A victory against Oklahoma State would likely vault the Huskers back into the rankings for the first time since late-September of last season. The Cowboys are ranked 24th in both preseason polls, one of four Big 12 Conference squads in the preseason top 25.
Nebraska will look to continue its opening-day success in front of the 256th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers have won their last 17 season openers since a loss to Florida State to open the 1985 campaign. NU also has had a great run of success in the series with Oklahoma State. Last year's 24-21 loss in Stillwater ended NU's 35-game unbeaten streak against the Cowboys, but Nebraska has won each of the last 19 meetings with Oklahoma State at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers own a 35-3-1 edge in the all-time series between the schools.
Nebraska to Face Challenging Schedule in 2003
Nebraska enters the 2003 campaign with its sights set on returning to the national polls, resuming its nine-win season tradition and making its 35th consecutive bowl appearance. Standing in the way of those goals is a demanding slate of games, including seven opponents who reached postseason play in 2002.
The 2003 season marks the fourth time in Frank Solich's six seasons as head coach that Nebraska has 12 regular season games on the schedule. This season marks the second straight year the NCAA has allowed all schools to play 12 regular-season contests. A year ago, Nebraska played 14 games including the season-opening Black Coaches Association Classic. The Aug. 30 opener also marks the third straight year Nebraska has opened its season in August and the fourth time in six seasons under Solich the Huskers have kicked off in the year's eighth month.
The Huskers open the year with three straight home games, the opener with Oklahoma State, followed by non-conference games with Utah State and Penn State. Nebraska plays its first Thursday night game in eight years at Southern Mississippi on Sept. 25, before completing its non-league schedule against Troy State on Oct. 4.
Nebraska will resume Big 12 Conference play on Oct. 11 at Missouri. After the road game at Missouri, Nebraska will also travel to Texas (Nov. 1), Kansas (Nov. 8) and Colorado (Nov. 28) in league play. In addition to Oklahoma State, Texas A&M (Oct. 18), Iowa State (Oct. 25) and Kansas State (Nov. 15) will visit Lincoln this fall.
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Husker Nation Celebration To Help Kick Off 2003 Season
This weekend could easily be the most-anticipated event in the "Year of the Fan" in Husker Nation. In addition to the long-awaited start of the 2003 football campaign, Husker fans will also get an opportunity to see past greats who established the unmatched tradition of Nebraska football.
All former letterwinners have been invited to Lincoln for a player reunion this weekend and approximately 800 former players from all eras are expected to attend the Husker Nation Celebration. Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson made the reunion one of his first projects when he took the reins of the Husker athletic department in January. All former players in attendance will receive a jersey with their number on the front and their name inscribed on the back. The players will gather on Friday evening for a private reception, then follow the Cornhusker Marching Band onto the field for pregame festivities on Saturday.
Among the former NU greats in attendance at this weekend's Husker Nation Celebration are each of Nebraska's three Heisman winners.
Johnny Rodgers, 1972, Wingback, Now lives in Omaha, Neb.
Mike Rozier, 1983, I-Back, Now lives in Camden, N.J.
Eric Crouch, 2001, Quarterback, Now lives in Omaha, Neb.
Players from all eras have embraced the Husker Nation Celebration. Former Huskers from the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are planning their own private reunion with about 125 past letterwinners expected. Nebraska's 1978 Big Eight championship team will hold a 25th year anniversary in conjunction with the weekend's festivities, while the national championship teams of the mid 1990s will also have their own smaller private gathering.
Huskers Successful in Season Openers
Nebraska has been victorious in its last 17 season openers since a 17-13 loss to Florida State in Lincoln in 1985. The Huskers have won each of those 17 contests by at least 13 points. Nebraska improved to 82-26-5 in season openers, including last year's 48-10 victory over Arizona State.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich is a perfect 5-0 in season openers. In the last 30 years, the Huskers are 25-4-1 in season openers, 20-2 at home, losing only to FSU in 1985 and Washington State in 1977 (19-10). In fact, the Huskers have won 38 of 41 season openers since Bob Devaney took over the Husker program in 1962.
