2005 RECORD: 8-4 (4-4 in Big 12) RETURNING STARTERS: 16
MLB Corey McKeon (Jr.)
Top tackler on a defense that led the nation in sacks last year
CB Zackary Bowman (Sr.)
Shutdown corner broke up five passes in the Alamo Bowl
RB Cody Glenn (Soph.)
Short-yardage back was the talk of the spring in Lincoln
Big Man on Campus
Since last season, when he led Nebraska with 9 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles for loss, defensive end Adam Carriker has added 15 pounds to his 6'6" frame and now weighs 295. And the senior from Kennewick, Wash., still runs a 4.68 40. Carriker is poised to become the Cornhuskers' best defensive end since Grant Wistrom in the mid-1990s.
With a strong-armed senior QB and a pass-happy attack, the Huskers can end a five-year BCS drought
In the fall of 1994, Zac Taylor sat in the top row of Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., and watched as top-ranked Nebraska beat the Sooners 13-3. Taylor, who was 11 years old at the time, marveled at the Huskers' option running attack and the mammoth offensive line that mowed down everything in its path. An aspiring quarterback, he wished he had the speed to one day play for a national power. "I run like a 5.8 40, so I never thought Nebraska would be a place I could play," says Taylor, a native of Norman whose father, Sherwood, was a defensive back for Oklahoma from 1977 through '79, "but then Coach [Bill] Callahan came and changed the whole offense."
Callahan replaced Frank Solich in January 2004, installed the West Coast offense and in February '05 lured Taylor to Lincoln. Now, for the first time in five years, the Huskers enter the season as the favorite to win the Big 12 North. Sixteen starters return from a team that finished last year with a three-game winning streak, including upsets of Colorado (30-3) and No. 20 Michigan (32-28) in the Alamo Bowl. But the defining moment of Nebraska's season -- and of the Callahan era to date -- came at the start of that run, a 27-25 win over Kansas State on Nov. 12. That's when the pass-happy offense finally started clicking and, as Taylor puts it, "the light came on for everyone."
"Everything started to slow down for me against K-State," says Taylor, a 6'2", 210-pound senior who threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns that day before leaving the game with a concussion. "I finally felt like I had chemistry with my receivers."
Over those last three games Taylor completed 59% of his passes for 779 yards and seven touchdowns. Who needs foot speed to run the Nebraska offense? Taylor began his college career at Wake Forest (after redshirting in 2002, he served as the Demon Deacons' backup quarterback in 2003), then made a stop at Butler County (Kans.) Community College, where he passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns and caught the attention of Callahan. Now Taylor's right arm is the key to the Cornhuskers' season, and he'll be throwing to perhaps the most talented receiving corps in school history.
The two top wideouts from last year -- Nate Swift (45 receptions) and Terrence Nunn (43) -- have been joined by Maurice Purify, a 6'4" 210-pounder who was a junior college All-America at City College of San Francisco. "Maurice can be a difference-maker for us," says offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. "Zac's going to have a lot of weapons, and he's got the talent in his arm to make things happen. He can make throws that guys in the NFL can't."
Nebraska, which has not been to a BCS bowl since 2001, will find out quickly if it's ready to rejoin the national elite: On Sept. 16 the Huskers travel to Los Angeles to play USC. "It's taken some time," says Taylor, "but we feel like this is the year that we're going to bring Nebraska back to the top." -- Lars Anderson