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The Nebraska Cornhuskers 2017 Preview

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Your boss is a Nebraska fan? Yeah, you should probably pull up a seat and learn something.

Minnesota v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The pass never really had a chance.

You could debate the relative merits of throwing the football in the first place, but the game was still in question and before you knew it, the Nebraska Cornhuskers found themselves down 7-0 in the Shoe and, well, the rest was history. The Ohio State Buckeyes would build on that Damon Webb interception, and by the time the last gun sounded, the Huskers would walk dejectedly down that hallway and back to the away locker room as 62-3 losers.

Just one week earlier, Nebraska fought tooth and nail in Madison, and almost pulled off the impossible win. However, no matter what gains in momentum you saw there, they were all lost in Columbus that day. For a team that would be a little Dr. Jekyll, and a lot of Mr. Hyde, the worst of it reared its ugly head. Nebraska - despite its Top 10 ranking - was not back, and the climb to some form of prominence would wait one year more.

With 2016 in the rearview mirror, and the third year of the Mike Riley Experience on the horizon, it’s time to figure out what happened, where we’re going, and how you can talk about it to get through that insufferable party with your new boss from Nebraska. You know, the guy who came with the Berkshire acquisition and now is throwing a cash-bar cocktail party. Insurance... Maybe you should have changed professions... Wait, where were we? Uh, yes. I remember. It’s time for the 2017 Nebraska Cornhuskers Cocktail Party Preview.

About Last Year

Simply put, the Cornhuskers had about as good a year as one could have supposed all things considering. Coming off of a brutal 6-7 season in 2015, one couldn’t help but wonder which Nebraska would hit the ground running. Led by Sr. QB Tommy Armstrong and his merry band of WRs - highlighted by Jordan Westerkamp - Nebraska had continuity, if nothing else. Finishing 9-4 would have more or less been a win for anyone going in, but one can’t help but wonder if things weren’t quite as they seemed.

The First Half

Nebraska always had the potential for a great year. Starting off the year with Fresno State, Wyoming, and Oregon felt like a potential disaster, but running into a recently terrible Ducks team meant Nebraska could hit heights it hadn’t seen in a long time. Coming into a slate of Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road, the Cornhuskers took care of business and if they split one of those, the uneasiness out there in Husker Nation could have been assuaged.

The Second Half

Unfortunately, Nebraska would lose four of its last six games, with brutal losses to Ohio State, Iowa, and eventually Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Not only did Nebraska not make the Big Ten Championship game - which obviously means the did not win the division even - they fell flat time after time. When Tommy Armstrong got hurt in the Ohio State game, it felt like the offense was never the same. That’s probably not an ideal situation to find yourself in, and while he definitely tried, Ryker Fyfe was just not the answer. Needless to say, there are a lot of questions going into 2017.

About The Offense

So here’s the deal. Nebraska will start 2017 with a brand new QB, a Tulane transfer by the name of Tanner Lee. After a fairly spirited Spring battle between RS Freshman Patrick O’Brien and the aforementioned Lee, the elder transfer won the hearts of his teammates and his coaches and will go into the season as QB1. That’s a big deal as Nebraska hasn’t had a guy named Taylor Martinez or Tommy Armstrong start the season in a long time. The era of the dual threat QB is gone, and its time to see what Coach Mike Riley and OC Danny Langsdorf have in the hopper.

On top of the changes at QB, Nebraska will also be dealing with a myriad of changes at the WR and TE positions. Jordan Westerkamp - he of the mustache and ability to catch everything - is gone as is Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore. Add in the graduation of TEs Cethan Carter, Sam Cotton, and Trey Foster - albeit not a huge pass catching loss in Foster - and RB Terrell Newby and you have sort of a mess. If you’re the type that wants to know numbers, Nebraska graduated 62% of its receptions, 63% of its yards, and 67% of its TDs. So uh, not ideal.

Well surely the running game is setup better, right? Well, not exactly. Nebraska was not an imposing rushing force last year, but Armstrong and Newby were the ball carriers last year, and Nebraska will be replacing even more of its rushing than its receiving. Specifically, 69% of its rushing yards from last year, and 75% of its TDs. All up, Nebraska loses 68% of its scoring from 2016 and honestly, this section makes me sad.

