Nebraska has taken the two Big Ten meetings against Penn State since the Huskers joined the conference and last year they reached the Big Ten championship game. This season the Huskers continue to look for answers on defense in an attempt to silence some of the criticism of the program's apparent shortcomings on a path back to true national prominence.
What does the 2013 seasons have in store in Lincoln? Are these Huskers equipped for a return trip to Indianapolis for another crack at a Big Ten title? If they get that far, can they finally win a conference championship for the first time since 1999? What can we expect to see from Taylor Martinez, who is back for one more year under center for Nebraska?
To answer some of these questions following the spring we are joined by Brandon Cavanaugh from the Nebraska blog Corn Nation for our latest post-spring Q&A.
Q: It’s that time of the year again when we ask the question of whether or not Nebraska is going to be a legitimate Big Ten contender in the fall. Coming off their first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in 2012, the Huskers look to be one of the top teams in the Legends Division once again. Coming out of the spring, what is the reading on this year’s Huskers as it relates to a Big Ten championship game run?
Brandon Cavanaugh: Nebraska's offense is a year older, wiser and jammed-packed with even more firepower. It's as much of a strength as the defense could be a liability. As it stands, I think the Huskers drop their games against Michigan and Penn State.
This conceivably sets up The Game Part Deux for the conference title, but considering we're talking about modern day college football, I can't help but think someone trips the Wolverines up and Nebraska ends up back in Indianapolis because, why not?
Taylor Martinez is back for one more year. Photo: USA Today Sports
Q: Taylor Martinez looked to improve with his overall game a bit last season, especially passing the football. He also had some classic Taylor Martinez moments that would cost the Huskers, but any time he is on the field one thing is for sure; something fascinating could be about to happen. What can we expect to see from Martinez in the fall and how did his spring play out?
BC: His spring played out about how you'd expect. Taylor's a known commodity. During his short time in the Red-White game, he looked poised, crisp and confident.
He'll be working on and off with QB guru Steve Calhoun for the second year in a row. You're going to see Taylor Martinez as a senior. It's a simple answer, but that itself says a lot.
Expect his throwing motion to be better than ever, properly used within offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system, and ideally the opportunities for him to psych himself out are kept to a minimum.
Q: Nebraska tends to have a solid running game on a regular basis. This year the Huskers lose Rex Burkhead but with Martinez and Ameer Abdullah in the backfield, Nebraska’s running game should still be pretty stable. Agree or disagree, and who else should see some action running the football?
BC: Absolutely agree. Nebraska's running game should be intriguing to watch this fall, at least on paper.
You know about Abdullah. Unfortunately, due to Burkhead's injury last year, he received quite a bit of the spotlight. That was a mixed blessing, obviously. It robbed Rex, but gives Nebraska an experienced No. 1 back.
The unique aspect about the Huskers' current running game is that a defense is going to have to account for a total of six potential running threats near the line of scrimmage: Martinez, Abdullah, the fullback and one of three backs if in the diamond formation.
Expect Imani Cross, who looks like a ripped 32-year-old pro with some eligibility left, to see significant time again this season. The loss of both Braylon Heard and Aaron Green hurt as there are now two true freshmen behind Abdullah and Cross, but they're legit.
Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor are two of the best prospects from their respective states (California and Texas). Expect to see Newby skip a redshirt year.
Nebraska's defense was no match for Montee Ball and Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Photo: USA Today Sports
Q: Nebraska’s defense returns just four starters this year. Considering how the defense played last season, how much is this a deficit or a blessing in disguise for Nebraska in 2013?
BC: A slight blessing, but that won't help the unit overall. The defensive line's interior is still razor thin, and the line as a whole will still be tested every game. Expect very similar game plans by opponents from last season.
The good news is that the quality of the Huskers' linebacking corp increases dramatically. You're going to see speed and speed with a side of speed. There will be some second-guessing that leads to errors by the younger guys, but their raw athleticism will help cover some of that up.
Q: What is the biggest concern for Nebraska heading in to the summer and fall?
BC: The defense. Yup.
Q: Did Penn State get robbed (referring to the fumble on the goal line last season), or was it just pay back for 1982?
BC: That's a great question. As you can probably guess, I've joked about that as anyone who knows about Nebraska-Penn State back in the day likely has. Did Penn State get robbed? I honestly don't know. The only way for me to truly give you positive answer is if I was standing on the field.
I'll tell you this much: If that was a make up call from 1982, the football gods sure took their sweet time.
[Editor's note: Penn State fans are still waiting for justice from 1994. Carry on...]
Q: On a related topic, this spring we learned how the new Big Ten divisions will look starting in 2014. As a result, there will no longer be a protected crossover match-up between Penn State and Nebraska. From your point of view, how is Big Ten realignment going to impact the Huskers moving forward, either positively or negatively? Also, how have Nebraska fans viewed this protected crossover in what will be its short existence?
BC: Fans seem to be more interested in who's coming into the conference than the divisions. There's been some concern that Nebraska's suddenly back in the Big 12 North, but with parity scheduling and other variables that are unknowns at this point, any worry about that is unnecessary right now.
Will the split affect Nebraska at all? Somewhat, yes. They'll be playing Wisconsin every year and with Michigan heading to the East division, the game against the Badgers becomes the de facto B1G West championship game more often than not.
I'll spare you the Nebraska-Wisconsin day after Thanksgiving speech.
Penn State hosts Nebraska November 23, 2013.
Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces) is a contributing writer for SB Nation's Corn Nation (@CornNation).
Follow Nittany Lions Den on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.