In all-time home openers, NU is 91-17-5 including 63-14-3 at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers are 28-2 in home openers over the last 30 years. When NU opens the season on the road it is 12-13-2. Nebraska's streak of 17 straight season opening victories leads the nation, followed by Florida State with 14, and Kansas State and Florida with 13 each.
Nebraska to Face Ranked Opponent in Season Opener
With 24th-ranked Oklahoma State up first on the 2003 slate, Nebraska will face off against a ranked opponent in a season opener for the first time since 1994. The Huskers are 6-4 all-time in season openers against ranked opponents, including a 2-3 mark at Memorial Stadium. NU's most recent season-opening win over a ranked opponent came in a 34-17 win over Florida State to open the 1986 season. The Huskers have been unranked in three of the season openers against ranked foes and own a 1-2 mark in those contests. (most recently in 1969). Below is a listing of Nebraska's season openers against ranked opponents.
1994-#4 Nebraska 31, #24 West Virginia 0, Kickoff Classic, East Rutherford, N.J.
1988-#2 Nebraska 23, #10 Texas A&M 14, Kickoff Classic, East Rutherford, N.J.
1986-#8 Nebraska 34, #11 Florida State 17, Lincoln
1985-#17 Florida State 17, #10 Nebraska 13, Lincoln
1983-#1 Nebraska 44, #4 Penn State 6, Kickoff Classic, East Rutherford, N.J.
1978-#1 Alabama 20, #10 Nebraska 3, Birmingham, Ala.
1973-#4 Nebraska 40, #10 UCLA 13, Lincoln
1969-#5 USC 31, Nebraska 21, Lincoln
1960-Nebraska 14, #4 Texas 13, Austin, Texas
1959-#17 Texas 20, Nebraska 0, Lincoln
Nebraska, Cowboys Get Big 12 Season Started
The first game with Oklahoma State marks a rare season opener against a league foe. Nebraska last opened a season against a conference opponent in 1995, when the Huskers posted a 64-21 victory at Oklahoma State to begin its Big Eight campaign. Nebraska went on to finish 12-0 and win a second straight national title in 1995.
Other than the 1995 NU-OSU meeting, the Huskers have not opened the season against a league opponent since facing Iowa State in Lincoln to begin the 1948 campaign. The last time Nebraska faced a conference opponent in its home opener was a 39-14 victory over Iowa State in 1954.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his sixth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 49-16 school and career record (.754). Solich ranks sixth among active coaches with at least five years of service in winning percentage.
With a victory over Oklahoma State in the season opener, Solich would collect his 50th win in just his 67th game as Nebraska's head coach. Solich's Hall of Fame predecessor Tom Osborne picked up win No. 50 in his 66th game as NU head coach. Solich's 49 wins in his first five seasons as a head coach ties him for third place on the all-time Division I-A list for most wins in the first five years of a head coaching career.
Solich has piled up a number of notable accomplishments during his Nebraska tenure including...
Becoming just the third first-year Nebraska head coach to record nine wins in his first season at the helm, joining a pair of Hall of Fame Coaches-Tom Osborne (9-2-1 in 1973) and Bob Devaney (9-2 in 1962).
He posted the best record of any Husker second-year coach, as his team posted a 12-1 record in 1999, leading NU to a Big 12 championship and No. 2 (coaches poll) and No. 3 (AP poll) final national rankings.
The Nebraska graduate has set NU records for most wins after two, three, four and five years as head coach, bettering Devaney and Osborne.
Solich was named the 1999 Big 12 Coach of the Year by his league peers and the AP after winning the league championship, and was named coach of the year by the conference coaches a second time in 2001.
Solich is the only Husker coach to have won 12 games in either of his first two seasons. In fact, neither Devaney nor Osborne had an 11-win campaign in their first four years, with Devaney posting a pair of 10-win seasons and Osborne hitting 10 wins in his third season.