Next man up, though, right? We will try to get into this more as the week progresses, but the WR Corp seems to have some really tantalizing players waiting to make their mark. Stanley Morgan showed flashes last season, stepping in when Westerkamp was hurt. On the other side, Demornay Pierson-El would like to catch lightning in a bottle and come back from the injuries that have derailed his career to this point. RS Freshman JD Spielman looks the part of an every down guy, and pushing all of them will be much heralded True Freshmen Tyjon Lindsey and Jaevon McQuitty. How fast they acclimate will be part of the answer.

As for the run game, expect a lot of Tre Bryant and Devine Ozigbo. Bryant showed his vision and feel for the game last season but had to come up to speed. Ozigbo will be the bruiser, and has the potential to push the pile when need be. On a final note, the OL has a great mix of talent and experience, and should hopefully give this offense a chance. Only time will tell how that all works out.

About the Defense

The biggest change in Nebraska football over the Spring was a switch to a new coach and a new scheme. Outgoing Defensive Coordinator, and longtime Mike Riley confidant, Mark Banker couldn’t quite maximize on the talent in Lincoln, and his 4-3 defense that relied on excellent ball coverage found itself beat time and time again against offensive machines.

That’s where Bob Diaco - he of Iowa, Notre Dame, and an ill-fated Connecticut job fame - comes in. Known as a 3-4 genius, and respected by many for his high energy approach to the game, Diaco has a lot to change and not much time to make it happen. With a team that was 11th in the Big Ten in sacks, 7th in scoring defense, and 9th in yards per play, it’s important that this team shows what it can do.

Luckily, there is actually a lot of interesting talent to play with, especially at the ever important LB position. Led by Seniors Marcus Newby and Chris Weber and Jr. Dedrick Young, the new alignment will need to make some noise if Nebraska does well this season. Behind them is a crop of talented players including fellow expected starter Alex Davis - a former DE - True Freshman Avery Roberts, Jr. Luke Gifford, and RS Freshman Pernell Jefferson.

Bottom line? That’s the position of importance. Nebraska will need them to anchor a seemingly iffy defensive line, and give the DBs some room to work. It’s worth noting that Nebraska looks good there with Chris Jones and Lamar Jackson backing up Safeties Aaron Williams and Josh Kalu, but like I keep saying, the scheme is difficult to predict.

About the Special Teams

The axe man Mike Riley also got rid of Special Teams coordinator - and longtime friend - Bruce Read. Chalk that up to fairly subpar efforts in a PR, KR, Kickoffs, Punts, and uh, well FGs were okay? Let’s just say that this was a longtime coming.

As for personnel, Nebraska did what it could last season trying to fill in for the tragic loss of Sam Foltz. True Freshman P Caleb Lightbourn did what he had to do and there were flashes of greatness. There was also the time he kicked a negative yard punt. I do expect to see him make huge strides this season. His counterpart, Drew Brown, has settled in as a pretty darn consistent Kicker. He went 38/38 in PATs and was 12/14 on FGs.

As for returns, it’s a coach-by-committee approach now, and we all hope that Demornay Pierson-El does his thing again. Right behind him will be JD Spielman who looks really good, and don’t look now, but True Freshman Tyjon Lindsey has the talent to make some people miss. I mean, it cannot possibly be worse than last year, so I’m excited for this area.

About the Schedule

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2017 Schedule

Date Opponent
Date Opponent
Sat, Sep 2 vs Arkansas State
Sat, Sep 9 @ Oregon
Sat, Sep 16 vs Northern IL
Sat, Sep 23 vs Rutgers
Fri, Sep 29 @ Illinois
Sat, Oct 7 vs Wisconsin
Sat, Oct 14 vs Ohio State
Sat, Oct 28 @ Purdue
Sat, Nov 4 vs Northwestern
Sat, Nov 11 @ Minnesota
Sat, Nov 18 @ Penn State
Fri, Nov 24 vs Iowa

When Talking to a Nebraska Fan...

Do mention:

All of those recruiting stars, Bob Diaco’s intensity, the upsides of the 3-4 defense, the greatness of Tanner Lee, the greatness of those 5 National Championships, Mike Riley’s ability to fire people, that time Nebraska beat Oregon, Runza

Don’t mention:

Bo Pelini, how bad Oregon really was last year, the potential awfulness of Tanner Lee, the need to move to the 3-4 because of missing defensive linemen, Keyshawn Jr.’s leave of absence, the recruiting misses, the last time Nebraska won a championship, what happens when you eat Runza