Nebraska Football: Who Has A Starting Role Locked Up?

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have been watching spring practice closely, looking for clues as to what the team will look like under new head coach Mike Riley. And while there are many more uncertainties this year, given new offensive and defensive schemes, we still have a good idea of at least a few starters for next season. Here are four players who are likely to be on the depth chart next August.

Jordan Westerkamp

Wide receiver is a tricky position to handicap for Nebraska, as there are a number of talented veterans returning in 2015. De’Mornay Pierson-El is easily Nebraska’s most dangerous offensive weapon, but his size means his use will likely be limited on offense. He will play, most certainly, but will likely only be seen in particular packages.

Jamal Turner is another talented veteran who will very likely see the field in 2015. But even though all reports are positive, we still don’t know if he has fully recovered from the injury that cost him the bulk of last season. So it’s hard to call Turner a certain starter until we know his health status.

As a result, Westerkamp is the only veteran receiver that looks set to step into the role of starter for Nebraska. He leads all returning receivers in receptions (according to CFBStats.com), and has a history of spectacular and dramatic catches. So while there are a lot of mouths to feed in Nebraska’s receiving corps, it looks like Westerkamp will be first in line.

Cethan Carter

The only other pass-catcher that seems certain for the field is Carter, Nebraska’s most experience pass-catching tight end. Under previous head coach Bo Pelini, Nebraska had a maddening habit of ignoring its tight end for long stretches (call it the Mike McNeil effect).

But Riley likes to put the ball in the air, and likes to utilize an “H-back” by putting a receiver or tight end into the backfield. Carter would be a perfect fit for the H-back role, giving him more opportunities to see the field.

Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine

It’s a little strange to think of the rest of Nebraska’s roster as being in flux, and yet having the defensive tackle position clearly locked down. But given the performance of Collins and Valentine in spring practice, that’s exactly what has happened.

Both Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald and Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star have observed how Collins and Valentine have been dominating the offensive line all throughout spring practice. So wherever else Nebraska may have questions, defensive tackle is not one of them.

Nate Gerry

Nebraska is loaded with talent in the secondary, so almost all of the starting back four should have intense competition. At corner, there is a possibility of Nebraska being three deep with players that could start with a less-crowded secondary.

But Gerry looks to be the one certainty at safety. His play last year, after moving from linebacker after his freshman year, cemented his place as Nebraska’s most consistent defensive back. Look for him to be the one starter we know at this point in Nebraska’s talented backfield.

Nebraska Football: What We Still Don’t Know About Mike Riley’s Huskers

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

As we near the end of spring practice, we are finding out much more about what Nebraska will look like under new head coach Mike Riley. But even though we are getting quite a bit of information—more, in all honesty, than some expected we would have at this point in the process—we still are in the dark about a number of important things. Here are three of the biggest questions that remain unanswered.

Who will be in the backfield?

We’re starting to get a clearer picture of what Nebraska’s offense will look like under Riley. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald discussed how Nebraska’s offense is progressing from a spread-based concept to more of a pro-style with the quarterback under center and receivers running more defined routes.

So at least we know a little of what the offense may look like. But who will be executing that offense is another story. As a smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out, quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s status as next year’s starting quarterback is far from certain. And the battle to succeed Ameer Abdullah at I-back is even more in question. None of the four contenders (Imani Cross, Terrell Newby, Adam Taylor, and Mikale Wilbon) have any significant leg up over the others, meaning competition for playing time at I-back should be fierce all the way up to the first kickoff.

Can Nebraska take care of business?

Under Riley, Oregon State was known for giant-killing. But it also had a disturbing habit of dropping games to far inferior competition. In 2013, Oregon State dropped its opener to Eastern Washington. And again in 2011 to open the season, the Beavers were upset by Sacramento State.

If twice is a trend, three times is a trajectory. We have two data points in recent years to show that teams under Riley are capable of shocking defeats. Can he make sure that a third data point isn’t created in Lincoln?

Is Riley ready for the big time?