Solich tied Devaney by winning his first conference title his second year, while Osborne tied for his first title in his third year at the helm.
Solich has continued Nebraska's winning tradition the Husker way-by identification of athletic talent regardless of position or recruiting rank; with successful recruitment nationwide of the country's best student-athletes; developing local talent and utilizing the envious Husker walk-on program; and by providing the best athletic facilities and support available for the student-athletes.
Solich also recognizes the Husker tradition, which is most evident in his coaching staff. Including Solich, six of Nebraska's 10 full-time coaches played college ball at Nebraska. Solich is one of 19 current Division I-A football coaches who played for and now coach their alma mater.
Solich was named Nebraska's 26th head coach on Dec. 10, 1997, after serving as an NU assistant for 19 years. He played fullback for Hall of Fame Coach Bob Devaney, lettering in 1963-64-65. Solich was the first Husker running back to rush for 200 yards in a game and remains the only fullback to accomplish that feat. He also lettered for the NU baseball team in 1965. After serving as a local high school football coach for 14 years, Solich took over the NU freshman program and posted a 19-1 record from 1979 to 1982. He was elevated to NU's running backs coach after four seasons, a position he held for 15 years (1983-97). He was promoted to assistant head coach in 1991 and head coach following the 1997 season. Solich earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from NU in 1966 and 1972, respectively.
Fresh Faces on Husker Sidelines for 2003 Season
Solich is surrounded by several new faces on his coaching staff for the 2003 season. Six new coaches are on the NU staff, including three assistants on each side of the ball, led by new offensive and defensive coordinators.
The new Husker assistants (previous coaching stop) include...
Barney Cotton, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line (Offensive coordinator, New Mexico State)
Bo Pelini, Defensive Coordinator, (Linebackers, Green Bay Packers)
Tim Albin, Running Backs/Passing Game Coordinator, (Graduate Assistant, Nebraska)
Scott Downing, Tight Ends/Kickers & Punters/Recruiting Coordinator (Ass't. Head Coach, RBs, Purdue)
Marvin Sanders, Defensive Backs, (Secondary, Colorado State)
Jimmy Williams, Linebackers (Defensive Line, Toledo)
All of the new assistants had previous Nebraska ties except for Pelini, who came to Nebraska from the NFL coaching ranks and played college football at Ohio State. The newcomers join assistants Ron Brown (17th year), Turner Gill (12th year) and Jeff Jamrog (4th year). Brown continues to coach Nebraska's wide receivers. Gill remains the Huskers' quarterbacks coach and added the title of assistant head coach. Jamrog will again coach the Husker defensive tackles, but will also tutor the defensive ends and serve as Nebraska's special teams coordinator.
ABC Back in Familiar Location
Nebraska has a long tradition of being one of the nation's most visible college football programs. The Huskers have played 211 games on television since 1953. Nebraska's greatest exposure has come on ABC, where the Huskers sport a 72-31 record (103 games). Last season, Nebraska made three ABC appearances, including just one home game on the network (Colorado).
This season, the Huskers already have three games scheduled on the network. In addition to a national telecast of this Saturday's matchup with Oklahoma State, NU is also scheduled to appear on ABC against Penn State (Sept. 13, regional) and at Colorado (Nov. 28, national). Before last season, Nebraska had appeared on ABC at least five times in each of the previous eight seasons (1994-2001). The matchup with Oklahoma State also marks the third consecutive year Nebraska's season opener has been nationally televised.
Lord Looks For Big Things in 2003
Nebraska senior quarterback Jammal Lord made a large dent in the Husker record book a year ago. The Bayonne, N.J., native set NU game and season records for total offense and rushing yards by a quarterback. Lord finished the season with 1,412 rushing yards, the third-most ever by a Division I-A quarterback and amassed 2,774 yards of total offense. In the process, he also became one of only 19 Division I-A players to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. He was the third Husker signal caller in six seasons to reach that plateau, joining Scott Frost (1997) and Eric Crouch (2001).
