Forgive Kansas State senior David Allen if he lacks the proper schooling when it comes to Nebraska football lore. Despite his status as the NCAA's reigning punt return king, Allen admits that before last year he wasn't exactly well-versed on the subject of Johnny Rodgers, the Cornhuskers legend whose prodigious play and dramatic flair three decades ago made him the Picasso of the punt return. "I can honestly say I didn't even know who Johnny Rodgers was," Allen says.
That situation was rectified last November in Lincoln when the former king introduced himself to the current one before the annual border war. "He said he was fine with me breaking his record," recalls Allen, whose seven career punt returns for touchdowns tie him with Rodgers and Oklahoma's Jack Mitchell for the NCAA record. "But he did let me know he hoped it wouldn't happen in his backyard."
Rodgers needn't have worried. Nebraska kept Allen out of the end zone en route to a 41-15 pasting of K-State. Says senior quarterback Jonathan Beasley about this year's matchup, "I'm just glad we'll be walking out seeing purple instead of red."
Whether Beasley will be under center again when Big Red invades Manhattan this November is another story. Redshirt freshman quarterback Ell Roberson drew rave reviews this spring and has narrowed the gap. Whichever player ends up with the nod will have the security of throwing to the Big 12's best receiving duo—senior Quincy Morgan and junior Aaron Lockett. He'll also have Allen as the No. 1 tailback. "Most people just see me as a return man," says Allen, who needs 172 yards in punt returns to break the career record of 1,695 yards, set by Vanderbilt's Lee Nalley from 1947 to '49. "It's my year to prove I can be a return guy and an every-down back."
The defense isn't as sure a thing. Despite retaining seven starters from the nation's second-ranked unit, K-State must replace its top three defensive players from last season.
K-State has an early-season schedule that's softer than George Foreman's midsection, which means its BCS prospects likely hinge on an upset of neighbors to the north. "With the people we have," says Allen, "we can beat anybody in the country."
If he's right, Allen won't be the only one in Manhattan this season experiencing many happy returns.