Guenther: Football season is finally here

2013-08-29T01:00:00Z 2013-11-07T20:40:33Z Guenther: Football season is finally hereBy Dylan Guenther / dguenther@columbustelegram.com Columbus Telegram

You can stop watching those old games on ESPN Classic now, and you can finally delete those games still saved on your DVR from last fall.

Football is finally here.

After eight months of jonesing for this moment, Husker fans are only two days away from Nebraska's long-awaited season opener against Wyoming Saturday night in Lincoln.

After a roller-coaster ride of a season last year, there are high hopes for this Husker squad, at least on offense.

Nebraska has a fourth-year starting quarterback in Taylor Martinez, a running back who rushed for over 1,100 yards last year, one of the best wide receivers in school history and head coach Bo Pelini's most impressive offensive line, so the offense should be potent, or downright dominant if it can solve its turnover woes.

However, there will be eight new starters on defense, which is probably a good thing after last year's defensive woes. For what this year's defense will lack in experience, it will make up for with speed and athleticism.

With that said, I begin the year by providing five fresh faces and five bold predictions to kick off the season.

FIVE FRESH FACES

Nate Gerry – outside linebacker

One of the most impressive athletes to ever come out of South Dakota, Nate Gerry (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) was a steal for the Husker coaching staff. The freshman outside linebacker brings serious speed and athleticism to the table for the Blackshirts. Gerry won three gold medals at the state track meet as a senior and holds the South Dakota state record in the 100-meter dash at 10.28 seconds. To put that in perspective, Gerry would have blown away Kenzo Cotton, the sprinter from Papillion-La Vista who broke the Nebraska state record in the 100 in 10.41 seconds at the Nebraska State Meet in the spring. Gerry may step on the field as one of the fastest linebackers in the country.

Josh Banderas – middle linebacker

Speaking of fast linebackers, Banderas (6-2, 225) was no slouch on the track himself. As a junior, Banderas won the Class A gold medal in the 110 hurdles for Lincoln Southwest. Banderas trained over the summer with Gerry, and the two freshmen look to work heavily into the rotation at linebacker. The U.S. Army All-American looks the part of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker and will serve as the backup to starter David Santos in the middle.

Randy Gregory – defensive end

Ever since Ndamukong Suh left Nebraska, the Huskers have been in search of that difference-maker up front. They may have just found it in junior college defensive end Randy Gregory. The 6-6, 255-pound sophomore was rated as the top junior college defensive end, and he didn't even play his sophomore season due to a broken leg. Since fully recovering from the injury, Gregory has arrived in great shape, according to Pelini. For a team that lost its only pass-rusher in Eric Martin from a year ago, Gregory will be looked upon early and often to get after the opposing team's quarterback.

Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson – safety

While obviously two players, I'm lumping Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson together for this one. The pair of junior safeties have been buried on the depth chart behind more experienced players for two seasons and are poised to fill the two vacant spots at safety on this Nebraska defense. Both were four-star recruits in 2010 and have been impressive on the scout team and in back-up roles. Cooper has played all over the field in his two years, ranging from safety to corner to nickel back. After questionable play at the safety spots the past two years, look for this duo to limit the big play and make some big plays of their own.

Terrell Newby – running back

And you thought the Husker offense was already loaded at the skill positions. Despite the duo of Abdullah and Imani Cross at running back, Terrell Newby will see the field – Husker coaches have already said he will play. He figures to factor heavily into returning punts and kicks as well as some work in the backfield. The 5-10, 185-pound speedster amassed over 2,000 yards in both his junior and senior seasons in California and turned down offers from Oregon and UCLA to join the Huskers. As a senior, Newby was unstoppable, rushing for 2,305 yards and 45 touchdowns, including 360 yards and eight touchdowns in the state title game. Long story short, Newby is too explosive to not get on the field.

FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS

The quest for a grand

It's been well documented that Nebraska has never had a 1,000-yard receiver, but that will change this year in a big way. Not only will junior Kenny Bell eclipse the 1,000 yard mark and lead the team in receiving, senior Quincy Enunwa will get more looks than ever before. The 6-2, 225-pound wideout will join Bell in the 1,000 yard club.

Abdullah breaks out

Running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago and should get even more opportunities with the ball in his hands this season. I expect the junior to surpass 1,500 yards on the ground with at least 13 touchdowns.

One-loss regular season

Nebraska has its softest schedule in years, and the Huskers should capitalize on it by nearly running the table. While most predict the Huskers to stumble against UCLA or at Michigan, I see the Huskers taking a 10-0 record into Happy Valley to play Penn State, but watch out for the Nittany Lions, led by the reigning coach of the year Bill O'Brien. Nebraska may get caught overlooking this sanction-stricken squad.

Defensive improvement

After four non-conference home games to start the season, Nebraska's young defense will take its lumps, but with the athleticism on that side of the ball, I don't see them being a liability when conference games begin.

T-Magic 2.0

Taylor Martinez holds 37 school records and looks to add to his accolades. The fourth-year starter will finally eclipse 3,000 yards passing while still rushing for 1,000 yards. Look for Martinez to earn an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Dylan Guenther is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Contact him at dguenther@columbustelegram.com with questions, comments and story ideas. Or follow the Telegram Sports Staff on Twitter at CTelegramSports.

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