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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Excitement is coursing through the Nebraska program after the way the Cornhuskers finished the 2009 season.
Late victories over Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado and Clemson in the Gator Bowl to finish the season have helped make the Cornhuskers a fashionable choice to win the Big 12 North Division title. And that's even with untested quarterback Zac Lee and a lack of proven wide receivers as two huge offensive liabilities.
Those questions are the biggest reason why the Cornhuskers might struggle to fulfill any championship aspirations -- at least for this season. But coach Bo Pelini has Nebraska pointed in the right direction for future success and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Nebraska solidly in the North Division title mix for most of the season.
Here are three specific predictions for the Cornhuskers in the 2009 season.
1. Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille will combine for at least 2,000 rushing yards. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson helped win a Big 12 championship at Colorado in 2001 with shaky quarterbacks by utilizing a bruising running game that dominated opponents. I expect Nebraska will be the most heavy run-oriented team as Watson tries to make things easier for his untested quarterback again this season. Helu and Castille are nice foundations to build those plans around as the best pair of running backs this side of Oklahoma. If they can remain healthy, it wouldn't surprise me to see Helu produce 1,200 rushing yards and Castille to add 800 more.
2. Pierre Allen and Barry Turner will develop into the North's best pair of defensive ends. Of course, they should probably thank Ndamukong Suh for that. But the fact that Suh will command a lot of double-team blocks inside will mean that Allen and Turner will face single-team blocking outside on almost every play. That sounds like a recipe for production from one of the conference's best and balanced pass rushes -- and the key to Nebraska's overall defensive improvement.
3. The turnover will return to the Blackshirts' defensive montage. Pelini arrived at Nebraska with the reputation of helping produce some of the most opportunistic defenses in the country in recent memory. They didn't do much with only 17 takeaways last season as Nebraska finished 107th in turnover margin. That will change this year in Nebraska's second season working with Pelini. And a big enough improvement might be enough to boost them to their first North Division title since 2006.