Ranking the Five Best Moments in the Nebraska-Miami Rivalry

DSC00358

photo and story by Patrick Runge

For most fans of a certain age, the Nebraska-Miami rivalry holds a very special place in history. Nebraska helped put Miami on the national stage with the Hurricanes’ amazing 31-30 victory in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Nebraska’s humblings at the hands of Miami in Orange Bowls of 1989 (23-3) and 1992 (22-0) led Tom Osborne to a wholesale change in his recruiting and defensive schemes. And that, as a result, led to Osborne’s first national championship—fittingly, against Miami in the Orange Bowl—in 1994.

Overall, Miami and Nebraska have split, playing each other ten times with each team winning five. So in looking back through history, here are the five best moments (from a scarlet and cream perspective) of the Nebraska-Miami rivalry.

No. 5: A First Bowl Victory

Nebraska’s first two bowl trips ended in defeat, to Stanford in the 1941 Rose Bowl and to Duke in the 1955 Orange Bowl. Nebraska would not get another bowl invite until 1962, when NU headed to Yankee Stadium to face Miami in the Gotham Bowl.

Played in sub-zero temperatures before a meager crowd, the 1962 Gotham Bowl was an amazing contest, with Nebraska taking a 36-27 lead in the fourth quarter, holding off a Miami rally, and sealing its first bowl win with a Bob Brown interception.

No. 4: The Fumblerooski

Nebraska was losing to upstart Miami 17-0 in the 1984 Orange Bowl, and needed a spark to turn the game around.  So the trick play was called where quarterback Turner Gill put the ball on the ground, making it a live ball, and ran off to the right.

It was then picked up by guard Dean Steinkuhler who, while the defense followed Gill to the right, ran left and rumbled into the end zone. The touchdown sparked Nebraska’s comeback, which was thwarted only by a deflected two-point conversion.

But the play, now outlawed, became a permanent part of Nebraska lore.

No. 3: Cory Schlesinger’s Second Touchdown

Most of the best Nebraska moments from this rivalry will come from Nebraska’s 24-17 win in 1994, so picking one moment from that game is tricky. But Nebraska fans should remember that Miami led most of this contest, going up 10-0 in the first quarter, leading 10-7 at the half, and leading 17-9 going into the fourth quarter.

Nebraska tied the game with 7:38 remaining on a Schlesinger trap play and a two-point conversion. But remember, college football didn’t embrace overtime until 1996—and we all remember what a tie in the Orange Bowl meant for Nebraska in years past.

So it was Schlesinger’s second touchdown, with 2:46 left to play (and with Schlesinger’s cleat firmly implanted in Warren Sapp’s chest as he rumbled into the end zone) that sealed the win and the shiny crystal football for Nebraska.

No. 2: Ken Calhoun’s Deflection

This may not be the happiest moment in Nebraska history, but it is likely the most iconic. In 1984, Nebraska was considered the best team in college football, and needed to knock off an upstart Miami team to get the monkey off Tom Osborne’s back and win a national title. The “Scoring Explosion” of Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, and Irving Fryar was ready to stake its claim to glory.

The game didn’t quite turn out according to script, though. Miami took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and led Nebraska 31-17 going into the fourth. Nebraska scored on a one-yard Jeff Smith run to get within seven, and Smith scored again with under a minute to play.

31-30. An extra point would give Nebraska a tie, and almost certainly a vote as national champion.

Osborne would have none of a tie though, sending his offense back on to the field for a two-point conversion and the win. Gill took the snap, rolled to his right, and threw the ball to Smith. But Miami safety Ken Calhoun got a finger on the pass, tipping it away, and establishing the Hurricanes as a force in college football for the next decade.

How that decision looks in retrospect is, without question, changed by the three national titles Osborne won in the mid-nineties. But there can be no doubt that the courage of the decision, and the result, helped to define Osborne’s legacy.

No. 1: Kareem Moss’ Interception

Be honest. If you’re talking best moments of the rivalry, Kareem Moss’ interception of a wobbly Frank Costa pass on fourth down, clinching a win in the 1994 Orange Bowl and securing Tom Osborne’s first national title is the moment.

