You know, given how 2016 went, the Huskers’ football season was not even close to being one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Ok, that’s a low enough bar that even Rutgers cleared it, but still. The Huskers had some great games and some bad games, some good luck and some back luck, some Tommy Armstrong and some Ryker Fyfe. The end result of all that...mixed-ness...is an unsurprising good-but-not-great record. Let’s look back and see how Nebraska got there.
Given that Mike Riley’s debut season saw the Huskers go 6-7 and incite a sharp uptick in anxiety symptoms in the Cornhusker State, his sophomore season was certainly an improvement. And, the Huskers didn’t lose to Purdue or Illinois, so you know, that was good. The season started out well for the Huskers—great actually. Maybe a little too great. The season opened with convincing wins over Fresno State and Wyoming, and then the Huskers surprised everyone with a 3-point win over Oregon.
Time would prove that this win was a lot less impressive than it seemed at the time, however, as Oregon
DSucks. But you know, win the games on the calendar. The Huskers then followed that with an improbable four game win streak: in the overgrown rough at Northwestern, against Illinois, staving off a comeback bid by Indiana, and revenging Purdue for last year’s diabolical Harbor. At this point, it was late October and Nebraska was 7-0 and ranked in the Top Ten, which, safe to say, zero people saw coming. More people saw what was coming next, which was a plummet back to earth at the hands of Wisconsin and Ohio State. After rebounding with a couple of M teams (Minnesota and Maryland), the Huskers finished the regular season with a disappointing performance at Iowa. This was good enough for the Music City Bowl, where a hobbled Husker team gave Tennessee a shot, but didn’t have the firepower to win, finishing the season at their favorite record, 9-4.
- Not being 5-7 at the end of the regular season!
- Reclaiming the NU from NW!
- Not losing 14-13 to Illinois!
- Not getting Harbored!
- Not getting destroyed by Wisconsin for once!
- Jordan Westerkamp!
- Michael Rose-Ivey’s passionate and thoughtful protest speech!
- Being in the Top Ten, even though the inevitable fall could be seen from Week 1!
- Ross Dzuris’ mustache!
- Coming one win closer to evening our all-time series with Indiana!
- Taking 2.5 free trips on the Good Ship Ryker Fyfe!
- Quality schadenfreude this season: NW and Iowa losing to FCS teams! OSU getting shut out in the playoffs after they were huge meanies to us and Maryland! Texas not even making a bowl game! Alabama losing the NC after once again being declared invincible!
- Losing to Wisconsin again, even though it wasn’t that bad of a game. :(
- Tommy Armstrong getting a scary hit at OSU and then a hamstring injury against Minnesota, causing him to miss the final home game and the bowl game. :(
- Watching our former head coach lead his FCS team to the national championship game in his second year on the job. :(
- Jordan Westerkamp not being able to play in the bowl game. :(
- The time our punter kicked a negative punt. (I almost put this in highlights, because it was really quite amazing.) :(
- Nate Gerry failing to pass Rocks for Jocks or whatever and missing the bowl game. :(
- Getting beat soundly by I-"lost-to-the-Bizon"-owa. :(
- Having to go to Ohio. :(
- What happened while in the state of Ohio. :( :( :(
Obviously, the Huskers suffered a loss that makes the rest of these look silly and trivial when all-everything punter and all-around good guy and Nebraska kid Sam Foltz was tragically killed in a car accident in late July. His death shocked Husker fans, and, no doubt, the team. The Huskers honored him on their first fourth down of the season by sending out ten men and taking a delay-of-game penalty, which Fresno State declined. The team carried out Foltz’s jersey every game, and many other teams contributed thoughtful and creative tributes to Foltz throughout the remainder of the season.
The theme of 2017 is... mystery. The Huskers have a lot of things that are going to look different when they take the field in 2017. Here are some of the biggest:
- Tommy Armgone: For the first time since midway through the 2013 season, someone not named Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be The Quarterback for the Huskers. Armstrong, the flawed but beloved and indefatigable leader of the team, started 44 games at Nebraska, the most ever by a Nebraska quarterback, and finishes with the most touchdowns by a quarterback in school history (91). Though jokes about "Tommy Two-Picks" and the like abounded, there is no doubt that Nebraska will miss him. Patrick O’Brien has plenty of hype, as do all QBs who have never played in college, but we just don’t know what he’ll be like. Tanner Lee, a transfer from Tulane, also stands poised to challenge for the starting QB job. He was, as my esteemed colleague Jesse Collins puts it: "...okay at Tulane." So, not a ringing endorsement, but that was awhile ago. Tulane is really bad, but that’s unlikely to be entirely Tanner Lee’s fault. It’s really anyone’s guess as to what next year holds at QB for Nebraska, but buckling up for a few bumps in the adjustment process seems a good idea.
- Lefterkamp: One of the most popular players in recent memory, Jordan Westerkamp was beloved by fans for his facial hair and improbable catches at critical moments:
He’s been a big part of the Husker offense, and will be sorely missed. Also departing the receiving corps is Brandon Reilly, best known for being forced out of bounds by an MSU defender, thus making his subsequent return to the field of play and touchdown catch for a huge upset in 2015, legal. Fortunately, the Huskers return De’Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan Jr., both of whom were solid contributors in 2016. Also helping the new QB, whoever he may be, is a returning pair of experienced RBs in sophomores Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon. However, the Huskers will miss the productive Terrell Newby.
- Bye, Bye, Banker: In a move that surprised many, Mike Riley chose not to renew Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker’s contract for next season. Riley and Banker had worked together for nearly 20 years, and while Nebraska’s defense wasn’t suffocating, it also wasn’t terrible (most of the time)... so the move was certainly a significant one. Riley announced Banker’s replacement a few days later: former UConn head coach Bob Diaco, whose HC career was brief and undistinguished, but who seems to be highly regarded as a defensive coordinator. He is also extremely good looking, but that’s neither here nor there, and it’s probably more important that he’s switching Nebraska to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Diaco has a history with the Big Ten/Big Ten country: he played football at Iowa (well, no one’s perfect), and coached at all of the Directional Michigans (Bingo!) and Notre Dame. The long and short of that means that the Huskers are going to look quite different both offensively (a whole new QB) and defensively (
a hot DCa whole new defensive scheme). This was the second big move by not-so-nice Mike this season, after he dismissed Special Teams Coordinator Bruce Read for being terrible following the end of the regular season.
What did you think of the 2016 Huskers? What are your expectations for the all-new Huskers in 2017? Will they thrive on a new look, or fail spectacularly? Or, will they go 9-4? Let us know in the comments!