The case for Nebraska is far from an open and shut affair. Between new coaches, both proven and unproven talent across the entire roster, and a schedule with lots of possible pitfalls, it's easy to see that variance should be expected. That said, there is also a lot to look forward to. Will the Mike Riley era be one that fans think fondly of, or is Nebraska sliding further and further into mediocrity. Let's make our closing arguments and find out.
I. Case History and Opening Statement
A. Case History
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, 2014 was an interesting year for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In another season with both nine wins and four losses, the University of Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst decided to make a change. Bo Pelini was fired last November, and with him goes consistency - both good and bad. That said, it would be perilous of us to assume that new coach Mike Riley cannot be successful, but you have to look at everything from roster development and current potential to Riley and his Merry Band of Coordinators and what they have done in the past. To say that history plays no part in what will happen in 2015 is probably not entirely fair either, but when you have a change like this, it definitely feels like what happened in 2014 plays not part in this year.
All that in mind, there are playmakers in all three phases of this team. Even with all-everything Demornay Pierson-El out for a few weeks with a foot injury, Nebraska looks to take advantage of talents like DT Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, S Nate Gerry, WR Jordan Westerkamp, and a stable of blue chip RBs ready to fill in for the now-Lion Ameer Abdullah. Nobody is saying this is going to be easy, but the possibilities still seem endless.
B. Opening Statement
From 1962-1997, Nebraska had two football coaches, 356 wins, five national championships, and countless conference trophies. In that span, Nebraska was a perennial bowl team, played for relevance each week, and gave way to the powerhouse title that the school still plays off to this day. That era helped build Memorial Stadium, give way to sellout streaks, created gargantuan facilities, and lined the hallways with relics that carry the weight of its history. That was the golden era of Nebraska football, and this school - and its fans - was fortunate to have carried that tradition on for such a long time.
Since 1997, Nebraska has had four coaches, 151 wins, no national championships, one conference championship - back in 1999, and has felt the disappointment of trying to get back to national relevance, only to remain on the very cusp of the collective sentiment. The last coach - Bo Pelini, he of cat and now Youngstown State fame - was ushered out of town for issues ranging from missed opportunities to *ahem* not quite getting along with people the way he should. It can easily be said that fans were impatient with the man who could do no worse than nine wins, but maybe the lack of years with less than four losses played its part.
Going forward, who is this team? Mike Riley - he of Oregon State, in-n-out, CFL, and failed San Diego Charger fame - has been brought in to figure that out. He brings an experienced bunch of coaches, along with some fresh faces who are ready to get these kids to run through a wall, and a sense that this will truly be his last hurrah. Can he bring Nebraska to relevance again? To do so, he will rely on QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. Despite fairly pedestrian numbers passing in 2014, Riley has tagged him as the leader of this team, and it will be up to him to decide if Pelini's run of 9 wins was as easy as many fans think it is. Armstrong will not have to do it by himself, however. Nebraska will go four deep with talent at the RB position with returning Junior Terrell Newby and returning Senior Imani Cross leading the charge. Pushing them for playing time will be a rising stars Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon, both who have impressed this summer. That crew, along with a deep WR roster, look to make the new Riley offense sing.
Defensively, Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker will look to make concepts more concise and simpler. The goal? Get players flying to the ball. The intent is to limit the black marks of /Wisconsin Scores Again, and move forward in an attacking, mean defense. Previously noted DT Maliek Collins looks to make a name in the star studded B1G, and he very well may. Despite this being a unit that was embarrassed time and time again, there are playmakers available. Banker's biggest problem is LB, though. Michael Rose-Ivey looks like he is ready to play, but will the rest of the unit join him? Rather, who will the rest of the unit be? This defense will have growing pains, but could very well be the strength of Nebraska by year's end.
You can see that there are obviously a lot of question marks, but in a B1G West that is about as wide open as any divisional race this year, there is also opportunity. Mike Riley had a mediocre record at a school where that all but guaranteed him the next year's contract. With better resources, players, and fan support, can he take Nebraska from a good record to a great one? The Husker faithful are hoping so, but we won't find out until they play the games. At the very least, know that this will be an interesting season for Nebraska. It will also be a prime opportunity to watch fan meltdowns.
C. Timeline of Events
A. What We've Written about Nebraska this Offseason
- The Nebraska Cocktail Party Preview
- Mike Riley and the New Nebraska Staff
- The Nebraska Potluck gets corny
- Pelini, Riley, and the decision to make a change
- Reviewing Nebraska's Alternate Uniform
- Nebraska goes in for a performance review
B. What We Can Learn from Pop Culture
First off, if you haven't watched Gravity Falls, you're missing out. I would argue it's one of the most entertaining shows on television right now, but there will be time for that (file that away as Power Poll foreshadowing). In the meantime, I would like to bring to the jury's attention the difficulty in bringing in a similar profile and hoping for more success. Prior to Mike Riley, Nebraska had gone three rounds of coaches who had never been a NCAA head coach. In many ways, it worked fine, but the ultimate end was that we were left about where we had started. As seen above, that is disastrous. Nebraska hopes that this year is not a copy of what had always been, but also that it's not a flaming disaster.
III. Emotional Plea
Sure, I could regale you all with stories of yesteryear, and I could get on my high horse and decree that a rising tide lifts all boats. However we all know that those stories do nothing to sway the emotional tide in Nebraska's direction. The relative circus act that has been the Nebraska Cornhusker coaching gig under Bo Pelini is gone, and while no one can deny he was successful, he was also difficult to root for at times. Some may call that fire, but when it comes down to it, there are many ways a person can get things done, and partitioning yourself away from everyone is probably not the most ideal outlet.
With Coach Pelini out, my call to action today is for you to support the Mike Riley era. One way or another, your school can appreciate what Nebraska is doing. It is hiring an adult to run its program and guide the Cornhuskers into its next phase of life. Sure, Riley is a competitor and ultimately wants to win, but he's also gracious and forthcoming, something we are all getting used to. Whether you support Nebraska because you want to see the Riley era explode in a veritable sea of red, or if you are truly a fan of Nebraska and have dreams of CFP appearances, I think we can all agree that this is, at least, an interesting year. A year of change, and - dare I say, one that we can believe in?
IV. The Verdict
As you can see below, the general consensus for Nebraska is eight or nine wins, as per the norm. The outliers are the goodfellow, Candystripes for Breakfast with his cheery 10-2, and the downer is the man from Minnesota WSR who sees this no better than a 7-5 team. Honestly, any of those options is in play. I guess a floor of 7-5 isn't all bad, right?
|Candystripes for Breakfast