If you’re a Nebraska fan, and you’re old enough, you remember with vivid clarity that moment. The moment when the Miami dragon had finally been slain in its own lair. The moment where all those doubts, all those questions, all those near-misses were put away. The moment where, finally, you got to witness the scarlet and cream raise the national championship trophy, reaching the pinnacle of glory in college football.

At that moment, you had no idea that the next three years would see two more shiny crystal footballs on their way to the trophy cabinet in Lincoln. And it didn’t matter. On that warm Miami night, and on the cold streets at 72nd and Dodge in Omaha where ecstatic fans gathered to celebrate, the Cornhuskers could finally—finally—stand astride the college football world in triumph.

And there’s no better moment than that.

Will the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ Soft Non-Conference Schedule Come Back To Haunt Them?

DSC08920

photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska’s non-conference schedule for 2014 has worked out to be a little softer than first anticipated. Yes, Florida Atlantic and McNeese State aren’t going to impress anyone (although Nebraska’s struggles with the Cowboys on Saturday certainly put a damper on fans’ excitement for the balance of the season). Fresno State was 11-2 last year, but is currently sitting at 0-2 having been outscored by an aggregate 111-40 this year. Miami is a marquee name on a schedule, of course. But after the Hurricanes were outmatched by Louisville on the opening week of the season it doesn’t appear that Miami will be adding schedule strength to Nebraska’s resume for the selection committee.

So if we accept the premise that Nebraska’s non-conference schedule this year is pretty soft, what effect will it have on NU going forward?

Could it keep Nebraska out of the Playoff?

It’s possible.

There’s two scenarios where Nebraska could be a playoff contender. The first is if Nebraska runs the table and goes 13-0 with a win in the Big Ten Championship. In that circumstance, the only way Nebraska gets shunted out of the Playoff is if there are three undefeated conference champions with better schedules.

How’s that work? Well, check out the College Football Playoff’s selection protocol. The stated purpose of the committee is to select the “four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.” The criteria for making those selections are purposefully loose, but there is one area where the criteria do provide some specifics.

“Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and championships won must be specifically applied as tie-breakers between teams that look similar.” (emphasis added)

What does that mean? Well, we’re not entirely sure until we see it in action. But more than likely, it means that a 13-0 champion of the B1G would get a playoff berth over, say, an 11-1 Big 12 champion or a 12-1 ACC champion. The undefeated season in a Power Five conference should put a team like Nebraska on a different level than a team with one loss, meaning the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker should not come into play.

Now, if Nebraska is 12-1 and B1G champions, the calculus is very different. In that circumstance, Nebraska could be jostling elbows with a number of one-loss teams for a playoff spot. If we assume that the SEC and Pac-12 champions will get playoff berths (given the strength of their conferences), then we have two spots left in the inaugural field.

In that scenario, Nebraska would be fighting with the champions of the other Power Five conferences, the ACC and the Big 12. If either of those champions are undefeated (say, Florida State and Oklahoma), Nebraska’s out. And Nebraska would likely lose out to a one-loss Florida State or a one-loss Oklahoma in that scenario, given the relative strength of schedule as a tiebreaker.

And a 12-1 Nebraska would also have to contend with a one-loss SEC team that didn’t win the conference title. Let’s say LSU goes undefeated and loses to Georgia in the SEC title game. We could be looking at a musical chairs game of four teams for two spots, between an 11-1 Oklahoma Big 12 champion, a 12-1 Florida State ACC champion, a 12-1 LSU that did not win a championship, and a 12-1 Nebraska B1G champion.

Picking between those first three would not be an enviable task for the two remaining spots. But eliminating Nebraska from that conversation would be pretty simple.

Could it keep Nebraska out of a New Year’s Six bowl?

Probably not, but cannot predict now.

In addition to the four-team Playoff field, the selection committee will be deciding the participants for the “New Year’s Six” bowl games (the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, Peach, and Cotton Bowls). Two of those four bowls each year will be the Playoff semi-finals, and the participants for the other four will be chosen by the committee.

Different rules apply, though, for New Year’s Six bowl selection. Many have conference ties (unless the conference-tied bowl is a semi-final). But for the bowl slots without conference ties, it will be the selection committee and not the bowl representatives in their brightly-colored blazers picking the teams.