In some ways, this really is the question that underlies all the other questions about Nebraska under a new regime. Yes, Riley over-achieved in Corvallis, a place where it is insanely difficult to succeed at the highest level.

But over-achieving with plucky Oregon State is one thing. It’s a different skill set entirely to come from Corvallis to Lincoln, to go from having no advantages to having one of the top programs in the country. To go from very little attention both in-state and nationally to being in the spotlight and living in a fishbowl.

The only job Riley has held with similar attention and expectation was his time as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. From 1999-2001, Riley went 14-34 with the Chargers and was fired after his third year into a five-year contract.

That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful at Nebraska, of course. At age 61, Riley has learned a lot, and made tremendous connections within the football coaching community. He has never been at a college program with the kind of resources and support he has in Lincoln.

But his history does, at the very least, make whether Riley can excel on the biggest of stages in college football a legitimate question to ask.

Nebraska Football: Biggest Storylines So Far This Offseason

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

As Nebraska football’s spring practice winds on, a number of storylines have emerged. Given the hiring of new head coach Mike Riley and entirely new schemes on offense and defense being installed, the flood of news certainly isn’t surprising. But there are a few storylines that really stand out in bold type as we work our way to the 2015 season.

Here are three of the biggest storylines that have emerged this offseason.

A Simpler Defense

Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s defense was famously difficult and challenging to learn. It appears that under new defensive coordinator Mark Banker, Nebraska’s defense will be far simpler. Check out what junior safety Nate Gerry had to say about the contrast in styles at a pre-spring practice press conference (transcript via Huskers.com)

“My first impression is that I’m really excited for it. It’s a lot simpler than it was. … That’s the thing [new defensive coordinator Mark Banker] wants us all to do, to be able to get to the ball faster and to stay loose. Last year we had a lot of people overthinking. Mentally weweren’t as sharp as we were maybe supposed to be.”

Now, simpler doesn’t always mean better, of course. Check out Derek Johnson’s analysis on the HuskerMax forum about how Nebraska’s defense could struggle by insisting on remaining in a three-linebacker set.

But a simpler defensive scheme will, at the very least, mean that talented players are less likely to be kept off the field based on a lack of scheme knowledge. And that change in defensive philosophy might be the biggest one in Lincoln we’ve seen this offseason.

A Pro-Style Offense

When Riley first arrived, questions lingered as to whether he would be importing his pro-style offense. Certainly, given what happened the last time Nebraska brought in a coach to revamp the offense (by some dude whose name rhymes with Cill Ballahan), things didn’t go well. So many Nebraska fans wanted to downplay the likelihood of offensive upheaval.

And there is some ground for that reassurance. Riley has talked about the need to adapt the game plan to the talent available (as quoted by Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star).

“We have what we’ve done as coaches and we have a new skill set at quarterback almost all the way around,” Riley said. “We are trying to blend the two as best we can together so we can help them be comfortable.

“This is not about what we (as coaches) want to do; this is about giving them (the players) the best tools to play fast and win games. It’s kind of interesting, and kind of fun for us, too.”

Having said that, though, there is no doubt that Nebraska under Riley will be a pro-style offense. In a pre-spring press conference (transcript from Huskers.com), wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said straight out that Nebraska will have a “pro-style type of offense.” Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was quoted by Eric Olsen of the Associated Press of being told by offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf that he would “not be a running back” and that his job as a quarterback would be to “sit in the pocket, deliver the ball when I can and make smart decisions.”

How does incorporating a pro-style offense mesh with using the talent available on the roster for Riley? That’s the fascinating question we will see answered in part during spring practice, and in full this autumn.

The Starting Quarterback Job Is Up For Grabs

Yes, Riley has said that Armstrong’s experience is a benefit as he determines next year’s starting quarterback (according to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star). But that doesn’t mean he’s a guarantee to win the job.

Gerry DiNardo from the BTN is in the midst of touring spring practices from around the conference. Check out what he said about the quarterback races he’s seen so far.

