- David Ubben, College Football
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No, Washington isn't joining the Big Ten or Big 12. It just seems a bit like it to the Huskers. Nebraska will play its second of three meetings with the Huskies in a 12-month span on Wednesday night. The Huskers made the trek to Seattle in September and beat the Huskies 56-21 behind a 383-yard rushing day that saw Roy Helu Jr., Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead all top 100 yards. Good luck finding a team who loses with those kind of numbers. Nebraska didn't come close. So what about this time?
WHO TO WATCH: Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Locker's descent down the 2011 draft board began with nothing less than a nightmare outing against Nebraska's secondary, which finished the season as one of the nation's most fearsome. Cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard are both certified lockdown defenders, and Locker managed to complete just 4-of-20 passes against the Huskers. After 13 games, they're one of just three defenses in the country who prevented opposing quarterbacks from completing more than 50 percent of their passes. Along the way, they ruined an impressive number of impressive passers' days. So what happens this time? There isn't a lot of reason to believe a banged-up Locker will do much better, but you never know. If he has a day like he did back in Seattle in September, this one will be over early. If he learns from those experiences and looks like the prototype NFL quarterback most pegged him to be, it might be closer than the two-touchdown line set on the rematch.
WHAT TO WATCH: Martinez's mobility. The freshman quarterback began the season as one of college football's most electric talents, but since a career-high 241-yard, four-touchdown rushing night in a lopsided road win against Kansas State on Oct. 7, Martinez hasn't reached the end zone and has run for more than 100 yards just once. He suffered an ankle injury against Missouri and never looked as fast or elusive as he did during nonconference play or against Kansas State. He should, in theory, be near 100 percent when the Huskers take the field, but there's no guarantee. His play against Washington will establish plenty of momentum -- good or bad -- heading into 2011.
WHY WATCH: The snide comments are a little too easy with this one. "We've already seen this episode. Late December is when reruns air, right? etc, etc." September's rout aside, these are two different teams than the ones that met back in Seattle. Martinez didn't quite make the progress as a passer as coaches hoped he would, but he could have another special performance in store with a month to prepare. The same goes for Locker, who'll get his second swing at the Blackshirts. Nebraska played pretty average football down the stretch after playing the part of national title contender early in the year. The Huskers lost two of their three final games and struggled on offense against Texas A&M and Oklahoma, both losses and Martinez's last two starts. After being blown out by three ranked teams in the middle of the season, the Huskies closed with three wins, including two on the road in conference play.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 34, Washington 13. Locker does well with an early set of scripted plays via coach and playcaller Steve Sarkisian, but the Blackshirts take over once the game hits a more natural flow.