Top 25 preview: Wyoming at Nebraska

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 8/31/13
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Nebraska leads 6-0

RANKINGS: Nebraska No. 18, Wyoming unranked

The Cornhuskers have won 27 straight season openers -- the nation's longest such winning streak -- and, while many aren't predicting greatness from the traditional power this season, the schedule could set up nicely. Wyoming can look high and low, but given its history of defensive struggles, slowing down quarterback Taylor Martinez and Nebraska will be difficult. The Cowboys entrust their own passer, Brett Smith, to dodge mistakes and do what he can to get move the ball with his throwing arm and legs.

Back in February, Bo Pelini lamented the fact he hadn't played more true freshmen in his five seasons as Nebraska's head coach.
"I've kicked myself for it. You live and learn," Pelini said during his signing day news conference. "You think back, you evaluate. Sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes, too."
It appears Pelini has done just that.
Fast forward to August, when during his first news conference of the 2013 season, Pelini rattled off the names of so many newcomers who will play that he wasn't certain he remembered them all.
True freshmen who will or could see playing time include defensive tackle Maliek Collins, defensive tackle Kevin Maurice, linebacker Nathan Gerry, linebacker Josh Banderas, tight end Cethan Carter, running back Terrell Newby and running back Adam Taylor.
A couple of junior college transfers, defensive end Randy Gregory and offensive tackle Matt Finnin, should also figure into the mix.
"You're gonna see some old faces, you're gonna see some new faces," Pelini said five days before Nebraska hosts Wyoming in the season opener for both teams. "There are a lot of guys that have come a long way and earned playing time. It's gonna be fun to watch."
Most of the newcomers are on defense, where Nebraska must replace seven starters while also building enough depth to keep pace with up-tempo offenses while not tiring.
"You'll probably see more guys playing than you've seen in the past," Pelini said. "It's a product of college football now. It's so fast, so the more guys available to you, the better you're going to be."
Nebraska returns the bulk of its offensive firepower and -- barring past issues with turnovers and penalties -- shouldn't have trouble moving the ball against a Wyoming defense that allowed 470 yards and 33.4 points per game last season.
All eyes will, however, be on a Nebraska defense that was shredded in its four losses last season. Wyoming junior quarterback Brett Smith led the Mountain West in passing efficiency last season and can make plays with his feet.
"He's poised and he has excellent feet," Pelini said. "He's a guy who is very elusive in the pocket and he's a very good player."
Nebraska hasn't lost a season-opening game since losing to Florida State in Lincoln in 1985. The 27 straight season-opening victories is the longest streak in the nation.

--DE Randy Gregory is expected to start at defensive end, opposite returning senior starter Jason Ankrah. Coaches made an emphasis early in fall camp to bring along the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Gregory, a junior college transfer, with a sense of urgency. Why? "Because he's good," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said flatly.
--WR Kenny Bell fell short of his goal of becoming Nebraska's first-ever player to have 1,000 receiving yards in one season, although his 863 yards ranked fourth on the school's single-season list. He enters his junior season as the top receiver on perhaps the Big Ten's most-vaunted wide receiving corps.
--S Andrew Green is a senior who's started 22 games in the Nebraska secondary, the most starts of any defensive player. But most of those came at cornerback, where Nebraska is overloaded with depth. That's why coaches asked Green to move to safety; they wanted an experienced presence at the position, which will feature mostly sophomores and freshmen.
--LB David Santos is only a sophomore but is considered the veteran of a linebacker corps that replaces all three starters. He'll start at middle linebacker and will be responsible for making calls and adjustments.

--QB Brett Smith hasn't thrown an interception in 174 consecutive pass attempts. Smith, who set out to be a star with his homestate Oregon Ducks, said Nebraska uses a brand of defense he doesn't see often.
"He's very poised," Pelini said. "... He's very elusive in the pocket and he buys time."

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