In addition, Lord was Nebraska's most consistent big-play threat a year ago. He had a hand in a remarkable 41 plays of 20 yards or more in 2002, including 21 runs and 20 passes.
Despite his gaudy numbers last season, the 6-2, 220-pound Lord is hopeful of becoming a more efficient quarterback this season, most notably through the air. Last season Lord completed just less than 47 percent of his passes and threw for 12 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
Recent Nebraska history indicates that Lord could be in for marked improvement this fall. Husker quarterbacks in their second seasons as starters have enjoyed much greater success in year two at the helm versus their first season as a starter. Most recently, 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch improved his completion percentage from 48.5 percent as a freshman to 51.9 percent as a sophomore. Crouch also improved his average yards per total offense attempt by nearly a yard. The following graphic examines several Nebraska quarterbacks' statistics in their first seasons as starters versus their second years.
Nebraska Strives for Offensive Efficiency
Lord's development as a passer will be a key in Nebraska's desire to become a more balanced offense this fall. Solich and new offensive coordinator Barney Cotton have regularly talked about increasing the Huskers' completion rate into the 55 to 60 percent area. While Nebraska will likely still rely on its ground game as its bread and butter, this season's Husker offense has the potential to be the most balanced in a generation.
Last season Nebraska generated 72 percent of its offense on the ground, and in five seasons under Solich the Huskers have accounted for just more than 70 percent of their offense via the run. By comparison, Tom Osborne's last five Husker teams (1993-1997) picked up 71.5 percent of their offense via the run.
Solich's most balanced offensive attack came in his first season in 1998, when NU gained 65.9 percent of its offense on the ground (34.1 percent passing). In fact, that season marks Nebraska's most pass-oriented offense in the past 26 years. Nebraska has not picked up more than 35 percent of its offensive yardage via the pass since the 1976 season. In that campaign, Vince Ferragamo led an NU passing attack that led the Big Eight Conference at 188.0 yards per game and accounted for 46.1 percent of Nebraska's offense. Each of Osborne's first four NU teams (1973-76) picked up at least 37 percent of their offense by passing.
Four Husker Seniors Elected as 2003 Captains
Four Nebraska seniors have been elected as captains for the 2003 season. The captains were determined by a vote of the team, with two captains selected on both offense and defense. On offense, quarterback Jammal Lord and fullback Judd Davies received the nod. Lord is in his second season as NU's starting signal caller, while Davies enters his third season as the Huskers' starter at fullback.
Defensively, end Trevor Johnson and linebacker Demorrio Williams were selected as captains. Johnson is a fifth-year senior from Lincoln, while Williams joined the Husker program after two seasons at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College. Williams is the first junior college transfer to be elected team captain at Nebraska since at least 1957. In addition to the four captains for the season, Coach Solich announced that Nebraska will add an honorary special teams captain each game as selected by the coaches.
Davis Continues to Build on Return Records
Senior I-back Josh Davis figures to see significant action out of the Husker backfield this fall. Davis is one of three I-backs, along with sophomores David Horne and Cory Ross, who figure to earn the bulk of the carries from the I-back position.
Regardless of Davis' role out of the backfield, he figures to continue to make a strong impression as a kick returner. The 5-11, 200-pound Davis already owns NU single-game, season and career records for kickoff return yardage. By season's end, Davis could own the top three season kickoff return yardage totals in school history and is on track to become the first 2,000-yard kickoff return man in Nebraska history. Davis' role on the special teams could grow even more this fall. He and Ross are the leading candidates to replace All-American DeJuan Groce as Nebraska's top punt returner.
Larson Returns to Key Husker Punting Team
Nebraska's special teams figure to be "special" once again in 2003. Along with Davis as a return man, senior punter Kyle Larson is in his third season as a starter for the Huskers. Larson has been one of the nation's top punters each of the past two seasons and his statistics rank near the top of Nebraska's career charts.
