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July 9, 2010

An early look at the Big Ten: Northwestern

The Northwestern Wildcats

Location: Evanston, Ill.
Distance from Lincoln: 528 miles

Best way to get there: The drive from Lincoln to Evanston takes a little less than nine hours, so flying is probably the easier option. Chicago's O'Hare Airport is only a 30-minute drive to Ryan Field, and United and American airlines offer numerous daily flights from Omaha.

Offensive scheme: Pro Set
Defensive scheme: 4-3

Rivals.com past recruiting rankings: No. 77 (2010), No. 58 (2009), No. 73 (2008) and No. 53 (2007).

The Wildcats have 10 commitments for 2011, including eight three-stars and one two-star recruit.

Northwestern's history against Nebraska

Nebraska and Northwestern have crossed paths just three times since their first meeting in 1902, and the Huskers hold a 3-1 all-time series lead. Their only meeting after 1974 came in Nebraska's 66-17 blowout win in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, where the No. 8 Huskers rushed for 476 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back Dan Alexander stole the show in the victory, as he finished with an Alamo Bowl record 240 yards on 20 carries with two scores against the No. 19 Wildcats.

Why this game could be a potential rivalry

There's not a lot of history between the two teams, but with the way their last meeting in the Alamo Bowl went down, there's surely some hard feelings lingering for Northwestern. Along with completely dominating the Wildcats on both sides of the ball, former Nebraska center Dominic Raiola made sure to add one last parting shot after the game. "These guys were disrespecting us all week," Raiola said. "They showed us no respect, and we came out here tonight to show them that the Big 12 is a dominant conference. We wanted to shove it down their throats, and that's what we did. They tried to keep up with us, but they couldn't. I don't think they deserve to be Big Ten champions. I have no respect for them." Surely those comments haven't been completely forgotten by Wildcat fans, even 10 years after the fact.

Stars to watch for in 2011

Whenever you play a position called the Superback, chances are you're pretty good. That's the case for junior Drake Dunsmore, who is considered one of the best returning players in the Big Ten at his hybrid tight end/receiver position. Dunsmore ranked third on the team in receptions (47) last year as a sophomore, and there's no telling how good he's going to get by the time Nebraska faces him in 2011.

Quarterback Dan Persa will take over NU's offense, but he'll have some big shoes to fill in replacing Mike Kafka, who's off playing in the NFL now. Persa's performance will go a long way in determining how Northwestern stacks up in the Big Ten the next two years.

The Wildcats also feature one of the better young linebacking corps in the Big Ten that boasts just two seniors and 10 freshmen and sophomores this season. Leading the way in 2011 will be Ben Johnson and Bryce McNaul, who will be seniors with plenty of experience on their resume when Nebraska joins the conference.

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