Um, wow. A savvy outside observer says Nebraska’s quarterback decision “isn’t clear.” Add in the report from 247 Sports that Armstrong that back spasms have been hampering his performance and made him sit out of Wednesday’s practice, and the recipe is certainly there for someone other than Armstrong to win the job.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst pegged Armstrong’s chances to be the 2015 starter at 50 percent. Looks like recent developments from spring camp make that number just about right.

Nebraska Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have been relishing the second week of spring practice, getting a little fix of Husker football before having to settle in for a long summer. Before the Spring Game on April 11, Nebraska fans will be soaking up as much information as they can get about how the team is performing under new head coach Mike Riley, and what they can expect next season.

Here are a few stock-up, stock-down reports on what we’ve learned so far.

Stock Up: The fast guys on the team

Sure, we don’t quite know what Nebraska’s offense will look like under Riley’s tutelage. We don’t know how much of the pro-style offense Riley will import from Corvallis to Lincoln.

But based on an article by Brent Wagner of the Lincoln Journal-Star, we’ve got a pretty good idea that the deep pass will be a bigger part of Nebraska’s offensive arsenal.

“It’s going to be like a track meet,” [junior wide receiver Alonzo] Moore said last week. “Deep balls are all around. If you would have seen (Wednesday), I ran I don’t know how many go-routes — deep balls. I probably ran over 10.”

It’s looking more and more like part of Nebraska’s offense next year will involve taking shots down the field on a regular basis.

Stock Down: Tommy Armstrong

It’s been conventional wisdom that junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong had a pretty clear leg up on his competition to be Nebraska’s starting quarterback in 2015. But BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo, in the midst of BTN’s spring practice visit to Nebraska, tweeted the following:

(We can have a gentle conversation with DiNardo about whether Northwestern or Nebraska deserves the “NU” abbreviation later.)

So an outside observer, a former coach, took a look at Nebraska’s spring practice and said the quarterback decision “isn’t clear.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Armstrong as a starter—or at least calls into question how close the others are to claiming the job.

Stock Up: Banker’s change in philosophy

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker is bringing a number of new things to Nebraska’s defense. The scheme will be a “quarters” base, with more emphasis on three linebackers on the field.

But more than scheme is an attitude, as can be seen from this excerpt of an article by Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald.

Take the first film session after spring’s opening practice. Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey said his biggest mistake, on day one, wasn’t being undisciplined or forgetting a laundry list of “keys” to a given formation.

He was too deliberate. Too slow.

There will be plenty of time to digest the nuances of defensive changes Banker will make to the Blackshirts (not to mention the changes in how the physical black shirts are handed out). But the change in mindset as evidenced by Rose-Ivey’s comment—a focus on athleticism and instinct, an unleashing of potential—might be the most important change for Nebraska.

Stock Down: Daniel Davie and Charles Jackson

Both Davie and Jackson are vying for a starting cornerback position in an increasingly-competitive defensive backfield. But injuries have kept them off the field, and Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star noted that redshirt freshman Trai Mosely had three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. That’s pressure on players like Davie and Jackson who aren’t on the field to make their claim for playing time.

Stock Up: The split-practice schedule

Riley said that he’s seen dividends being paid from his decision to split the team into two units and practice each one separately. The goal of that decision—to avoid having a number of players standing around watching during practice—seems to be reaching fruition, as Riley was describing as quoted by Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald.

“For the most part, this team’s in good shape. By dividing practice like (NU has), either teams or shotgun snaps, they’re getting a lot of reps — and they’re getting a little bit warmer weather than they’re probably used to, and they’re going for quite a while — so I think they’re in good shape.”

Nebraska Football: Ranking the Cornhuskers’ Top Recruiting Targets for 2016

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know it’s never too early to look towards recruiting for 2016. New head coach Mike Riley took the job in late 2014, and so has not yet had a full recruiting season to show off his skills. 2016 will be the first time Nebraska fans will truly get an idea of how skilled Riley and his staff are at luring top talent to Lincoln.

At this stage, trying to determine who a school’s top targets are is a bit of a guessing game. But here are three targets that we know Nebraska has interest in, and would make sense given the needs on the roster.

