Spring practice is underway around most of the Big Ten, and we're taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We’re spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren't eligible.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are up next, and after losing several running backs to transfer, Big Red could need a big year from ...
Imani Cross, RB, sophomore, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds
Cross already is a familiar name to Nebraska fans, who watched him rush for 324 yards and seven touchdowns on 55 carries as a true freshman in 2012. The knee injury to Rex Burkhead moved all the other running backs up on the depth chart, and Cross saw the field often, especially in the red zone, where he used his size and strength. He once again will get plenty of field time this spring as a once-loaded group of Husker running backs has been reduced by the transfers of Aaron Green last spring and Braylon Heard this past winter. Projected starter Ameer Abdullah might miss the rest of the spring with a knee injury, so there's a big opportunity for Cross to showcase his game.
Abdullah rushed for 1,137 yards last season and should get the lion's share of the carries this season, but there's some concern whether the 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior can take the physical punishment Big Ten defenses deliver. Cross has more prototypical feature-back size, and showed he can be effective in short-yardage situations last season. If he capitalizes on his opportunity this spring and shows the coaches he can be a complete back, he could really push Abdullah in fall camp and potentially work himself into a co-starter role. Freshmen Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby arrive this summer, so it's important for Cross to separate himself with Abdullah as the team's top ball-carrying options.