Nebraska will kick off the 2012 season with arguably their toughest opener in 10 years. Southern Miss, who went 12-2 in 2011 will come into Lincoln with the mindset they can beat the Big Red.
In fact the last time the Golden Eagles set foot in Memorial Stadium they beat the Huskers in 2004 and nearly beat them in 1999 as well.
As things get closer to kickoff, here are Saturday's keys to victory for Nebraska over Southern Miss, along with our HuskerOnline.com staff and guest predictions for this week. Once again both 1620 the Zone's Mike'l Severe and KETV Channel 7 Sports Director Andy Kendeigh will be our guest pickers for this season - last year Severe ran away with the HOL title, finishing 31-10 in his season picks. This week the Huskers open Saturday's game as a 19 point favorite over the Golden Eagles.
Get Burkhead going early
If Nebraska's offensive line can establish running back Rex Burkhead early in this game it's going to open up everything else this offense has to offer.
If Burkhead can bust off some big runs, it's going to allow offensive coordinator Tim Beck to play with faster tempo and throw more on early downs when the defense is off-balanced. I expect Southern Miss to be aggressive on defense, it will be important for Nebraska to take advantage of that.
Expose Southern Miss's youth at corner
The Golden Eagles lost several key faces off their 12 win team from a year ago. On defense, Southern Miss will be playing multiple defensive backs with very little game experience.
It will be important for NU's veteran wide receivers to take advantage of this and find holes in their coverage. The Southern Miss coaching staff has a lot of respect though for Nebraska's wide receivers and won't take them for granted.
Rattle the Golden Eagles quarterback
Southern Miss will play as many as three different quarterbacks on Saturday - none of which have taken a snap in a Division I game before.
I don't care who you are, any quarterback making their first ever start in Memorial Stadium is a potential recipe for disaster.
With that said I expect Southern Miss to be conservative early on offense and not put their inexperienced quarterbacks in tough situations. It will be important for NU to put them spots where they are forced to throw and potentially create some turnovers.
Counter speed with power
You know Southern Miss is going to have speed. In all reality they are going to have more speed than Nebraska. The way you counter that speed is with power.
Nebraska needs to go right at Southern Miss and hit them in the mouth. Don't let them use their sideline-to-sideline speed on defense to their advantage. Run between the tackles and make them play your game. With Burkhead running the football, that's what I fully expect to see today.
Establish early offensive tempo
I think it will be very important for Beck to get a good tempo going early with the offense. It's going to be very hot today, and if NU can snap off plays in a hurry Southern Miss should tire down pretty quickly on defense.
This style of offense can also backfire on you, especially if you get some quick three-and-outs and force your defense to play more snaps.
Callahan's weekly predictions
I expect Southern Miss to play Nebraska very tough for a half, but in the end NU's depth and strength up front will wear the Golden Eagles down. Look for the Huskers to really pull away in the second half and cover the 19 point spread.
Nebraska 41 Southern Miss 17
Ohio 23 Penn State 20
Clemson 37 Auburn 30
Alabama 27 Michigan 17
Season Record: 0-0 overall; 0-0 vs. points