However, the criteria for selecting bowl teams is different than for selecting the Playoff participants. Instead, the committee will be picking from the “displaced conference champions” (meaning conference champions without a bowl tie in, like when the B1G champion can’t go to the Rose Bowl because it is a semi-final) and the highest ranked “non-contract conference champion” (meaning a non-Power Five conference champion) to fill the non-mandatory slots. The selection committee will fill the at-large berths in “rank order” from the final selection committee rankings. So how would this affect Nebraska?

Well, if Nebraska wins the B1G but gets squeezed out of the Playoff, it is still guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl as a conference champion. The only way Nebraska’s strength of schedule could hurt its chances as a New Year’s Six bowl is if it doesn’t win the conference and is positioning for an at-large berth. In that circumstance, Nebraska would have to rank high enough to warrant one of those at-large bids—and Nebraska’s soft non-conference schedule could be a drag on its ranking, making it harder to land one of those berths.

Could it hurt Nebraska in the conference season?

Probably not.

There’s a cliché about steel sharpening steel which could have Nebraska fans worried. It is possible that a cushy non-conference schedule could make Nebraska fat and lazy, and unready for a challenge from a truly talented opponent.

In some ways, then, the near-miss to McNeese State might have been a good thing. Had Nebraska rolled through its non-conference, then overconfidence could have been a problem in preparation for games like Michigan State and Wisconsin.

But after Nebraska needed an “Ameer-acle” to knock of an FCS opponent in Lincoln, no one in scarlet and cream should be overconfident. Ever, or at the very least for the rest of this season.

Nebraska Football: What You Should And Shouldn’t Be Concerned About After Week 2

DSC08915

photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans got a huge scare in Week 2 against FCS opponent McNeese State. The Cornhuskers were tied with the Cowboys 24-24, with 20 seconds left and the FCS squad having all the momentum, before Ameer Abdullah took a check-down pass from Tommy Armstrong, made five tacklers miss, and ran 58 yards for the winning touchdown.

Predictably, Nebraska fans were in varying stages of panic after the near-miss to a second tier team.

But with the benefit of a little time to reflect, let’s think about what Nebraska fans should—and should not—worry about as a result of this “win.”

Don’t Be Concerned About Nebraska’s Physical Play

There’s no doubt Nebraska’s contest against McNeese State was a strange sight to behold. Nebraska dominated its FCS opponent in the first half, with the score remaining close only because of a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. Some second half adjustments, and Nebraska’s superior talent and depth should win out, right?

Right?

Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the second half was truly the more frightening. The Cowboys had 19:56 time of possession in the second half, as opposed to Nebraska’s 10:04. Nebraska was 1/7 on third down conversions. Prior to the “Ameeracle” play where Abdullah went 58 yards for the game-winning touchdown (yeah, I’m willing to go with the building meme), Nebraska had run 23 plays in the second half.

For 52 yards. Which is an average of 2.26 yards per carry. Against an FCS opponent.

As Brandon Vogel from Hail Varsity observed, it appeared that “Nebraska’s offensive line appeared to get handled by an FCS front.” And given the statistics above, it’s hard not to come to that conclusion.

So is that true? Was McNeese State’s line really physically stronger and able to push Nebraska’s line around?

Clearly not. If that was the case, then there’s no way Nebraska could have averaged 7.37 yards per play in the first half. Nor could Nebraska have averaged 8.52 yards per play against Florida Atlantic last week, an FBS program (although, admittedly, probably an inferior team to McNeese State).

So, if the problem isn’t physical, what is it?

Be Concerned About Nebraska’s Mental State

Sure, there were some Xs and Os reasons as to why McNeese State was able to be successful against Nebraska. The Cowboys stuffed the box, daring Nebraska to throw, and Nebraska never challenged that single coverage. Abdullah only had 17 carries, meaning McNeese State was able to scheme Nebraska away from its best offensive weapon.

But that alone doesn’t explain the near-upset. And given how Nebraska performed earlier, it’s almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that Nebraska wasn’t right mentally against the Cowboys.

Abdullah said it himself, as quoted on Huskers.com.