All measurable and rankings from 247 Sports.

No. 3: Dwayne Haskins

Position: Pro-style quarterback

Measureables: 6’3”, 185 pounds

Ranking: Four-star (.9632 composite)

As a smart and particularly handsome analyst observed, there’s now no question that Riley’s offense will at least be moving towards a pro-style system. In addition to the statements from the coaches and players, one clue about the direction of Nebraska’s offense can come from its recruiting targets.

Of the three top targets for Nebraska as listed by 247 Sports, only one remains uncommitted. That is Haskins, a pro-style quarterback from Maryland. With the five quarterbacks currently on Nebraska’s roster all at some level being dual-threat signal-callers, Haskins would represent a departure in skill set and provide a very different option for Riley if he were to arrive in Lincoln next year.

No. 2: Brendan Ferns

Position: Inside Linebacker

Measureables: 6’3”, 223 pounds

Ranking: Four-star (.9594 composite)

Nebraska’s biggest position of need in 2016 remains at linebacker. Even with signing five linebackers in 2015, Nebraska will only have ten scholarship players at the position in 2016. Combine that with new defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s preference to play three linebackers, and the need for more depth at the position becomes clear.

Of course, Ferns would be more than just depth. The inside linebacker from Ohio brings size and speed, and would be one of the prize signings of Nebraska’s 2016 class. Currently 33 schools have expressed interest in Ferns, with Ohio State apparently in the lead (according to 247 Sports). But Nebraska is in play for Ferns, and his addition to the class would be incredibly important.

No. 1: Devin White

Position: Athlete (running back or inside linebacker)

Measureable: 6’0”, 235 pounds

Ranking: Four-star (.9343 composite)

Like Ferns, White would be an ideal addition to Nebraska’s lineup. White’s primary attraction for Nebraska certainly would be at linebacker, where NU’s need is well-documented. And the athlete from Louisiana would definitely be an attractive target for the position, given his four-star ranking. But the fact that White has the potential to play at running back also adds a degree of flexibility, making him even more attractive of a target.

White currently has interest from 11 schools, with LSU being currently in the lead (according to 247 Sports). But Nebraska has had a history of getting athletes out of the Bayou State, and White would be an impressive addition to that history.

Nebraska Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2015 Season

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans will be watching spring practice reports, imagining what the roster will look like when NU takes the field in 2015. So it’s not at all too early to be looking at next year’s schedule and imagining which games will be the most challenging.

So here, power ranked from easiest to hardest, is what Nebraska will be facing in new head coach Mike Riley’s first year in charge in Lincoln.

No. 12: South Alabama (Sep. 12)

A newer entry into FBS football, the Jaguars are still struggling to get up to speed. South Alabama did finish the regular season at 6-6 last year, earning a trip to the inaugural Camellia Bowl where it lost to Bowling Green, 33-28.

While a bowl appearance this early in their FBS existence is admirable, the Jaguars should prove to be little more than a paycheck game for Nebraska.

No. 11: Southern Mississippi (Sep. 26)

Nebraska finally is able to finish up its series with the Golden Eagles in 2015, with the added bonus of having the game in Lincoln as opposed to a neutral site. Southern Miss ended 2014 at 3-9, which actually was an improvement on its 1-11 record in 2013.

So while the Eagles may be moving in the right direction, it’s unlikely that movement will be fast enough to challenge Nebraska in Lincoln.

No. 10: at Purdue (Oct. 31)

Purdue is one of the schools in the Big Ten that has a systemic disadvantage, given its size relative to the other schools in the conference. So pulling out of a slide, especially in a sport like football, is a big challenge for the Boilermakers.

Coming off a 3-9 season puts Purdue a long way from challenging. While the Boilermakers will have B1G-caliber talent sufficient to be more of a challenge than Nebraska’s non-conference paycheck opponents, NU should have little to fear on its trip to West Lafayette.

