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Huskers look to jump-start their season
By Tim Brant
Special to ABC Sports Online

Season-opening games are interesting because of all the questions they answer about young players and new coaches. Both of this year's Pigskin Classic participants (ABC, Sat., 1 p.m. ET) -- Nebraska and TCU -- went 10-2 last year. However, a lot has changed.

Keyuo Craver
Keyuo Craver and Nebraska's defense must improve on last year's performance.
The fourth-ranked Huskers finished the 2000 season sixth in the Big 12 defensively, an unusual spot for Nebraska. This defense should be a lot better. It is quicker and more talented, although the Huskers will really miss linebacker Carlos Polk.

Offensively, Nebraska is going to be strong again with Heisman candidate Eric Crouch, but the Huskers still need to find a dominant I-back. They also need a couple of receivers to step up, and the right side of the offensive line has to mature.

When you talk about Crouch and how important he is to Nebraska, you have to talk about his right shoulder, which he had surgery on in January to repair a tear. It will be interesting in his first game to see if he has changed his mechanics or if he is shy about it. Everybody says it's fine, but it's the first time we will have a chance to see him since he had it repaired.

Crouch must pass better. Many people talk about him for the Heisman, but he completed just 48 percent of his passes last year. I know he can throw better, but he needs help. He needs to find some backs and receivers to offset Tracey Wistrom. He's a quality guy and very talented. He's the lynchpin. Everybody has to come in and support that.

Players to watch:
At this stage of the game, the defense is usually ahead of the offense.

I will be looking to see what is taking place, keeping my eye on Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver, safety Dion Booker and linebacker Jamie Burrow to see how the unit has improved.

For TCU, everyone talks about the six players who are gone from last year's defense which allowed 20 points just three times, but most of the players who are playing now saw an incredible amount of action as reserves. Linebacker Chad Bayer anchors this group and there are a lot of guys who had a lot of playing time last year.
--Tim Brant

The offense also needs somebody that can turn the corner, an I-back who can take the heat off of Crouch. Everyone says Dahrran Diedrick reminds them of Ahman Green, but he has to prove that and he won't be available. Of course, Green was The Man the last time they had a national championship team, so if Diedrick is that kind of guy -- and he did have a good spring -- and you add fullback Judd Davies, then maybe that is the ticket.

Meanwhile, TCU is without LaDainian Tomlinson, but now the offense is geared around quarterback Casey Printers. He's 18-4 as a starter. The Horned Frogs have some quick wideouts and two or three running backs who new coach Gary Patterson will work in there throughout the day. If anything, without Tomlinson, the offense may become more balanced and diversified. If they are able to free up LaTarence Dunbar, Kevin Brown and a couple of the other receivers, they could cause some problems for Nebraska.

There's no question that Patterson is going to use a lot of different receivers and backs. As he said, you don't replace a Tomlinson, but you go by running back by committee, wide receiver by committee and try to exploit the talents of Printers against a defense that struggled at times last year.

The opening game is a great neutralizer. If you are going to catch a big-time team, you watch to catch them on opening day.

Notes:
Nebraska is heavily favored in this game. The Huskers have won 15 straight openers by an average score of 48-15. The last team to beat Nebraska in an opener was Florida State in 1985.

Tim Brant is a college football analyst for ABC and a regular contributor to ABC Sports Online.

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Pigskin Preview

Bowden: Crouch needs help

Big 12 preview

Frank Solich Q&A

Crouch gives Huskers national title hopes

Expect TCU to open up offense in first year in C-USA

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Pigskin Classic results

ABC Sports Online's 2001 Preseason All-America Team