LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 17: Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers tries to slip past Garret Gilliland #53 of the Washington Huskies during their game at Memorial Stadium September 17, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska won 51-38. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Nebraska hasn't played as well as Husker fans have wanted through the first half of the 2011 season, but the Huskers only loss has come against a top-five ranked team on the road. Granted, it wasn't pretty, but consider the circumstances coming into the season:
Nebraska has joined a new conference, playing new teams, some of which they haven't played in decades. The coaching staff includes a new offensive coordinator who brought in a new offensive philosophy and a new defensive secondary coach who's had to replace some exceptional talent in his first season.
Speaking of youth, step back and look at this team for a minute. You've got three newcomers at running back (Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, Ameer Abdullah), two playing prominently at the wide receiver positions (Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner), and three on the offensive line (Tyler Moore, Spencer Long, and Seung Hoon Choi), and that's only the offense.
All things considered, I'd say this team is in a pretty good position. If they can continue to progress for the rest of the season and catch some breaks, they should make the Big Ten title game.
On to some mid-season awards!
Offensive Player of The Year
Andy K: Rex Burkhead - Not as many yards or flash as Martinez, but no backbreaking turnovers. Is the heart & soul - both on and off the field - of an offense that's showing flashes of an identity for the 1st time in years.
Mike: Yoshi Hardrick. If you are looking for skill players, Burkhead's your easy pick. But without the offensive line getting it's act together, it wouldn't be happening.
Jon: Burkhead is the easy pick and Andy has it right - heart and soul. Not only a great football player, but a wonderful representative for the university. On top of that, he's sexy.
Defensive Player of the Year
AK: Lavonte David - See above, same heart & soul story. May be the smartest and most instinctive Blackshirt to ever lace them up. Two years is going to go by way too fast.
Mike: Cameron Meredith - David certainly gets the vote from the Ohio State game, but I don't think he was playing at that same level earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Meredith has been a beast at times, tormenting quarterbacks.
Jon: Interesting pick, Mike, especially since fans appear to be less than happy with the play of the defensive line this season. Lavonte David has twice the number of tackles for loss than the next defensive player and he's second in sacks with two behind Meredith's three. Both have an interception.
I have to break a tie here, I think I'll go with Meredith, if for no other reason than to boost the recognition for the defensive line - better than you think they've been and the hope that they get better as the season goes on.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year
AK: Quincy Enunwa - Not only is he making clutch grabs, but he is leaving a trail of bodies behind his open-field stiff arms and crushing blocks. When your fellow wide receivers just start stammering incoherently about your physical play in post-game pressers? My friend, you are getting it done.
Mike: Tyler Moore - When you knock a senior starter out of the lineup as a true freshman, you have to be doing something good. And like with Hardrick, without the offensive line exerting it's will on opposing defenses, the offense wouldn't be anywhere.
Jon: We can't let this go without mentioning Ameer Abdullah. While he's only had 14 carries for 70 yards as a running back, any guy who sets a school record for kickoff return yardage in only his third collegiate game is worth of some recognition. Abdullah is third nationally in kickoff return average, and has lead Nebraska as a team to the same ranking. He leads the team in all-purpose yardage with 816 yards.
Then there's Jamal Turner, whom at mid-season is Nebraska's leading receiver. Although he has yet to score a touchdown, he's been dynamic as a true freshman and certainly is one to watch for the rest of the season.
Turner vs Abdullah - I'd go with Abdullah early, but we'll see what happens the rest of the season.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year
AK: Daimion Stafford - in a landslide. Seriously, there's not even a contender for the runner-up spot.
Mike: Stafford at mid-season. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Stanley Jean-Baptiste will get the nod at the end of the season.
Jon: I hate unanimous votes, but Andy is right, it has to be Daimion Stafford. Stafford is the second-leading tackling (behind David) at mid-season with 44 total tackles. He's been a bright spot in a secondary that's been playing, ah, suspect football so far.