One of a series
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ While arch-rival Oklahoma adjusts to probation and a new coach this season, Nebraska expects to remain on the steadiest course in college football.
With an NCAA-record 27 consecutive winning seasons, a nation-leading 20 straight bowl appearances and a 20-season streak of winning at least nine games, the Cornhuskers are almost as predictable as death and taxes.
Although Coach Tom Osborne lost a dozen starters from last year’s team that went 11-2, Nebraska is heavily favored to repeat as Big Eight champion.
″I think we found some players,″ Osborne said with characteristic understatement. ″How good we’ll be, I don’t know.″
Osborne says that before every season, and every season the Cornhuskers are very good.
After Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer resigned in June, Osborne became the winningest active coach in college football. In Osborne’s 16 seasons, Nebraska has won 158, lost 36 and tied twice, a winning percentage of 81.1.
With a soft schedule in 1989, Osborne’s percentage should improve.
Nebraska’s non-league schedule doesn’t include a Top Twenty team from last year. The toughest Big Eight opponents appear to be Oklahoma and Colorado, and the Cornhuskers beat those teams last season.
Still, Osborne is concerned about the loss of 11 All-Big Eight players from last year’s squad, including including All-American linebacker Broderick Thomas and quarterback Steve Taylor.
Based on his performance in spring practice, senior Gerry Gdowski is the front-runner to replace Taylor. Also battling for the starting job are sophomores Mickey Joseph and Mike Grant.
Gdowski runs the option well but lacks the strong throwing arm of Grant, who led last season’s unbeaten freshman team. Joseph, who is quick and elusive, is considered a smaller version of Taylor.
Regardless of who wins the quarterback job, the offensive load will be carried by a talented group of running backs led by senior Ken Clark.
Clark was fifth in the nation in rushing last year with 1,497 yards. His backups are sophomore Leodis Flowers and junior Terry Rodgers, son of 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers.
The top three fullbacks also return - seniors Bryan Carpenter and Sam Schmidt, and sophomore Lance Lewis.
Wingback also is a strong position for the Cornhuskers, with senior Richard Bell and sophomores Nate Turner and Brad Devall. Senior Morgan Gregory at split end and Monte Kratzenstein at tight end head a solid group of backup receivers.
Offensive line has long been one of Nebraska’s strengths, and this year should be no different.
All-American center Jake Young returns along with tackle Doug Glaser to provide leadership for players who saw plenty of action as backups last season.
Nebraska ranked seventh in the nation in total defense last fall, but only four starters return - tackle Kent Wells, linebackers Jeff Mills and Chris Caliendo, and safety Reggie Cooper.
The linebacking corps is so deep that Caliendo ended the spring as No. 2 on the weak side behind part-time 1988 starter Pat Tyrance.
Last year’s secondary ranked sixth-best in the nation against the pass, but assistant coach George Darlington says this year’s group could be even better.