“I feel like our level of respect for the game this week was not good enough.  It definitely showed.  That’s on me as a captain.  I have to assist that as the week goes on, but I was reluctant to say something, and I promise that it is the last time that will happen.”

So there’s your answer in black and white. Nebraska didn’t “respect the game” enough during the week, meaning that NU’s preparation for an FCS opponent wasn’t sufficient. Couple that with injuries to key contributors like Randy Gregory, Kenny Bell, and Jamal Turner,  and quarterback Tommy Armstrong getting tentative after the pick-six, and you get an anemic performance that almost led to the biggest upset in Nebraska’s modern history.

Does that mean Nebraska fans shouldn’t worry? In the short term, perhaps. Nebraska under head coach Bo Pelini has a history of bouncing back and performing well after a sub-par showing. Even with the travel and the strange start time (9:30 p.m. central time), Fresno State is nowhere near the 11-2 BCS-buster of a year ago. A committed performance from Nebraska should be more than enough to take care of business next week.

But for the rest of the season? When Nebraska yet again falls prey to mental lapses causing the team to under-perform, as it has done throughout Pelini’s tenure? We got the answer to that question from senior cornerback Josh Mitchell, as reported by Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star.

“I see 9-4 all over again.”

Ranking the 5 Most Important Seniors on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2014

DSC08817

photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know how important seniors are to the success of the Cornhuskers in 2014. Not only do seniors provide the leadership that sets the tone on the field and in the weight room, seniors also tend to be the players that make the plays to win games.

So for Nebraska to be successful in 2014, NU’s seniors will have to shine. Here, in order of importance, are Nebraska’s five most critical seniors.

No. 5: Zaire Anderson

Nebraska’s linebacker corps is full of youth, much of it untested. Middle linebacker Josh Banderas got playing time last year as a true freshman, but is now in the position due to a season-ending injury to Michael Rose. Courtney Love, Marcus Newby, and other young linebackers will help provide depth to the position.

But it is Anderson, a senior who arrived in Lincoln as a junior-college transfer, who can provide leadership as a starter to Nebraska’s linebacker corps. Anderson has not been able to avoid the injury bug during his Nebraska career, but if he is able to stay off the training table he could be massively important for the Blackshirts.

No. 4: Mark Pelini

Never underestimate the importance of a center to an offense. While Nebraska is starting four new offensive linemen, and having flashy stars like Alex Lewis to watch, it’s Pelini’s senior leadership directing the line and making the necessary calls to keep drives clicking.

In other words, if you’re going to have just one senior on the offensive line, having him at center is a pretty good way to go.

No. 3: Kenny Bell

“The Fro” has been a fixture for Nebraska’s offense since he arrived in Lincoln. But as a senior, Bell will be leading Nebraska’s wide receiver corps. And as Nebraska’s primary threat to stretch the field, combined with a quarterback in Tommy Armstrong who particularly excels at throwing the deep pass, Bell could become even a bigger part of NU’s offense than he has been in seasons past.

No. 2: Josh Mitchell

Mitchell isn’t the tallest Blackshirt, nor is he the fastest, nor is he the hardest hitter. But Mitchell is without question the vocal and spiritual leader of Nebraska’s defense. And his pugnacious attitude, as much as his cover skills and his tackling ability, will help drive the Blackshirts in 2014.

No. 1: Ameer Abdullah

What more can be said about the spiritual and physical leader of the 2014 Cornhuskers? Particularly with the injury to defensive end Randy Gregory, Abdullah is unquestionably the best player on the team. And his leadership off the field, as best demonstrated by this speech Abdullah gave at Big Ten Media Days, sets the kind of hard-working and selfless tone head coach Bo Pelini wants to see.

Nebraska Football: Grading The Performance Of Each New Starter

DSC08732

photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans got to see their Cornhuskers get off to a good start, beating Florida Atlantic 55-7 in Lincoln. In that game, a number of starters got their first chance to shine under the spotlight. Here’s how they graded out.

Offensive Line

Alex Lewis, LT: A+

Jake Cotton, LG: A+

Mike Moudy, RG: A

Givens Price, RT: A

With 498 yards of total offense, it’s clear that the offensive line had a good day. Watching the game, you could see that the left side of the offensive line (led by Lewis) was getting a stronger push and imposing its will more than the right side. But that’s all a question of degree, as both sides of the line were as imposing as a Nebraska offensive line has been in quite some time.