No. 9: at Illinois (Oct. 3)

Illinois is a case study of a football program that should be better than it is. While the Illini might not be poised to compete with Ohio State and Penn State, its location, size, and history should make it able to get out of the cellar of the B1G.

The Illini were able to put on a two-game run at the end of 2014 (including a win over Penn State) to become bowl eligible at 6-6. Although the Illini lost the Heart of Dallas Bowl to Louisiana Tech, it did show some progress for Illinois.

No. 8: at Rutgers (Nov. 14)

Rutgers ended its inaugural B1G season at 8-5, including a win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl. None of Rutgers’ wins last year, though, were particularly impressive—other than its win over Washington State in the first week of the season being notable as the “best” non-conference win by a B1G school well into the non-conference season.

Still, eight wins is eight wins, and a trip to New Jersey for Riley and his new staff could prove a tricky contest.

No. 7: Northwestern (Oct. 24)

It’s hard to think of a Nebraska game against Northwestern being in the bottom half in terms of difficult games. After all, Nebraska’s contests with Northwestern have been nail-biters the last three years. It’s not at all hard to imagine Nebraska being 0-4 against the Purples since NU joined the B1G, not the 3-1 advantage Nebraska currently enjoys.

But Northwestern’s talent level has been slipping in the past two years, and 2015 does not appear to arrest that slide. Couple that with the Purples’ trip to Lincoln, and perhaps this is Nebraska’s best chance for a comfortable victory.

No. 6: Iowa (Nov. 27)

Much like Northwestern, Iowa always gives Nebraska fits. Last year, Nebraska needed overtime to knock off the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, and were quite fortunate to escape with the win.

But much like Northwestern, Iowa’s trajectory does not look to be moving in the right direction. Last year’s 7-5 was a step down from Iowa’s 8-4 mark a year prior, and with a schedule that was much more manageable. This year, with a more difficult schedule, and little momentum, Iowa should struggle to match its production from a year ago.

No. 5: BYU (Sep. 5)

This ranking isn’t so much about the status of BYU as a whole, although the Cougars are coming off an 8-5 mark from 2014, including a double-overtime loss to Memphis in the Miami Beach Bowl. The ranking is more about BYU being the first opponent for Riley’s new-look Nebraska squad. Nebraska did not have the good fortune of easing its new head coach in, but instead will be opening with a solid and well-coached team for its first opponent.

Riley will have to be ready to hit the ground running against the Cougars when the lid gets lifted on the 2015 season.

No. 4: at Minnesota (Oct. 17)

It seems like a strange world where the Golden Gophers hold a two-game winning streak over Nebraska. But that’s where we find ourselves. And while Minnesota’s dogged, ground-based attack may have been uniquely suited to match up against former head coach Bo Pelini’s two-high safety defense, there can be little doubt that the Gophers will post a stern test for Riley as Nebraska treks to Minneapolis.

No. 3: Wisconsin (Oct. 10)

Yes, this is the same Wisconsin team that humiliated Nebraska 59-24 last year, and still only ranked no. 3 on the list. Keep in mind that Melvin Gordon is gone. Wisconsin, like Nebraska, will be adjusting to a new head coach. And the game is in Lincoln, as opposed to Madison.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that Nebraska will be shifting from a defensive scheme that insists on playing the run without help from the safeties to one that will focus primarily on stopping the run. More than anything, the change in defensive philosophies may be crucial in changing Nebraska’s fortunes against Wisconsin and in NU winning back the Freedom Trophy.

(Yes, that’s a thing.)

No. 2: at Miami (Sep. 19)

Duke Johnson may be gone, but the Hurricanes still have loads of talent. And Brad Kayaa will have another year of experience, coming into the game as Miami’s sophomore signal-caller. Add on top of that Nebraska taking its first road trip under Riley’s direction—admittedly, Miami is not the most dangerous of road trips, but it is still a challenge—and the trip to South Beach looks to be one of Nebraska’s sternest tests of the season.

