Published Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 10:05 pm
BIG TEN HUSKER YEAR IN REVIEW
Husker men: Building on ups, dealing with downs

From football to track to baseball, the Husker men's teams made strides — but also hit some rough patches in 2012-13.

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Football

Big Ten regular season: First in Legends Division (then lost 70-31 to Wisconsin in Big Ten championship game)
Preseason prediction: After being the consensus favorite to win the Legends Division in 2011, Nebraska was picked third last season (behind Michigan and Michigan State). The Huskers also were No. 17 in the preseason Associated Press poll.
How it played out: It was a strange trip to 10-4, including 7-1 in the Big Ten regular season, as Nebraska seemed to ride the wave of inconsistency for a second consecutive season. The Huskers never got higher than No. 14 in the AP poll, spent three weeks outside of the rankings and settled for No. 25 after their third straight bowl loss. NU did recover from a 63-38 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6 to win six straight to finish the regular season, but only one of those came against a ranked opponent (23-9 vs. No. 20 Michigan). The postseason then was marred by losses to unranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and No. 7 Georgia in the Capital One Bowl (45-31).
Success or struggle: There were highs thanks to a prolific offense and its knack for comebacks, and there were lows because of a porous defense that was often outmanned. Taylor Martinez led the Huskers back from second-half deficits of 27-10 vs. Wisconsin, 28-16 at Northwestern, 24-14 at Michigan State and 20-6 vs. Penn State. But the quarterback also had costly turnovers against the Buckeyes and Badgers (in Big Ten title game) that helped push the snowball down the mountain with the Husker defense ill-equipped to stop it. The last two regular-season wins weren't pretty over Minnesota (38-14) and Iowa (13-7), but they secured the first division title since Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
Standout/star: Martinez broke the Huskers' single-season record for total offense, completing his junior year with 2,871 passing yards and 1,019 rushing. He will head into his senior season already holding the school record for career total offense. Martinez also was voted All-Big Ten by the league's coaches as he completed a career-high 62 percent of his passes and posted his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
Season high: Don't underestimate the depth of the hole facing the Huskers, and the intensity of the pressure on coach Bo Pelini, had Nebraska lost at Northwestern and dropped to 4-3 overall last Oct. 20. Instead, NU rallied for two scores in the final six minutes to win 29-28 in front of a throng of red at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. That started the six-game winning streak, the Huskers' longest in a season since 2001.
Season low: All the good will that Nebraska had built during the previous six weeks disappeared in the ugly 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The unranked Badgers were losers of four regular-season conference games, and they were at Lucas Oil Stadium only because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. They proceeded to score touchdowns on nine of their first 11 offensive possessions and also returned an interception for another score. The final damage was 640 total yards and 10.7 per play, leaving the Huskers without a bid to a BCS bowl for the 11th straight year.
Trending: Hard to tell. You might say up if you point to the return of Martinez and the many weapons that Nebraska will feature offensively. You might be skeptical until you see the Husker defense repaired and distanced from the meltdowns of the past two seasons (eight games of allowing 30-plus points and a 1-7 record in those matchups). It's just hard to see the Huskers in anything but neutral, however, until they solve their current run of failures in the postseason under Pelini — three straight bowl losses, three straight league championship game losses. But Pelini has delivered nine or more wins in five consecutive seasons, so there remains hope that the next step isn't that far off.
— Rich Kaipust


Men's track and field

Big Ten indoor meet: Fourth
Big Ten outdoor meet: First
Preseason prediction: Nebraska traditionally invests more money and recruits more aggressively than any other Big Ten program. Thus, the Huskers are perennially a favorite.
How it played out: After a disappointing indoor season filled with injuries and missed opportunities, Nebraska dominated the Big Ten outdoor meet for its first league title. At the NCAA outdoor meet, NU had three All-Americans: discus thrower Chad Wright, hurdler Miles Ukaoma and long jumper Janis Leitis. Wright, from Jamaica, continued the Huskers' legacy of strong throwing performances. Nebraska finished 15th overall. In the indoor meet, the Husker men finished 32nd.
Success or struggle: By the end of the year, when the Huskers' 400-meter relay team was among the nation's best, the season rounded the corner into a success. The indoor season didn't meet coach Gary Pepin's expectations, and he said so after a fourth-place finish at the Big Ten indoor meet.
Standout/star: Wright won the Big Ten outdoor shot put title and finished second at the NCAAs in the discus — his top event — one year after winning the national crown. Though Wright was second, he threw a career best of 209 feet, 1 inch in Eugene, Ore., showing he had peaked at the right time. NU's 400-meter relay team won the Big Ten outdoor title, while the 1,600-meter relay team won the indoor crown. Leitis, a one-year athlete from Latvia and 2012 Olympian, provided a boost in the 1,600 relay and the long jump.
Season high: Winning the Big Ten outdoor title was a validation the Husker men had wanted for nearly two years.
Season low: Finishing fourth in the Big Ten indoor meet fell far below Nebraska's expectations. The Huskers considered themselves favorites to win.
Trending: Slightly up. Look for the relay teams to keep improving. Sprints, too. Wright returns for one more year, so he's worth points at the Big Ten and national meets. The progress Wright has made as a shot-putter makes him a rare dual-threat thrower. NU needs more out of its distance runners, high jumpers and pole vaulters.
— Sam McKewon


