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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Hoping to see Rex, Denard on Senior Day

By Adam Rittenberg

The first senior day in the Big Ten took place last Saturday at Indiana, and five more schools -- Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin -- will honor this seniors this week.

Every senior will be recognized, but it would be nice to see two Big Ten players who are the faces of their respective programs step between the lines before the home crowd one final time. Both players are dealing with injuries, and there's no guarantee either will play.

Burkhead
Nebraska's Rex Burkhead hopes to get some carries against Minnesota on senior day.
I'm talking about Nebraska's Rex Burkhead and Michigan's Denard Robinson. Superman and Shoelace. When you think of Nebraska football and Michigan football in recent years, these two players immediately come to mind.

Both entered their senior seasons with hopes of contending for national awards, perhaps even the Heisman Trophy. Robinson struggled early, enduring the worst performance of his career in a Sept. 22 loss to Notre Dame, but responded well early in Big Ten play with several strong rushing performances. He still ranks 13th nationally in rushing (118.3 ypg). He injured a nerve in his throwing elbow Oct. 13 against Illinois and aggravated it in the first half against Nebraska on Oct. 27. He hasn't played since, and coach Brady Hoke isn't saying much about his availability for Saturday's game against Iowa.

Burkhead's promising senior season never got off the ground. He suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee in the season opener, missed two games, aggravated the injury in the third quarter Oct. 6 at Ohio State, and aggravated it again in the first quarter Oct. 20 against Northwestern. He hasn't played since.

After putting Nebraska's offense on his back in 2011 with 284 carries, two shy of Lawrence Phillips' team record, Burkhead has played just one full game this season -- the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin (he played only the first half the week before against Idaho State).

He returned to practice this week. Asked how much he wants to play Saturday against Minnesota, Burkhead replied, "Real bad."

"It's my last home game here being a senior," he said. "It'd mean the world to be able to get out there on the field, but at the same time I have to be smart. I have a bunch of family coming up, and it'd be nice to get out there and play in front of them."

Nebraska has to be careful with Burkhead, who probably came back too quickly after the Ohio State game. Burkhead noted that he'd rather be ready for the Big Ten title game Dec. 1 if Nebraska punches its ticket to Indianapolis, but one final appearance at Memorial Stadium would be special.

Denard Robinson
Michigans Denard Robinson hasn't played since aggravating an elbow injury Oct. 27.
No Husker player is more popular than Burkhead among fans. We've heard a lot this season about what Manti Te'o means to Notre Dame fans. Although Burkhead hasn't received nearly the same attention because of his injuries, he has the same connection with those who follow Big Red.

"When he's on the field, all the fans are excited," Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez said.

Although Robinson has had more ups and downs on the field than Burkhead, he remains very popular among Michigan fans. He's still the most recognizable player in the Big Ten, and his record-setting performances won't be forgotten in Ann Arbor.

Michigan unfortunately didn't make Robinson available to the media this week, and though he had a big smile on his face while attending the Wolverines' basketball game Tuesday night, his status for Senior Day is unclear. Coach Brady Hoke hasn't said much about Robinson since the injury.

"I made a lot of plays here. I love the team I've been with," Robinson told Inside Michigan Football. "The whole time I've been here, I enjoy coming down the tunnel. I don't know how it's going to feel being my last time running down the tunnel."

Nebraska and Michigan both need to protect Burkhead and Robinson from further injury. But it would be a treat to see both players enjoy senior day with the football in their hands.