Receivers

Alonzo Moore, WR: C

Making the starting lineup amidst a jumble of receivers was quite an accomplishment for Moore. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to cash in on the stat sheet after the game. Moore was targeted in the red zone and would have scored, had Tommy Armstrong’s pass been on target, which does increase his grade slightly.

Defensive Line

Greg McMullen: A+

Vincent Valentine: A

Yes, the loss of Randy Gregory was frightening for Nebraska fans. But the emergence of McMullen, at least for this game, as a nearly unstoppable force on the other end of the defensive line was an exciting thing to see. Both in the backfield and, at times, dropping into coverage. McMullen was the defensive standout of the game.

And Valentine, while playing in a less glamourous but no less important hole, was stout up the middle, and was able to get into the backfield at times and disrupt the Owls’ offense.

Linebackers

Josh Banderas, middle “Mike” linebacker: A-

Zaire Anderson, weak-side “Will” linebacker: A

Florida Atlantic’s first defensive series saw the Owls drive right down the field, 75 yards, to tie the score at seven. After than, FAU only gained 125 of total yards—and much of that was late in the fourth quarter when the result was well in hand.

While the defense as a whole performed well, which is a good sign for the middle linebacker who helps direct everything, Banderas did not have a stellar individual day. He had no individual tackles, and three assists, making for 1.5 total tackles on the day. Anderson, on the other hand, was effective in coverage and disruptive in the backfield.

Defensive Backs

Nathan Gerry, S: A

Daniel Davie, CB: A

Byerson Cockrell, NICKEL: A

Davie was a surprise start, with many (including this dope) thinking that Jonathan Rose would end up winning the starting cornerback position. But Davie came up with a great game, as did Gerry who was all over the field making plays. Cockrell fitted in well at NICKEL, both in run support and pass coverage, making the sting of Charles Jackson’s injury a little less painful.

Specialists:

Drew Brown, PK: B+

Brown got the first chance at placekicking, drilling a 44-yard field goal along with the extra point duties until the fourth quarter. Mauro Bondi did come out and kick a fourth-quarter extra point, showing that there is at least competition for the placekicking role and lowering Brown’s grade slightly.

Nebraska 55, Florida Atlantic 7: Three Points from the Huskers’ Win

DSC08779
photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans were delighted with a 55-7 rout of Florida Atlantic on Saturday, racking up 784 (!) yards of total offense. Here are the three things you need to take away from the big win.

1: Party Like It’s 1999

Nebraska fans haven’t seen a comprehensive rout of an opening-day opponent like they did with Saturday’s contest. NU took at 24-7 lead with over six minutes to go in the second quarter and never looked back.

Yes, the standard caveats apply about a poor opponent with a new head coach, especially with the Owls losing their playmaking dual-threat quarterback early in the game. But it’s been a long time since Nebraska fans got to see such an overwhelming performance from their team—and it’s a welcome sight in Memorial Stadium.

2. Where’s Gregory?

After the first series, star defensive end Randy Gregory was nowhere to be seen. The fan base quickly noticed Gregory’s absence, and Memorial Stadium’s new fan-accessible wi-fi network was stretched to the limit with Google and Twitter searches looking for updates.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, head coach Bo Pelini “probably could have gone back into the game,” and is now “day-to-day.” By the time Nebraska’s trainers likely realized Gregory could have come back, NU was well in control and wouldn’t need his play to win the game. And the play of backup Jack Gangwish, along with starter Greg McMullen at the other defensive end, made it an even easier decision to leave Gregory on the sideline.

With an FCS minnow in McNeese State on tap for Nebraska next week, don’t look for NU to rush Gregory back into service. But the collective exhale you heard about 15 minutes after the game ended was the Nebraska fans’ reaction to hearing that Gregory’s injury wasn’t more serious.

3. Spoiled for Choice

Yes, Ameer Abdullah was the star of the show, picking up 232 yards on the ground. But Kenny Bell and Terrell Newby also clocked in with 100-yard performances. And while Tommy Armstrong’s final completion numbers (15-29) weren’t what fans may have hoped for, he did complete a number of amazing passes both short and long that gave Nebraska fans reason to be excited going forward.

