Idaho State v. Nebraska, 9.22.2012

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez (3) throws in the second quarter against Idaho State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

Fearless predictions you can bank on (with Monopoly money) as the Nebraska football team enters the morass that is the Big Ten:

1. Call it the evolution of Bo Pelini. Call it "Bo 2.0." Call it whatever you want. The fifth-year Nebraska coach is more pleasant in news conferences, calmer on the sideline, just calmer in general. And note that his new approach started long before his second-half hospitalization Sept. 15. No matter what happens the rest of the season, we won't see any storms that approach the intensity of the second-half uprising in the Capital One Bowl.

2. Nebraska junior quarterback Taylor Martinez will finish the season with a 66.2 percent completion rate, falling short of his goal of 70 percent. Even so, this year's rate will be exactly 10 percentage points higher than last year's. If every game were a home game, he would be in business -- he's 48-for-61 (78.7) in three games this season at Memorial Stadium.

3. "I tell our team all the time we get what we deserve," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after Saturday's loss to a weak Central Michigan team. Ferentz won't deserve a raise at season's end -- he makes $3.87 million annually -- because the Hawkeyes will finish 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the league. That means no bowl game for the first time since 2007. Yeah, it hasn't been all that long ago. The Orange Bowl triumph after the 2009 season seems ages ago. Who is Ferentz's agent, anyway?

4. Going out on a limb here: Nebraska senior running back Rex Burkhead will not average 17.0 yards per carry during Big Ten play, as he has in two nonconference games (11 carries for 187 yards). The 2011 All-Big Ten pick will finish the 12-game regular season with 899 rushing yards on 173 attempts (5.2 yards per rush) -- another excellent season despite his lingering knee issue. Ameer Abdullah will continue to take much of the load off Burkhead, as the sophomore will finish the regular season with 715 yards on 137 carries (5.2 yards per carry).

5. Nebraska junior guard Spencer Long will be named first-team All-Big Ten, which is stop-the-presses news around here. In the last dozen years, Ricky Henry (2010) and Toniu Fonoti (2001) are the only Huskers to be named all-conference by coaches. That's bizarre when you consider the crucial role the offensive line played in the construction of the program's glorious history.

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6. Iowa will be the only team in the Legends Division that will sit out the bowl season. Minnesota's defense and overall athleticism have improved significantly. The Gophers will finish 7-5, including 3-5 in league play -- starting with a triumph Saturday at Iowa (I'm not picking on the Hawkeyes, I swear).

7. During the UCLA game, it became clear Nebraska lacked dynamic athleticism in its front seven on defense. In search of a spark, coaches turned to senior Eric Martin. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Californian since has played a hybrid role, lining up at either linebacker or defensive end. He says he feels more explosive when he puts his hand on the ground as an end rusher. Martin already has 3 1/2 sacks. Look for him to finish the regular season with 11 1/2, the most since Ndamukong Suh recorded 12 in 2009. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, a stationary target, likely will get to know Martin rather well Saturday night.

8. Penn State's defense will set the tone for the Lions in most, if not all, games this season. But the offense is showing plenty of life behind fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin, who obviously fits well in new coach Bill O'Brien's system. Don't count out PSU in the wide-open Leaders Division. And if you're a Husker fan, prepare for a down-to-the-wire tussle Nov. 10 in Lincoln, the Lions barely coming up short.

9. At least one college program will put out a feeler to gauge whether Pelini is interested in taking over as head coach (it's an annual occurrence). One of the situations will become public, but Pelini will have absolutely no interest, and will make a terse public statement decrying irresponsible reporting.

10. Pretty much goes without saying that I'm exceptionally intelligent, but I even I won't venture to guess which Leaders Division team will reach the Big Ten title game. However, I have changed my tune on the Legends Division champ. No way I can predict Michigan State to win it -- not with that sad-sack offense. So, give the nod to Nebraska making it all the way back to gorgeous Pasadena, Calif.

I don't even want to think about a possible Rose Bowl opponent. No reason to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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