No. 1: Michigan State (Nov. 7)

With Connor Cook’s decision to return for his senior season, Michigan State became Nebraska’s most formidable opponent on the 2015 schedule. Cook’s experience and leadership, coupled with his accuracy and athletic ability, give Michigan State’s offense a multi-dimensional threat. Couple that with the Spartans’ always-stingy defense, and Michigan State will provide Nebraska with its toughest contest in 2015.

Nebraska Football: What We’ve Learned Already About Huskers Under Mike Riley

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans were excited to see the start of spring practice, even if it just meant seeing new head coach Mike Riley and a number of chosen players answering questions from the media. And while press conferences generally are pretty dull affairs, we actually learned quite a bit about what Nebraska will look like under Riley’s leadership next season.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from those press conferences.

Riley needs to learn about his roster

According to a transcript from Huskers.com, Riley announced that spring practice for Nebraska this year would be a bit unorthodox. The team will be split into two units, a red team and a white team, each with a mix of younger and veteran players. The coaches will, basically, have two separate practices for each of the two “teams” each day. In between the two practice sessions, the entire team will work on special teams.

There’s a number of benefits for this split-squad approach. As Riley pointed out, splitting up the teams will make sure there is less standing around, where “22 guys were playing and 100 guys were watching.” While leaving the coaches on the field longer, the more focused practice sessions should help keep the players involved.

But it will also provide the new coaching staff with much more opportunity to observe the players over the spring. By increasing the number of players the coaches can observe, Riley’s split-squad approach will dramatically increase the amount of time the coaches can directly observe each player’s performance in practice. That should jump-start the staff’s ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and better inform them in making decisions on depth charts and game plans tailored to the skill sets of the players.

The defense will be simpler

Junior safety Nate Gerry was one of the players who spoke at the press conference before the beginning of spring football. And what he had to say (according to a transcript from Huskers.com) was certainly illuminating about what Nebraska’s defense will be like in 2015.

“My first impression is that I’m really excited for it. It’s a lot simpler than it was. … That’s the thing [new defensive coordinator Mark Banker] wants us all to do, to be able to get to the ball faster and to stay loose. Last year we had a lot of people overthinking. Mentally we weren’t as sharp as we were maybe supposed to be.”

A simpler defense, not paralyzed by a complicated scheme. While I’m sure Gerry wasn’t intending to, that’s a pretty stunning indictment of Nebraska’s defense last year, or at least how the defense was coached to the players.

While Nebraska’s offense got most of the attention when Riley (a pro-style quarterback coach) was hired, NU’s new-look defense might really be the big change in 2015.

The offense will be pro-style

When Mike Riley arrived, he brought with him a reputation of being a quarterback guru and purveyor of a pro-style offense. Since his hire, there had been some question as to how much of that offense he would bring from Corvallis to Lincoln.

Well, we’ve got the answer to that question, it appears.

According to a transcript of a pre-spring press conference from Huskers.com, junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong said the following about his preparations for 2015.

“Right now [offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf] is making us watch Oregon State’s offense. They are trying to get some of the things we ran similar to what those guys ran last year. Right now, the plays we have been studying and looking at are Oregon State’s (plays). That is kind of similar to what we were looking forward to running.”

In a separate transcript of press conference comments on Huskers.com from junior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, we learned that Nebraska’s offense will be “a pro-style type of offense.” And from a separate story by Eric Olsen of the AP, Armstrong said that Langsdorf told him that he would “not be a running back” and that his job as quarterback would be to “sit in the pocket, deliver the ball when I can and make smart decisions.”

It looks as if the option as a staple of Nebraska’s offense—along with the spread concepts introduced in the last few years—will be a thing of the past in Lincoln next season.

Nebraska Football: Three Cornhuskers Who Could Surprise People This Spring

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have seen the calendar turn to March, and are looking at the roster to see who might be the stars of 2015. The arrival of new head coach Mike Riley makes it hard to look at anyone as a guaranteed starter, although there are some players that fans can be pretty sure will have big roles.

But here are three players who Nebraska fans might not have at the top of their minds, but who could make a huge name for themselves this spring.