Five Bold Predictions for Nebraska’s 2014 Season

DSC05548

photo and story by Patrick Runge

The long wait is over, and Nebraska’s 2014 season is about to begin. As Nebraska prepares to face Florida Atlantic for this year’s lid-lifter, it’s time to get crazy and think about what might happen as the season unfolds. So here are five bold, but mostly plausible bold predictions for the upcoming campaign.

(Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from cfbstats.com)

Randy Gregory breaks Nebraska’s sack record

Nebraska’s current sack record for a season is 15, held jointly by Jim Skow (from 1985) and Trev Alberts (from 1993). Last year, Gregory had 9.5 sacks in 13 games. But that was with Gregory arriving in Lincoln just before camp started, having almost no time to learn a new system, and less than a year off of a horrific injury.

The numbers show that it took a little while for Gregory to get into the swing of things. Nine of his 9.5 sacks last year came in the last eight games of the 2013 season (including the Gator Bowl). Assuming that Gregory is able to start strong in 2014 and have the benefit of a full offseason’s work in the training room and with the playbook, a sixteen-plus sack season is not at all unlikely.

Nebraska goes to East Lansing and wins

Everyone loves Michigan State. Especially with the season-ending injury to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, the Spartans have now become the consensus pick to win the Big Ten (as evidenced by a re-vote of B1G media reported by Cleveland.com).

But Nebraska has enjoyed particularly good success against Sparty since joining the B1G. Nebraska registered a comfortable win against Michigan State in Lincoln three years ago, and won a nailbiter in East Lansing the following year.

Yes, the Spartans beat Nebraska 41-24 in Lincoln last year. But in that game, Nebraska was minus-five in turnovers, and provided Michigan State with countless short fields to score. Absent the turnovers, Nebraska was at least the equal of Michigan State on the field.

Look for Nebraska to get what is likely to be considered an upset win over the defending B1G champion.

Kickers will cost Nebraska an otherwise-winnable game

Nebraska fans were not happy at the end of an 8-4 campaign last year. How much worse would it have been, though, if Nebraska ended 2013 at 7-5 instead of 8-4? Would head coach Bo Pelini, who barely kept his job at 8-4, have survived with a 7-5 mark?

Well, you can thank a reliable kicker for getting Nebraska to 8-4 last year. In between the Michigan State and Iowa games was an overtime win over Penn State on the road, where transfer kicker Pat Smith had to hit a clutch field goal twice (due to a penalty on Nebraska) to seal the victory.

This year, Nebraska’s placekicking battle is between junior Mauro Bondi, who has never inspired enough confidence from the coaches to give him the job outright, and true freshman Drew Brown. And long-snapper Gabe Miller has been out the entire fall camp with injury (although is working hard at a comeback, according to Mike Schaefer of 247 Sports.)

Nebraska has been living on the edge for some time, going 9-1 in games decided by three points or less. With questions in the kicking game, this is the year those numbers bite Nebraska.

Cethan Carter will have at least 10 touchdown receptions

I’ve made references before to Nebraska’s coaches falling victim to “Mike McNeil syndrome,” where a talented and dangerous tight end emerges, and then quickly evaporates from the offense. It happened with McNeil, and with Kyler Reed the year after his eight-touchdown performance in 2010.

Sophomore tight end Cethan Carter looks to have as much, if not more, athletic ability than McNeil and Reed. Couple that with a quarterback in Tommy Armstrong still looking to find his feet as a passer, and an expansion of Carter’s role (especially taking advantage of mismatches in either size or speed, depending on the defensive matchup) looks to be on the cards.

We know that Nebraska’s offense can generate an eight-touchdown season from a tight end. Carter looks to be the type of talent that could break out and snag ten this year.

Zaire Anderson will lead the team in tackles

It’s not a stretch to think that a linebacker will lead the team in tackles. In the last five years, a linebacker has been either first or second in tackles on the team.