Larson averaged 43.2 yards per punt last season and keyed a Husker punting unit that ranked second in the Big 12 and fifth nationally in net punting. The Funk, Neb., native had 21 punts of 50 yards or longer last season and pinned the opposition inside its own 20 on 23 occasions. Larson was a second-team All-Big 12 selection by the league's coaches last season and was one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award. His 42.92 career punting average ranks second on the Husker career charts, behind only his predecessor Dan Hadenfeldt (1999-2000).
Scanning the Polls
Nebraska finds itself in an unfamiliar preseason position-unranked in both major polls. The Huskers are just outside of the top 25 in both polls, marking the first time since 1969 that Nebraska has entered a season unranked in the Associated Press poll. The Huskers could earn a spot back in the polls with a victory this weekend against 24th-ranked Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys are one of four Big 12 teams ranked in both preseason polls. Oklahoma (1 AP/1 Coaches), Texas (5/4), Kansas State (7/5) and OSU (24/24) represent the league in the preseason polls. Meanwhile, four other conference teams received votes in both of the polls, including Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M. In addition to Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, non-conference foe Penn State is ranked 25th in the preseason coaches poll, while Southern Mississippi received votes in both polls.
Against AP Ranked Teams
Nebraska is 89-96-3 (.481, 188 games) all time vs. AP ranked opponents, not a bad percentage considering NU started with a 7-35 mark before Coach Bob Devaney arrived in 1962. Over the last nine seasons, the Huskers have gone 28-14 against ranked foes, with just two of the losses at home. Nebraska has won 14 of its last 19 games against top 10 AP teams (since 1994).
The Huskers were 0-4 last season against AP ranked opponents, but will have an opportunity to end a six-game overall losing skid against ranked foes when 24th-ranked Oklahoma State visits in the opener. Nebraska's last victory over a ranked opponent was a 20-10 defeat of No. 2 Oklahoma on Oct. 27, 2001. The last time an unranked Nebraska team defeated a nationally ranked opponent was a 20-7 victory over 18th-ranked Colorado on Nov. 1, 1969. That win moved the Huskers into the national polls the following week and NU has been in 522 of 537 AP polls since (all but one week in 1977, three weeks in 1981, the final 11 weeks of 2002 and this year's preseason poll).
Over the last 30 years, NU is 71-49-1 (.591, 121 games) vs. ranked teams. In the 1990s, NU was 27-10-1 (counting the Jan. 2, 2000, win over Tennessee). Solich is 10-12 vs. ranked teams (4-5 vs. top 10 AP teams), and has lost just twice at home to a ranked AP team (6-2 home, 1-8 away, 3-2 neutral).
Personnel, Injury Update
Nebraska enters the season in relatively good physical condition after getting through fall camp without any major injuries. Junior linebacker Lannie Hopkins continues to recover from off-season surgery and missed much of preseason practice, while sixth-year senior defensive lineman Jason Lohr has also been out with injury. Cornerback Willie Amos went through fall camp in good health after being limited during spring ball, as he continued to recover from a knee injury suffered in April of 2002. The lone injury suffered in fall camp that will sideline a player for the opener was to senior fullback DeAntae Grixby, who is likely to miss the first couple games with an ankle injury.
Coach Solich has also indicated that several newcomers to the Husker program are likely to see action. Nebraska added three players from the junior college ranks-cornerback Donald DeFrand, rush end Wali Muhammad and offensive lineman Darren DeLone. Solich said all three could play important roles this fall. Nebraska will also look to several true freshmen to earn immediate play time this fall. Among the Husker rookies likely to see action this fall are wide receiver Andy Birkel, quarterback Joe Dailey and defensive tackle Brandon Teamer. Wide receiver Kade Pittman went through spring practice with the Huskers, but is a true freshman in eligibility, as he enrolled at Nebraska last January. Last season, five true freshmen bypassed redshirt seasons and contributed immediately.