Jamal Turner

Over the last few years, few Cornhuskers have offered—and failed to deliver—more than Turner. After converting from quarterback before his freshman year, Turner held out the promise of an electric, game-changing receiver.

But that promise never materialized. Turner struggled to learn the position in his freshman and sophomore year. And seemingly every time it looked like things were turning around for Turner, injuries derailed his progress.

Now, with a medical hardship year, and with Riley’s history of producing wide receivers, Turner has the chance to finally claim the glory that has eluded him throughout his career in Lincoln.

Charles Jackson

Last year, it looked like everything was ready to come together for Jackson. A freak athlete, Jackson looked like he had finally shown enough discipline and gained the coaches’ trust. He looked set to be the starting nickel back and make his mark on the Blackshirts.

Then an injury in spring practice cost him the 2014 season.

Now, with his rehab completed, Jackson is ready to compete in a crowded defensive secondary for a starting job. Whether he ends up at safety, corner, or nickel back, Jackson has the chance to finally make his mark.

Cethan Carter

If there’s any position group that looks to benefit from Nebraska’s coaching change, it’s the tight ends. Under Bo Pelini, talented offensive tight ends like Mike McNeil, Kyler Reed, and Carter were left to wither on the vine. No tight end has notched more than 442 receiving yards for Nebraska since McNeil in 2008.

Of course, we don’t know what Nebraska’s offense will look like next year under Riley. But Breakdown Sports does a great job of describing how the tight end has been important in Riley’s offense in the past. Take a look at how the tight end usage between Nebraska and Riley’s Oregon State compare:

Year Rec – NU Rec – OSU Diff. Yards – NU Yards – OSU Diff. TD – NU TD – OSU Diff.
2010 45 37 8 803 451 352 9 7 2
2011 29 43 -14 446 334 112 1 3 -2
2012 48 52 -4 651 558 93 5 4 1
2013 22 91 -69 279 924 -645 1 11 -10
2014 10 55 -45 145 582 -437 3 3 0

 

Pay attention to the differential. In each of the three statistical categories, the differential goes from being in Nebraska’s favor in 2010 to being decidedly in Oregon State’s favor by 2014. It’s fair to expect Riley’s arrival should help Nebraska’s tight end production—and that should mean a huge opportunity for Carter.

Nebraska Football: Power Ranking Husker Fans’ 2015 Road Trips

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Many Nebraska football fans are suffering through winter’s dying throes, either digging out from snowfall or enduring sub-zero windchills. So it’s a good time to look at the upcoming 2015 schedule and start dreaming of trips to take this football season.

Nebraska has five road games in 2015. Here are the power rankings for those five road trips, not based on the game itself, but on how good of a trip it will be for Nebraska fans coming from the Cornhusker state.

No. 5: Purdue, October 31

This isn’t quite the equivalent to Nebraska’s road trips to Waco back in the Big 12 days (when Baylor was terrible, remember that?) But West Lafayette is a fairly ordinary college town, with one of the least impressive stadia in the Big Ten, and the only nearby tourism draw more than an hour’s drive away—and is Indianapolis.

Unless you live in Indiana, there are much better places for Nebraska fans to spend their Halloween.

No. 4: Illinois, October 3

A road trip to see Nebraska take on the Illini would initially suggest the possibility of going to Chicago, which significantly ups the interest. But Champaign is 135 miles from the Windy City, making it hard to link a Chicago trip with seeing Nebraska take on Illinois. And while Illinois has more football history than Purdue, the fact remains that the Illini remain one of the football also-rans in the conference.

With a lack of history, and absence of tourist attractions, and (likely) a less-than competitive game, Illinois remains a particularly unfashionable choice for a Nebraska road trip.

No. 3: Minnesota, October 17

Even before the Gophers won two straight against Nebraska, Minnesota had some strengths as a road trip destination. It remains one of only two B1G opponents (Iowa being the other) where fans could at least consider a driving day trip for the game. But for those choosing to stay, Minneapolis is an under-rated tourist destination, the new on-campus stadium is gorgeous, and Minnesota in mid-October should be delightful.

