Before changing conferences, Nebraska would like to leave with one more Big 12 title -- and perhaps a national one as well.
Eighth-ranked Nebraska opens its final season as a member of the conference Saturday night against overmatched Western Kentucky, which will try to snap a 20-game skid in Willie Taggart's coaching debut.
Nebraska is already off to a good start as it concludes nearly 80 straight years in the Big Eight and Big 12 prior to joining the Big Ten next July. The Cornhuskers have their highest ranking since 2003 and are expected to win the Big 12 North outright.
Coach Bo Pelini, though, downplays the hype.
"I don't concern myself with polls or anything else. We're going to get what we earn this fall," said Pelini, who's gone 20-8 in his first two seasons to make the Cornhuskers relevant again after four lackluster years under Bill Callahan.
Nebraska will be looking for its sixth national championship and first since 1997. While Pelini has hinted about who will start at quarterback, he's yet to reveal who it is.
Zac Lee completed nearly 59 percent of his passes last season for 2,143 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But he's coming off elbow surgery and is being pushed by redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green.
The running game is anchored by Roy Helu Jr., who overcame a shoulder problem last season to run for 1,147 yards and 10 touchdowns. Niles Paul also returns after leading the team with 796 receiving yards.
Nebraska will be looking to improve an offense that was 99th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 323 yards and 75th with 25 points per game last season.
"Hopefully, we score a lot more," said receiver Mike McNeill, who tied Paul for the team lead with four TD catches in 2009. "I think we can be a little more dynamic."
The Cornhuskers' defense is probably thinking the same thing, even with Heisman Trophy finalist Ndamukong Suh now in the NFL. Seven starters return from a unit that led the nation in fewest points allowed, including junior tackle Jared Crick (9 1/2 sacks) and senior cornerback Prince Amukamara (five interceptions).
"We have big shoes to fill," linebacker Will Compton said. "But the way our defense handles things and the trust we have in our coaches, we believe we'll still get the job done."
Pelini admitted not knowing much about a Western Kentucky team that was 0-12 to join Eastern Michigan as the only winless FBS teams last year.
"I'm not real familiar with their personnel yet," he said. "We're kind of doing some homework."
Still, Nebraska almost certainly will extend the nation's longest winning streak in season openers to 25.
At 33, Taggart is the youngest coach in the FBS as he returns to the school that retired his jersey after he starred at quarterback in the late 1990s.
He'll undoubtedly face many challenges, first being how to win from the sidelines instead of on the field.
The Hilltoppers' last victory was a 50-9 rout of Murray State in 2008. Though they've been outscored by a greater than 2-to-1 margin since, the last three defeats have come by a total of 13 points.
A breakthrough victory could come this season, but probably not this weekend. Nebraska has held its last eight opponents to 20 points or less, including four in single digits. Western Kentucky has dropped 26 of its last 27 to FBS opponents and is 0-6 against ranked teams since 2004.
Taggart, though, likes the progress he's seen thus far.
"I can honestly say we've gotten better as a football team. I really like where our guys are at right now," he said. "Guys have really bought in to what I've been talking about when it comes to having energy and juice."
Sophomore Kawaun Jakes will start at quarterback over junior Matt Pelesasa, who's been struggling with a sore arm. Jakes passed for 1,516 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games -- eight starts -- last year.
Top 25 Overview
It's the last hurrah for Nebraska in the Big 12. But first the Cornhuskers open the season with Western Kentucky. Nebraska owns the nation's longest winning streak in season openers at 25. The Hilltoppers will try to snap a 20-game skid in Willie Taggart's coaching debut.