And this year looks like Anderson’s time to shine. As a senior amongst a group of almost entirely underclassmen, Anderson will be the most experience linebacker of the crew likely to see playing time. And according to Grant Muessel of Hail Varsity, Anderson could be a “surprise” in blitz packages.

Last year, 36 of Anderson’s 52 tackles came in the second half of the season and the bowl game. Look for him to continue the strong finish to the season he showed last year.

Meet Nebraska’s New Starters for 2014

IMG_0776

photo and story by Patrick Runge

Just like the changing of the leaves, every year Nebraska fans can count on seeing new starters shine. So as the new season is less than two weeks (!!) away, it’s time to look and see which new players will be getting the nod to start for Nebraska.

Of course, without an official depth chart, some of these are guesses (or as we call them in the business, “informed analytical speculation”). Areas of the team that are unlisted have all returning starters.

Offensive Line

Alex Lewis, left tackle: If there’s any new starter to be excited about this year, it might be Lewis. After transferring from Colorado, many thought he might be struggling to supplant David Knevel for the starting tackle position. Instead, he’s become what BTN’s Tom Dienhart called potentially “one of the Big Ten’s best” at the position.

Mike Moudy, right guard: Although getting a stiff challenge from Chongo Kondolo, look for the senior to come back from his injury and claim the starting right guard position. According to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Moudy now is fully healed from a season-ending ACL tear. His experience should be enough to give him the nod.

Givens Price, right tackle: Sometimes a change of position can do a world of good. Price has shifted positions throughout his Nebraska career, but according to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star his shift from guard to tackle may have elevated Price to a starter in his senior season.

Defensive Line

Greg McMullen, defensive end: Sure, you’re excited about that other guy on the end of Nebraska’s defensive line. But McMullen is no slouch himself, and the senior’s talent and experience should provide a solid anchor opposite the destruction Randy Gregory looks to wreak.

Vincent Valentine, defensive tackle: If Alex Lewis isn’t enough of a hipster new starter to be excited about Valentine should be. A prototypical defensive tackle in size (six-foot-three, 325 pounds), Valentine gives Nebraska the option to use him as a true nose tackle, allowing NU to play with a three-man front and freeing up pass-rushing specialists (like Maliek Collins or Marcus Newby) as outside linebackers.

Linebackers

Josh Banderas, middle (MIKE) linebacker: The loss of Michael Rose to a season-ending injury was certainly a setback, given the grasp of the position and the leadership required that Rose was building at the end of 2013. But it does open the door for Banderas, who earned playing time at the position last year as a true freshman. Hopefully for Nebraska, the extra year of experience will help Banderas take over as leader of the linebacking corps.

Zaire Anderson, weak-side (WILL) linebacker: Take a look at Nebraska’s linebacker unit, and you’ll see it littered with freshmen and sophomores. Anderson (along with Trevor Roach) are the greybeards of the unit, seniors who are likely to see playing time. With injuries claiming parts of the last two seasons, Anderson is hopeful that his senior campaign can be uninterrupted and show the productivity he did at the end of 2013.

Defensive Backs

Jonathan Rose, cornerback: For much of the spring, the competition between Rose and Byerson Cockrell for a starting cornerback position was one of the closest on the team. But with the season-ending injury to Charles Jackson and Cockrell shifting to nickel, Rose looks to have secured the starting cornerback position opposite Charles Jackson.

Nathan Gerry, safety: Last year, Gerry saw playing time as a true freshman at linebacker, but always looked to be a hybrid-type player without the requisite size to play in the middle of the field. Now he has relocated to safety, where his speed and hard-hitting ability should allow him to flourish.

Byerson Cockrell, nickel: The loss of Charles Jackson, one of Nebraska’s best overall athletes, to a season-ending injury just as he was about to see significant playing time at nickel was one of the most disappointing developments of fall camp. But Cockrell has been impressing Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis (according to Huskers.com), and his play may soothe some of the fears that arose with Jackson’s injury.

Special Teams

Drew Brown, placekicker: Yes, I know that Brown is still locked in a battle with junior Mauro Bondi for the starting placekicker position. But if Bondi hasn’t done enough in the previous two years to lock down the position—and the coaching staff has felt the need to bring kickers in each of the two years after signing Bondi—then I think the smart money is on the true freshman winning the job.