clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

B1G 2016 // The Nebraska Cornhuskers Cocktail Party Preview

New, 357 comments
Eric Francis/Getty Images

While it may seem like Nebraska was the second worst team in the Big Ten in 2016, they were not - in fact - all that bad. Despite a finish of 6-7, and a few soul crushing losses, Nebraska did play in a bowl that they won against a Power 5 school. So why are they the second team in our series? Simple. Sometimes writers have lives too.

That in mind, it is time for the Nebraska Cornhuskers Cocktail Party Preview where I plan to give you all of the knowledge - this time with more N - you need to impress that Big Red alumnus. Part of me wants to just throw up a giant whelp emoji and move on to the next story, but after failing to recap the 2015 season in post mortem AND failure to really write about anything regarding Nebraska football since before the bowl, the least I can do is help you get that promotion at the ag implement. Let's get to it...

About Last Season

The good news...

If we are being truthful, finding silver linings in the first year of the Mike Riley experience is a lesson in perspective. Despite seven years of 9 win seasons under Mr. Bo Pelini - he of faux followings, cats, potential anger issues, and snarling face - there was this need to compete. In comes Mike Riley, riding his shining bicycle from the quaint town of Corvallis. Things went... well, things went. The good news is that last season did not result in a complete disaster. Thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Pelini, the Cornhuskers were gifted a bowl berth in beautiful San Francisco (really, Santa Clara, but who cares about semantics).

In what looked like an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen against a Freshman phenom quarterback in Josh Rosen, Nebraska actually played really impressively and won going away more or less. Or, at least they did not let the season come off the rails like it had so many times before. Down the stretch, Nebraska played competitively with teams who were better than them, and even knocked off Michigan State - whose coach, Mike Dantonio, just cannot seem to crack the Nebraska code.

So, if you are keeping track at home, wins over Michigan State and UCLA, and finishing at least 6-7 with a bowl win are the pieces of good news for Nebraska. #GBR #FiveNationalChampionships #GreatestFans

The bad news...

Basically, this is a lesson in parallel thought. Nebraska could very easily have been a 9 win team, but just as easily have been a 4 win or dare I say 3 win team. The secondary last year was what we call a dumpster fire. The offense was something Orwellian in that we weren't sure if aliens had come down and replaced the decision making of our head coach or if he really had no idea how the playclock worked.

Add to that the fact that at various times there were miniature mutinies on our hands. From Alex Lewis playing the "us against the world" card and blowing kisses to the fan to the departure along the defensive line at the end of the season, you have to at least wonder if the transition to the 'nice guy' was not nearly as seamless as one could have hoped for.

Add to the woes were the types of losses. Late game meltdowns against Illinois and BYU. Whatever it is that happened when Ryker Fyfe was thrown into action against Purdue and proceeded to give Purdue the ball over and over, practically asking them to win. The Wisconsin nonsense. The Miami nonsense. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. For those of us who were hoping that we could build on the foundation that Pelini left were mistaken, but even more worrisome was the fact that our scholarship numbers were down significantly. Our 2-deeps were as barren as anyone in the West, and for a team with the consistent recruiting as Nebraska, that was problematic.

But hey, that all changes this next year. I promise...

On the offensive side of the ball

The good news...

Honestly, despite there being some less-than-wonderful playcalls at times last year, the Foster Farms Bowl had to at least give you some glimmers of hope. The QB position is manned by forever-starter Tommy Armstrong, Jr. Yes, he of multiple interceptions against, well, lots of people, but also he of talent and poise in the bowl game. He is gifted a receiving corp that will rival any in the Big Ten with studs Jordan Westerkamp, Stanley Morgan - a revelation at times last season, Alonzo Moore, Brandon Reilly, and incoming talent that has speed, length, and ups.

On top of that, if Nebraska can figure out how to mix the pass with the run, things could get really interesting in a hurry. Nebraska returns a deep stable of backs for 2016 with Terell Newby leading the charge again. Right on his heels are Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon. All three have the potential to batter you, burn you - sorta, and open up the field for Armstrong. Will OC Danny Langsdorf RTDB? Well, that remains to be seen. He loves the packaged plays, and perhaps as Tommy Armstrong gets it, everything comes into focus more. Still, those turnovers were  costly. Some things never change.

Sidenote: Cethan Carter is a beast of a Tight End. Also...

LOL, the announcers even mention MSU trying that play. It didn't work as well.

Go to 9:14 Spartan fans. Remember that moment.

The bad news...

RUN THE DAMN BALL DANNY BOY

But seriously, one of the key issues for this offense going into 2016 is the offensive line, which is more or less being completely retooled. New starters will dot everything, and while I wish I could tell you how that will work out, I gotta be honest, it's still a work in process. Nebraska has about as much star talent along the line as they do anywhere, so there is something to work with. We'll see if they gel together.

