- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's time to pass out season grades for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Just as a reminder, the overall grade isn't an average of the three categories as I put more a bit more weight on offense and defense than special teams.
Rex Burkhead was one of the league's top offensive weapons, and while sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez drew criticism at times, he took steps in his development and performed more consistently than he did in 2010. The offensive line and an unproven group of receivers endured some ups and downs, but Nebraska still finished in the top half of the league in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and red zone offense. Coordinator Tim Beck had a tough night in Madison on Oct. 1 but seemed to find himself as a play-caller as the season went along. If Husker fans want to blame a group for the team falling short of a Legends division title, they should look elsewhere.
Nebraska entered the season with the most decorated defense in the Big Ten, a unit that fully expected to build on its strong performances from 2009 and 2010. Aside from a few exceptions, the defense struggled to meet its preseason hype. There were standouts like linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, but a lack of depth in several areas showed and most offenses found ways to move the ball against the Huskers, who finished seventh in the league in both total defense (350.7 ypg) and scoring defense (22.8 ppg allowed). Nebraska lost star tackle Jared Crick midway through the season, but there were other issues beyond his absence. We saw how good this unit could be against Michigan State and Iowa. We didn't see it nearly enough.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Nebraska excelled in most areas of special teams and struggled in only a few. Brett Maher was the Big Ten's top specialist as the junior led the league in both punting and field goals. Dynamic kick returner Ameer Abdullah also stood out for Nebraska. The Huskers weren't great on coverage teams and had a special teams meltdown in a Nov. 19 loss to Michigan.
Nebraska's first Big Ten go-round ended with a 9-3 regular-season mark and nice wins against Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa. Bo Pelini's crew had two very bad days in Madison and Ann Arbor and had a hiccup at home against Northwestern, so the overall grade can't be too favorable. The defense fell short of expectations, while the offense performed much like I thought it would. A Capital One Bowl matchup against South Carolina largely will determine how successful Nebraska's season will be viewed.