As the Huskers enter the third year of the Pelini-era, there are high expectations for the season following a season with a Big XII North title, coming within a second of beating Texas in the Big XII Championship game, and a crushing defeat of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. Although the defense lost the once-in-a-generation dominating talent of Ndamukong Suh, the biggest question entering the season was whether the offense—a comedy of ineptitude and self-inflicted errors last year—could step up to the level needed to be a national title contender.
After yesterday's season-opening win over Western Kentucky, it appears that question has been answered with a qualified "yes". Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez electrified the crowd with 3 TDs and over 100 yards rushing, as well as a decent passing performance. "T-Magic" looks ready to live up to his hype; his first TD run of 46 yards during his first drive as the Husker QB brought back memories of the incomparable "Touchdown" Tommie Frazier. Sophomore running back Rex Burkhead looks ready to build on his solid freshman year, showing speed and shiftiness in several long runs and a TD of his own.
Of course, the qualification is that Western Kentucky is basically early season cannon fodder, scheduled to let the Huskers work out the kinks before facing better teams, while giving the home fans (and big donors) a victory to celebrate. The first real test comes in two weeks, when the Huskers travel to Washington to face a decent Pac-10 team with a QB, Jake Locker, who is being hyped as a Heisman Trophy candidate and surefire early NFL draft pick. I think the Huskers come out of that game with a win, as Washington is simply a pretty average team with an elite QB. The real test for the Huskers will come mid-season, when a three game stretch will test the Huskers—Texas at home, Oklahoma St. on the road, and Missouri at home. The Texas game will be a grudge rematch of last year's conference title game, with some conference realignment undertones in the background. Oklahoma St. has a ton of talent, and has built a competitive program (with the help of a few hundred million bucks from its sugar daddy, T. Boone Pickens). Missouri is the only other viable Big XII North contender, and is loaded on offense. How the Huskers come through that three-game stretch will define their season. Win all three, and a national title shot is possible (with the caveat that Texas A&M and presumably Oklahoma in the Big XII title game would remain as serious roadblocks). Lose one, and the Big XII title and a BCS bowl are still possible. Lose two or all three ... well, let's not contemplate that ugly scenario.
For now, all is sunshine and roses in Huskerland. Hopefully the Huskers fix the leaks in the defense before Washington. But for now, every Husker fan should raise a glass of champagne to T-Magic and T-Rex, potentially the Huskers' best dynamic duo since Tommie Frazier-Ahman Green, or even Turner Gill-Mike Rozier. Should be a fun team to watch this season!
The Huskers' five national championship trophies
(1971, 1972, 1994, 1995, 1997).