Baseball

Big Ten regular season: Tied for second
Big Ten tournament: Runner-up
Preseason prediction: The Huskers wanted to reach an NCAA regional for the first time since 2008. And with a rigorous nonconference schedule, building at-large credentials would be tough. Still, the Huskers had enough talent to compete for a Big Ten title and make a conference tournament run to earn the league's automatic NCAA bid.
How it played out: Not by design early on — Nebraska lost its first seven games, the program's worst start since 1942. The Huskers never made it back over .500. But they managed to stay in contention for the Big Ten's regular-season crown. In the conference tournament, they won three straight elimination games but ended the year with a loss to Indiana in the championship game.
Success or struggle: Struggle. Nebraska spent far too long waiting on an offense to click while also searching for reliable arms. And just when the Huskers would display their potential, they'd falter back to inconsistency.
Standout/star: Senior Chad Christensen, who started every game in left field on his way to an All-Big Ten first-team season. He led the team in batting (.364) and runs scored (45), while ranking second in RBIs (39). The former shortstop looked surprisingly comfortable in the outfield, too, finishing with eight assists and no errors.
Season high: A doubleheader sweep of Arkansas on April 16 at Haymarket Park. The day began with a combined no-hitter and ended with a dramatic eighth-inning rally to clinch the nightcap.
Season low: With a shot at a conference title still on the line, Nebraska collapsed on Senior Day. Michigan won 19-9, scoring more runs and recording more hits (23) than any NU opponent in five years.
Trending: Up, but just slightly. The Big Ten tournament run was an encouraging sign, but the Huskers were in that must-win situation because of their up-and-down performances all year. Their weekend rotation appears to be intact, which would be a first after two years of uncertainty on the mound for coach Darin Erstad. Half of the offensive production is gone, though, and NU will have to rely heavily on its recruiting class to replace those departed veterans.
— Jon Nyatawa


Wrestling

Big Ten regular season: Tied for sixth
Big Ten meet: Seventh
Preseason prediction: The young Huskers — just four seniors — were expected to compete in the Big Ten, but not win what might be the toughest league in any sport.
How it played out: Nebraska finished seventh in the conference tournament as 149-pounder Jake Sueflohn and 157-pounder James Green reached title matches. At the NCAA championships, NU was 13th with 174-pounder Robert Kokesh finishing third. Penn State won the national title, and three more Big Ten teams finished in the top six.
Success or struggle: Nebraska had a little bit of both. NU beat No. 5 Illinois in a dual, but lost to Maryland and Wisconsin, too. The Huskers weren't always healthy, which affected the lineup.
Standout/star: Kokesh, Sueflohn, Green and 184-pounder Josh Ihnen paced the program, finishing with 38-4, 24-7, 25-6 and 27-8 records, respectively. Only Ihnen used up his eligibility. Kokesh led the way with 63 dual points. He'll be a favorite for the national title.
Season high: An 18-15 upset of No. 5 Illinois at home showed that, when the Huskers wrestle their best, they're a top-10 team.
Season low: NU wasn't particularly competitive in dual losses at Penn State and Iowa, but not many teams are.
Trending: Upward. Nebraska returns the core of its squad and adds a recruit, Destin McCauley, who won five state titles in Minnesota and nearly made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. It might be, top to bottom, coach Mark Manning's most talented team. But now the Huskers have to finish in the big meets, as they did when Jordan Burroughs wrestled for the team.
— Sam McKewon


Men's basketball

Big Ten regular season: 10th
Big Ten tournament: Defeated Purdue 57-55, lost to Ohio State 71-50
Preseason prediction: The Huskers were picked last, and it wasn't close. They were cellar-dwellers on 23 of 24 ballots (the other went to Illinois). With a coaching change and eight scholarship players available, little was expected.
How it played out: In many ways, Nebraska was one of the league's positive surprises. The Huskers finished 10th instead of the predicted 12th, claimed five league wins and picked up a rare victory in a conference tournament game.
Success or struggle: There was some of both. Nonconference wins against Valparaiso, Tulane, Wake Forest and USC were hardly a given. Winning a conference road game (Penn State) was a plus. But the Huskers lost nine games by between 15 and 31 points, an indicator of the big gap in talent and depth.
Standout/star: Senior Dylan Talley, playing under a new head coach for the sixth time in five years, moved from wing to point guard and carried the Huskers most of the season. His averages of 13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists were impressive but don't do justice to all he meant to this team.
Season high: Rallying from a 19-point deficit in the first half Feb. 23 to defeat Iowa 64-60. That upset knocked the Hawkeyes out of NCAA tournament contention.
Season low: The five-game losing streak to start the Big Ten season. Though they weren't all blowouts, those setbacks showed how far Nebraska has to go to become competitive, much less victorious.
Trending: Up. Seven new players are set to join the active roster, which will make the Huskers far more athletic though inexperienced. And all seats are sold at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena, showing fans have bought into second-year coach Tim Miles' enthusiasm and sales pitch. But the NCAA tournament drought has reached 15 seasons.
— Lee Barfknecht


Men's tennis

Big Ten regular season: 10th
Trending: The Huskers finished the season on a seven-match skid, a disappointing end to a year in which NU cracked the top 40. With only two seniors leaving and three recruits coming — including a North Florida transfer — Nebraska should be stronger in 2014.


Men's golf

Big Ten tournament: Ninth
Trending: Three of the top five NU golfers from the Big Ten championships return, and redshirt freshman twins Aaron and Nathan Wong should help the cause next year. After finishing last at the Big Ten tournament in 2012, Nebraska seems back on more solid ground.


Men's gymnastics

Big Ten meet: Seventh (out of seven)
Trending: The Huskers had two seniors on a team that spent most of the season inside the top 10, so a push for the Big Ten and national crowns isn't out of the question next season. NU has to improve on the pommel horse, which hurt the team's score at the Big Ten championships.


Cross Country

Men's Big Ten meet: 11th (out of 11)
Women's Big Ten meet: 12th
Trending: These freshman-laden teams took their licks last year. They'll get better, but Nebraska has lacked a superior cross country runner since David Adams graduated two seasons ago. The men have twice finished last in the Big Ten meet.

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