Also...

RUN. THE. DAMN. BALL.

(Disclaimer: I actually don't care how we offense so long as we don't give the ball away and we score points so... whatevs)

On the defensive side of the ball

The good news...

If you go to CFBStats, choose the Big Ten, and then look at rushing defense, Nebraska was weirdly impressive. Teams rushed for the second fewest yards against the Cornhuskers, and while the average yard per carry was more in the middle range, you have to at least consider that teams wanted to not run against this defensive front as much as they probably thought, "why not pass?"

That said, the defensive backs return and they did look lots better by the end of 2015. Nate Gerry will look to get an entire game played starting in 2016, and will lock down the safety spot. Josh Kalu and Chris Jones look to make some significant leaps in the quarters defense, and do not be surprised if True Freshman Marquel Dismuke pushes for time quickly. I have read that Avery Anderson has looked good too. Honestly, this group has to be better this year, right? We'll see.

Oh, and the Linebacker spot is not a disaster this year with Michael Rose-Ivery, Josh Banderas, and Mohammed Barry all returning. Add in talented Luke Gifford and Tyrin Ferguson who got playing time last year and this looks like a not-liability for two years in a row! So that's a plus. Really, that's about the best news I have to tell you people. I think the key for this year's success will probably be the fact that there are a lot of young, talented guys who might be really good. Look for Freedom Akinmoladum at DE to be a beast under new DLine coach John Parrella. I would also guess that the Carlos and Khalil Davis brothers might make some noise before too long. Otherwise, there's a lot of things to figure out.

The bad news...

All of that talent, but the fact still remains that this defense was sieve at times. The switch to quarters defense was always going to be difficult, but if Mark Banker cannot figure out how to stop wide receivers from sitting in clean holes in his zone, then it will be another rough year for Nebraska. He needs that talent up front to replace a departing defensive line, and if we're being honest, he probably still needs some more talent in the secondary. Gains have been made, but they need more than marginal improvement if they're going to improve on last year.

On Special Teams

The good news...

Nebraska returns its starting PK in Drew Brown who went 21/27 last season. He does not have the strongest leg, but he is getting much more consistent. At minimum, you at least have a chance with him every time, so that's good. The Cornhuskers also return Sam Foltz at Punter, he of fist team all-B1G, he of 44.2 yard punting average, and he of questionable tackling decisions. It's a great setup, honestly, and add in that we have our returning long snapper, I mean, we have a good setup.

Oh, and De'mornay Pierson-El should be healthy. Add him to a very talented group of returners including Stanley Morgan Jr., who is proving that kick returns are just as lethal as punt returns, and Nebraska is setup well here.

The bad news...

Seriously, while our Punt Return/Kickoff Return unit looked sketchy at times last year, I'm writing that off as DPE getting hurt and Jordan Stevenson not being ready for that role. No complaints here.

On the schedule

Sep. 3 Fresno State Bulldogs
Sep. 10 Wyoming Cowboys
Sep. 17 Oregon Ducks
Sep. 24 at Northwestern Wildcats
Oct. 1 Illinois Fighting Illini (HC)
Oct. 8 OFF
Oct. 15 at Indiana Hoosiers
Oct. 22 Purdue Boilermakers
Oct. 29 at Wisconsin Badgers
Nov. 5 at Ohio State Buckeyes
Nov. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Nov. 19 Maryland Terrapins
Nov. 25 at Iowa Hawkeyes

The good news...

As a whole, being in the Big Ten West means that your schedule doesn't look all that daunting. The crossovers include Indiana, Ohio State, and Maryland. That could have been a lot worse. I am going to go ahead and write off the Ohio State game as a loss, but Nebraska can at least play with - or play at home and therefore play with - almost everyone else on the schedule. I'm not predicting wins here, but if you can play with those teams, good things happen. This is not a terrible setup.

The bad news...

Let's stick with the fact that this year is good... Next year will be me basically saying the reverse of this in many ways.

If you're talking to a Nebraska fan

Do mention...

Five National Championships, volleyball, DPE, wide receivers in general, the fullback trap, punters, the beauty that is Sam Foltz, recruiting kids from California, Five National Championships, that one kid who will bring a sixth championship to Lincoln, walk-ons, beating Michigan State in basketball and football for no real apparent reason, Five National Championships, that time Nebraska wanted to be the Mankilling Mastodons, that nice guy Mike Riley, Five National Championships, when hail marys work, the fact that Pelini lost more than four games last year at Youngstown State, and FIVE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Don't mention...

Pretty much every game in 2015, Bo Pelini's cat, Lil Red, Iowa's inferior beef production, the fact that Indiana has a winning head-to-head record against the Cornhuskers, loud music in the stadium, what happens after you eat a runza, Nebraska's last outright conference championship, N for Nowledge, the AAU, and when hail mary's don't work so well.