LINCOLN, Neb. – Ameer Abdullah has the third-most rushing attempts in the nation and has touched the ball on one-third of Nebraska's plays from scrimmage.
And Abdullah wants to continue with the heavy workload.
"I feel better in week No. 4 than I have in previous seasons," Abdullah said.
That's good for the 21st-ranked Cornhuskers (4-0) and bad for Illinois (3-1), which visits Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Abdullah ran for 229 yards on a career-high 35 carries in last Saturday's 41-31 victory against Miami. "And looked good with the 35th snap just like he did the first snap," Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said.
The more carries Abdullah gets, the more exposure he stands to receive. And Nebraska is promoting Abdullah noticeably more for postseason awards than it did for its previous standouts.
The athletic department has launched a "Fear Ameer" website chronicling Abdullah's achievements. In a nod to Abdullah's No. 8 and his initials, voters for college football awards received an eight-pack of AA batteries. The red-and-white packet features a picture of Abdullah and says, "Powering Nebraska football since 2011."
"It's definitely a blessing because I remember high school and seeing Ndamukong Suh and just wondering why he wasn't promoted when he should have been. I feel like he should have been the first defensive player to win the Heisman," Abdullah said. "For them to push me as well as they have up to this point just shows that they care about me as a person more than just a football player. They want to see me do well."
Only Pittsburgh's James Conner (109) and Boise State's Jay Ajayi (98) have more rushing attempts than Abdullah's 92.
His average of 156.3 yards a game is second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally. Abdullah will overtake 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier as Nebraska's career rushing leader if he maintains his pace.
Coach Bo Pelini said Abdullah merits strong consideration for the Heisman Trophy.
"Anybody who pays attention I'm sure has him in the top five," Pelini said. "You've got to not be paying attention and not watching to not recognize the type of year he's having so far. That's my opinion. I'm a little biased maybe."
Some things to watch as Illinois and Nebraska open Big Ten play:
SLOW STARTERS: Illinois' offense has had a combined 12 of its 16 three-and-outs in the first half of its games. Last week against Texas State, after Josh Ferguson went 75 yards for a touchdown on Illinois' first play from scrimmage, the Illini punted after three plays on their next four possessions.
"We're either really good or really bad," offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. "Sometimes you attribute that to young kids, sometimes it's just the nature of what the (other team's doing). It's just one big mental game for three hours."
The Illini will be going against a Nebraska defense that's given up touchdowns on its first series in three of the first four games.
WATCH OUT, WES: The game features one of the Big Ten's best defensive fronts against one of the league's worst offensive lines. If Nebraska star end Randy Gregory isn't in pass coverage, look for him in the Illini backfield chasing Wes Lunt. Illinois has allowed nine sacks, including six by Washington two weeks ago. Gregory, fellow end Greg McMullen and tackle Vincent Valentine have combined for 6 1/2 of the Huskers' eight sacks.
FOCUS ON FERGUSON: Nebraska's biggest defensive challenge might be keeping Ferguson under control. Ferguson ran for 114 yards and had 82 yards in receptions in last year's game in Lincoln, and he's coming off a career-best 190 yards rushing against Texas State last week.
HAPPY RETURN: With a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown last week, V'Angelo Bentley became the second player in Illinois history to return a kick, punt and interception for a TD in his career. The only other player to do it: Harold "Red" Grange.
RED ON RED: Nebraska will wear all-red alternate uniforms. The "Red Rising" uniforms feature black metallic stripes on the jersey and pants, black and silver metallic numbers and a large "N'' on the chest. The Huskers wore all-black uniforms against UCLA last year.
Associated Press Writer David Mercer in Champaign, Illinois, contributed to this report.