Nebraska Tops Elite Programs in Consistency
Nebraska ranks third among Division I-A schools in all-time football victories with 771 wins. The Huskers have the nation's best record since 1962, posting a 405-85-5 record in the last 41 seasons. In that period, Nebraska has easily been the most consistent program in the nation. That is evident when comparing the Huskers' record to the other nine programs among the top 10 in all-time victories.
The Huskers have had just three seasons (including 2002) since 1962 with eight or fewer victories. Eight of the other nine schools in the top 10 have had at least 15 seasons with eight or fewer wins in that span. Nebraska's last losing season occurred in 1961. Michigan has not had a losing record since 1967, but the other eight schools on the all-time top 10 wins list have all had losing seasons since 1988, including six programs with losing campaigns in the past six seasons.
Nebraska hopes to find itself back in the national rankings and in contention for Big 12 and national honors in 2003. The Huskers need look no further than the top 10 winningest programs for direction. Although each has experienced a downturn of some degree, the group had a strong season in 2002. Eight of the 10 teams won at least nine games and ranked in the top 16 in the final Associated Press poll.
Former Huskers a Fixture on NFL Roster
Nebraska is consistently among the nation's leaders in supplying talent to the National Football League and this season is no different. The Huskers had a total of 42 former players on NFL rosters at the start of this fall's training camp. In all, 21 teams had at least one former Husker on their preseason rosters, while the Kansas City Chiefs boast an NFL-high five former Huskers (Clint Finley, Will Shields, Wilson Thomas, Jared Tomich and Eric Warfield). Green Bay, Houston, Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis also have strong Husker presences, as three players began preseason camp with each of those teams.
Eight members of last season's squad opened the preseason on NFL rosters, including 2003 draftees Chris Kelsay (2nd round, Buffalo), DeJuan Groce (4th, St. Louis), Josh Brown (7th, Seattle) and Scott Shanle (7th, St. Louis). In addition, four other 2002 seniors: Jon Clanton (Tennessee), Dahrran Diedrick (San Diego), John Garrison (Tennessee) and Wilson Thomas (Kansas City) joined squads as free agents after signing with teams following the draft. Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro offensive guard Will Shields and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle John Parrella are Nebraska's most experienced NFL veterans, each entering their 11th season in the league. A full list of Nebraska's NFL players is in the left column.
Nine Players Enter 2003 Season With Degree in Hand
Nine members of the Huskers' senior class have already completed their undergraduate educations heading into the 2003 season. This season represents the most graduates Nebraska has had entering a season under Head Coach Frank Solich. Included in that group is senior nose tackle Patrick Kabongo, who played his junior season with his degree after graduating in three years in August of 2002. In addition to the nine players who already have their degrees, 12 more players are on track to earn their degrees after the fall semester. Last season, five Huskers played the entire season with their degree and a total of 16 Nebraska players had earned their degree before the Huskers' appearance in the Independence Bowl.
Fifteen Starters Return to Lead Huskers in 2003
Head Coach Frank Solich's sixth Nebraska team will have a mix of experience, youth and new faces this fall. The common bond among all players is a relentless attitude to accomplish the team's goals this fall. The Huskers are a more experienced team than entering the 2002 season, with 15 starters returning-five on offense, nine on defense and one kicker.
Headlining the offensive returnees are senior quarterback Jammal Lord and sophomore offensive tackle Richie Incognito, an Outland Trophy candidate. Among the losses on offense are Dahrran Diedrick, Wilson Thomas and John Garrison, two-year starters at I-back, receiver and center, respectively.
The defense lost just five starters from last season, but three of them-rush end Chris Kelsay, cornerback DeJuan Groce and linebacker Scott Shanle-donned Blackshirts each of the past three seasons. Their loss will be felt, but new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini can rely on a front seven that could be the strength of Nebraska's team, and a youthful but talented secondary. A brief position-by-position look at the 2003 Huskers is below.
Quarterback-Lord returns after starting all 14 games in 2002, and setting Nebraska season records for total offense (2,774) and rushing yards (1,412) by a quarterback.