And the locals will probably be nice to traveling Nebraska fans even if the Gophers make it three in a row in 2015.

No. 2: Rutgers, November 14

Because, really, who isn’t in a hurry to see Piscataway, New Jersey?

Although Rutgers isn’t a football powerhouse, there is some history to see at the school that bills itself as the “birthplace of college football.” But what makes the Rutgers trip so attractive to Nebraska travelers is that Piscataway is less than 40 miles from New York City. And with a number of public transportation options available (according to Rometorio.com), combining a trip to see Nebraska play and a visit to the Big Apple makes the Rutgers game an inviting option for a road trip.

No. 1: Miami, September 19

Yeah, this one’s a no-brainer.

Not only do you get to see Nebraska take on one of its ancient foes, you get to spend time in one of the most unique tourist attractions in the country. Husker football and South Beach sound like a pretty good mix to me.

Nebraska Football: Realistic Expectations for Mike Riley in 2015

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans, like most fanbases, tend not to dwell on the reasonable. The word “fan,” derived from “fanatic,” suggests a tendency to demand the unreachable and expect glory regardless of the challenges facing their favored team.

But, of course, part of our job hear is to curb that enthusiasm, or at least direct it. So as we approach spring practice, here are some reasonable expectations for Nebraska in 2015.

Nebraska will turn the ball over less

Interestingly, this observation came from data compiled by CFB Matrix’s Dave Bartoo, who was suggesting that turnover margin is not predictable (or at least that turnover margin tends to revert to the mean). But there are always outliers, of course.

In the last five years, out of 120 teams playing FBS football, only eight had a negative turnover margin in each of those five years. Guess which team was one of the eight!

Yes, that’s right. Nebraska was no. 108 overall, with turnover margins over the last five years of -2, -11, -12, -1, and -1 respectively. Mike Riley’s Oregon State teams, on the other hand, was no. 39 nationally, with turnover margins of +4, +3, +8, -8, and +4 over the last five years.

Sure, past performance is no guarantee of future earnings, especially when it comes to turnovers. But given Nebraska’s remarkable (if distressing) consistency regarding ball security in the last five years under Pelini, it’s fair to assume that a coaching change can be expected to result in an improved turnover margin.

Nebraska will throw the ball more

This one may be a bit of connecting the dots, but hear me out. One of the first quarterbacks Nebraska offered for the 2016 class (according to 247 Sports) was Dwayne Haskins, a pro-style prospect. In and of itself, that would be little cause for notice.

But we really have little idea what type of offense Nebraska under Mike Riley will run. We know that his previous quarterback at Oregon State, Sean Mannion, broke the Pac-12 career passing record. So we know that Riley is certainly not afraid to have his quarterback put the ball in the air.

Certainly we don’t know a lot about what Riley’s offense in Lincoln will be. And the fact that Nebraska has offers out to seven dual-threat quarterbacks suggests that Riley is not desperate to abandon the idea of a mobile quarterback.

But the fact that Riley is offering a pro-style quarterback like Haskins suggests at least the potential to look at throwing the ball more.

Nebraska will notch an upset

This may be another comparison that isn’t exactly fair, given where Oregon State is in the pecking order compared to Nebraska. But Riley’s Beavers in his tenure notched some impressive giant-killings, arguably more impressive than anything Bo Pelini logged in Lincoln.

As a smart and particularly handsome analyst observed, in the last seven years Nebraska has beaten two teams ranked in the top 15 (no. 7 Missouri in 2010, and no. 9 Michigan State in 2011). Over that same period, Oregon State beat five teams ranked in the top 15 (no. 1 USC in 2008, no. 2 Cal in 2007, no. 9 Arizona in 2010, no. 13 Wisconsin in 2012, and no. 6 Arizona State in 2014).

So Riley has shown that he can upset teams with better talent. If he can take that skill and apply it to the roster he will be inheriting and assembling in Lincoln, then Nebraska fans could be in store for some memorable experiences.