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Steven M. Sipple: You waited patiently for NU's game week; 12 predictions are your reward

Steven M. Sipple: You waited patiently for NU's game week; 12 predictions are your reward

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We've never been so happy to present you with a hot batch of predictions. 

Nebraska's football season is finally upon us. 

Here you go: 

* 1. Adrian Martinez will win the starting quarterback job at Nebraska and have a season that more closely resembles his freshman campaign than his disappointing sophomore year. 

By all accounts, he's getting pushed hard by redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey every day in practice. McCaffrey looms as a legitimate threat to take the job. That makes a world of difference for the 21-game starter Martinez, the clear-cut top dog before last season. 

There's also this: Big Ten defenses (predictably) adjusted to Martinez last season. Now it's his and his coaches' turn to adjust. 

Interestingly, Nebraska's official news release Saturday to announce team captains stated that Martinez "returns to pilot the Husker attack." 

That was a slip. I don't think it's been decided.

Maybe we'll find out officially Monday, or maybe Nebraska coach Scott Frost will take it all the way to Saturday. 

Why not let Ohio State wonder?

* 2. Luke Reimer will easily exceed 50 tackles after making 11 last season as a true freshman walk-on. In fact, it wouldn't be all that surprising if the 6-foot-1, 220-pound inside linebacker finishes among the team's top five tacklers when all is said and done. Last season, the Huskers played a rotation of three inside backers, and all three (Mohamed Barry, Will Honas and Collin Miller) finished in the top five. 

Honas and Miller return. They're the veterans. But they're pushed daily by Reimer, a lightly recruited graduate of Lincoln North Star. He personifies the "diamond in the rough" recruiting story. His story is just beginning. 

* 3. Nebraska will improve its rush defense, mostly because it can't get much worse. I bring up this topic far too often — almost to the point of obsessiveness. Thing is, I don't think it gets talked about enough in this market. After all, the Huskers allowed 5.7 yards per carry in Big Ten games last season. It's a remarkable number considering the next worst was Rutgers, which allowed 4.9 per carry. 

Indiana allowed 4.4 yards per carry, basically in the middle of the league pack. Can't Nebraska's rush defense be as strong as Indiana's? Is that really too much to ask of the Blackshirts? If it is too much to ask, Nebraska will stay a long way from the top of the pack in the league standings. 

* 4. Northwestern will go from finishing 1-8 in the Big Ten last season to contending for first place in the West Division. Immediately after last year's disastrous season ended, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald told players, "This is never happening again." He hired Mike Bajakian from Boston College to lead the offense. Northwestern could benefit greatly if quarterback Peyton Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana, settles into Bajakian's offense. 

Nebraska fans are well-acquainted with Ramsey. He was 27-for-40 passing for 351 yards and two touchdowns in the Hoosiers' 38-31 win last season in Lincoln.

By the way, Northwestern's divisional crossover opponents are Maryland and Michigan State. You couldn't get a much better draw than that.

* 5. Sizzling hot take alert. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, 65, will retire at the end of the season. He endured a tumultuous summer, with several former Hawkeyes alleging racial inequities in the program. It's become apparent that it's no longer an option for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to succeed his father as head of the program. Would Bob Stoops be interested? 

Think what a boon that would be for the Big Ten. On the other hand, Nebraska fans might not want to think about it too much.

* 6. Iowa will win its sixth straight game against Nebraska. Yes, the streak has become humiliating for the Husker program and its fans. The good news? Nebraska will end a seven-game skid against Wisconsin. The Badgers' offense lost Jonathan Taylor, Quintez Cephus and center Tyler Biadasz to the NFL. What's more, starting quarterback Jack Coan is sidelined with a foot injury. Sure, Wisconsin's defense looks stout. But Nebraska has moved the ball well against the Badgers under Frost. 

Wisconsin's offense may need time to find any sort of groove this season. In that regard, Nebraska catching UW early in the schedule is a bonus.

Oh, you want a score? 

Nebraska 28, Wisconsin 24.

* 7. Nebraska running back Dedrick Mills reeled off 188 yards on 17 carries last season against Wisconsin. It was his best game in a 745-yard rushing season. He returns as the Huskers' clear-cut starter at the position. The hard-charging senior will run behind an experienced offensive line that just might be the team's best position group. The tight ends also are regarded highly.

So, the hot take: If Mills stays healthy, he'll crack the 1,000-yard barrier. Even in a nine-game season. 

Yes, he'll need at least a few games where he goes well over 100 yards. He's capable — watch the Wisconsin film from last year — and he's going to be a focal point of the offense, and the focal point of the running game. 

* 8. Hmmm. Let's see: Veteran running back, experienced offensive line, deep group of tight ends. Sounds like the makings of a Nebraska offense that could feature the run quite often. 

Nebraska ran the ball 53.4% of the time in 2018 (464 times out of 868 snaps). Last season, it was 544 out of 867 (62.2%). Of course, the final tally is affected by how games evolve. For instance: If the Huskers are always playing from behind, they'll throw more. 

That said, look for the percentage this season to be much closer to 62.2% than 53.4.

* 9. Speaking of tight ends, I'm betting that Rutgers transfer Travis Vokolek (6-6, 260) will be the difference-maker that so many people seem to be anticipating. Jack Stoll led Nebraska's tight ends last season with 25 catches. But Vokolek will lead the group this year with 30, and Stoll will have another good season. 

Take that, Iowa. 

* 10. Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held's sideburns will continue to flourish, giving him the appearance of some of the dudes I've seen playing in bands in the music clubs on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. 

Holy smokes, I miss those Big 12 trips to Texas.  

* 11. Penn State finished fourth in the Big Ten in average rushing yards per game last season behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska (yes, Nebraska). This year, though, the Nittany Lions will lead the league in rushing and that'll be the impetus to James Franklin's crew pushing the Buckeyes to the limit in the East Division, before falling short. 

Although Ohio State has won the last three games in the series with Penn State, the outcomes have been close. The Buckeyes don't appear to have close to the same level of firepower up front on defense as last season, but their explosive offense will be enough to overcome any efficiencies on "D."

So, Ohio State will edge Penn State 37-34 in Week 2, go on to finish 8-0 and then. …

* 12. Although Minnesota's offense, with a ton of returning talent, will be lead a charge to the West Division crown, the Gophers' defense will be no match whatsoever for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

Let's say: Ohio State 42, Minnesota 24.  

Let's hope for a minimum number of cancellations.

Let's thank our lucky stars we have football to discuss.

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