Backfield-Judd Davies is in his third season as Nebraska's starting fullback and is one of four team captains. The battle for the starting I-back position includes three players. Sophomore David Horne ran for 651 yards as a true freshman last season, but is being pushed by senior Josh Davis and sophomore Cory Ross, both of whom have extensive playing experience.
Receivers-The Huskers lost starters at both wideout positions and tight end, but return a pair of sophomores who made strong showings last year. Tight end Matt Herian caught just seven passes last season, but four of those went for touchdowns, and Herian averaged a remarkable 43.0 yards per catch. Wide receiver Ross Pilkington caught an NU freshman record 14 passes and tied Herian for the frosh receiving yardage record (301). Several players, including true freshman Andy Birkel and junior Jack O'Holleran are battling for time at the other receiver spot.
Offensive Line-Three starters return up front, led by tackles Dan Vili Waldrop and Richie Incognito. Waldrop is in his third season as a starter, while Incognito earned freshman All-America honors last season and is on the preseason Outland watch list. Mike Erickson returns for his second season as a starter at offensive guard, while fellow junior Jake Andersen is expected to start at the other guard, with senior Josh Sewell manning the center position.
Tackles-Nose tackle Ryon Bingham started all 14 games last season and led all defensive linemen in tackles. He is backed by a pair of experienced players-seniors Patrick Kabongo and Jason Lohr. Talented sophomore
Le Kevin Smith is set to take over at defensive tackle, after impressive play as a reserve last season.
Ends-Senior Trevor Johnson started the latter half of last season and finished third on the team with 11 tackles for loss. He was rewarded for his off-season leadership and work ethic by being named the 2003 Nebraska Lifter of the Year and one of four captains. Junior Benard Thomas is expected to start opposite Johnson after redshirting last season. A pair of talented backups-sophomore Titus Adams and redshirt freshman Adam Carriker also figure to see significant action
Linebackers-Nebraska has all the ingredients of a strong linebacking corps-talent, experience, depth and speed. Seniors Demorrio Williams and T.J. Hollowell are expected to man the outside positions. Last year, the pair split time on the weakside and combined for more than 150 tackles, but Hollowell has switched to the opposite side allowing both to start this fall. Junior Barrett Ruud is back for his second season as the starter in the middle. He finished second on the team in tackles last season and has been named to the Butkus watch list.
Defensive Backs-Nebraska returns three starters in the secondary, but must replace All-Big 12 corner DeJuan Groce. Sophomore Fabian Washington is back as the starter at left corner, after setting Nebraska frosh records for pass breakups and interceptions last season. A pair of experienced players-senior Pat Ricketts and junior Lornell McPherson-continue to battle for the starting job on the right side. Free safety Josh Bullocks earned the starting nod late last season, while his twin brother, Daniel, battles incumbent starter Philip Bland for the starting nod at strong safety. Senior Jerrell Pippens is a talented athlete who has played both safety positions and also practiced at corner this fall, while junior Willie Amos returns from a knee injury that sidelined him for the 2002 season.
Place-Kicker-Four-year starter Josh Brown has graduated, leaving junior Sandro DeAngelis as the likely starter at the position. DeAngelis split time with Brown in 2001, but missed last season with a foot injury. He will continue to be pushed by senior Dale Endorf and true freshman David Dyches.
Punter-Senior Kyle Larson is back for his third season as the starter. The 2002 Ray Guy Award semifinalist ranks second at Nebraska in career punting average and helped the Huskers to a No. 5 national ranking in net punting.
Kickoff Returns-Senior Josh Davis already owns Nebraska's game, season and career kickoff return records, and could move past 2,000 career yards in kickoff returns this fall.
Punt Returns-DeJuan Groce's graduation leaves a huge void at this position. Last season, Groce tied the NCAA record with four punt return touchdowns. Davis could add punt return duties to his kickoff return chores, with Cory Ross another leading candidate for the job.