Nebraska Football: Power Ranking The Road Trips for Cornhusker Fans in 2014

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

With the Memorial Day weekend just past, Nebraska football fans may very well have travel on their minds, and be looking to plan their road trips to follow the Cornhuskers next season. Nebraska hits the road for five contests in 2014.

So let’s take a look at those five road trips, not in terms of how the game will be, but in terms of how the travel experience will be for the Nebraska faithful following the Scarlet and Cream.

No. 5: Michigan State

Remember, this isn’t about the game itself, as the Spartans-Cornhuskers rematch could very well be one of the most compelling contests of the season. But East Lansing, Michigan, is not high on the tourist destinations of anyone who doesn’t have relatives living in East Lansing, Michigan. And Spartan Stadium, while certainly a respectable home for the Big Ten champions, is not an iconic cathedral of college football that would inspire a visit on its own.

No. 4: Fresno State

A trip to California, that’s a no-brainer for a Nebraska fan, right?

Well, maybe not. When a Nebraskan pictures California, Fresno is probably not the first image that comes to mind. Set inland, Fresno doesn’t offer beaches and ocean-side views like many Nebraskans would think of when California dreaming. And the “Best Little City In the U.S.A.” is quite removed from both San Francisco and Los Angeles, making adding those tourist attractions challenging for a Fresno visit.

And Bulldog Stadium, while fine for a Mountain West team, is hardly the iconic football location Nebraska fans would travel to see (although it did host the California Raisin Bowl, so there!) Plus, if you don’t have a ticket already, you’re looking to pay over $160 a seat on the secondary market to get into the former home of the California Raisin Bowl. Between that and airfare, Nebraska fans will likely not see great value in a road trip to Fresno.

No. 3: Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, is an under-rated venue for a college football game. Camp Randall stadium is iconic, much more so with the history surrounding the site. The in-game atmosphere is intense, although sometimes not exactly family-friendly, and the Jump Around in the fourth quarter is an experience to be had.

But the city of Madison has plenty to offer as well. Between the campus itself, the lakeside attractions from the two lakes (Mendota and Monona), and a visit to Mickies Dairy Bar across the street from the stadium, a trip to Madison has enough to make a road trip worth considering for Nebraska fans.

No. 2: Iowa

Iowa City has one huge advantage over any other road trip destination for Nebraska fans, and that is geography. Iowa remains the one fixture on Nebraska schedule that remains feasible as a day trip, albeit one that might require an energy drink on the ride home.

But a stay in Iowa City for the game has its advantages, including the Ped Mall in downtown Iowa City. And newly refurbished Kinnick Stadium certainly holds its own amongst B1G football venues. Between the attractions of the city and its proximity, Iowa City remains an attractive destination for Nebraska fans.

No. 1: Northwestern

I’ll make no bones about it, Northwestern has become my favorite road trip on Nebraska’s B1G schedule. In many ways, going to see Nebraska play the Purples is the best of both worlds for NU. Evanston, Illinois, is an idyllic college town environment, the closest thing I have seen to replace a regular trip to Lawrence, Kansas. Ryan Field fits in the Evanston environment perfectly and is a great place to see a college football game (especially if Nebraska fans kind of take over the joint, as they did in 2012).

But Evanston is a suburb of Chicago. That means Nebraska visitors for the Northwestern game get all the benefits of the City of Broad Shoulders, the third largest metropolis in the country, then get to travel to a suburb of the city and get the intimate, college town atmosphere of Evanston.

Big-city attractions and a college town environment in one trip, combined with reasonable air fare from Omaha to Chicago, make Northwestern a must-add for Nebraska fans looking at their travel plans for 2014.

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Extra Points 05/28/14

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Some of the best info about Nebraska football from around the web.

Kenny Bell has (gasp!) shaved off his signature afro. (Corn Nation)

Randy Gregory listed by NFL.com as one the fourteen most explosive college football players. (NFL)

AJ Bush looks to make an immediate impact at quarterback next year. (Lincoln Journal-Star)

Game-by-game prediction of Nebraska’s 2014 season. (Bleacher Report)

Nebraska Football: Analyzing the Huskers’ Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know that summer is for following recruiting. While others may be watching baseball or grilling brats, Nebraska fans will be wanting to keep up on how Bo Pelini will be filling out his 2015 class.

Here are five of the top targets Nebraska is chasing for next year’s recruiting class.

Measurables, ratings, and photos from 247 Sports.

 

J.W. Ketchum III

Position: Dual-Threat Quarterback

Measurables: 5-foot-11.5, 201 pounds

Ratings: Three-star (89 composite)

Even with the signing of Kevin Dillman, a second dual-threat quarterback would be a big addition to Nebraska’s 2015 class. Ketchum has the combination of skills to be a perfect addition to offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s attack. Landing Ketchum, while not critical, would be a huge boon for Nebraska’s recruiting class this year.

 

Donte Jackson

Position: Athlete

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 175 pounds

Ratings: Four-star (95 composite)

Although Jackson doesn’t really come with a particular position, an athlete of his caliber would be a huge addition to Nebraska’s 2015 class. Nebraska is in competition with schools like LSU and Oregon for Jackson’s services, and it would still be a bit of a longshot for him to arrive in Lincoln next year. But don’t count out Nebraska yet, particularly with the recruiting prowess Bo Pelini and his staff have shown this year.

 

Marquise Doherty

Position: Running Back

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

Ratings: Four-star (90 composite)

It’s pretty clear that Nebraska believes it can never have too many running backs. Doherty looks to be another addition to Nebraska’s stable of I-backs, and an impressive one to boot in both size and speed. Nebraska looks to be in the lead to land Doherty, adding to an already-stacked 2015 class.

 

DJ Beavers

Position: Outside linebacker

Measurables: 6-foot-2.5, 200 pounds

Ratings: Three-star (88 composite)

While Nebraska is blessed with a deep and young corps of linebackers, that corps will always need refreshing. Beavers looks to have Nebraska at the top of his list, and his size would make him a good fit for the Blackshirts, particularly if he can develop as a pass rusher.

 

Landis Durham

Position: Outside linebacker, weak-side defensive end

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

Ratings: Three-star (87 composite)

Durham fits perfectly into the evolution of Bo Pelini’s defense, able to shift between linebacker and defensive end in much the same way that Marcus Newby looks to be fitting in as a hybrid role between defensive end and outside linebacker. Seeing a player like Durham as a target is a bit of an insight as to how Nebraska’s defense may very well look in years to come.

Nebraska Football: Four Trap Games for Cornhuskers in 2014

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Trap game (colloq.): A game where a team is favored to win, but whose chances to lose are increased due to external factors.

Nebraska football fans know that every year there are pitfalls on the schedule, traps where a team can stumble where it otherwise wouldn’t. Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has seemed particularly vulnerable to trap games, so it is not unreasonable to scope out where the potential hazards lie in the 2014 schedule. Here are four potential stumbling blocks for the upcoming season.

Minnesota (Nov. 22)

After losing in Minneapolis last year, you would think that Nebraska’s attention would be fully focused on Goldie’s return to Lincoln. Minnesota’s 34-23 defeat of Nebraska was certainly a shock, but had much to do with the play of a clearly-hampered Taylor Martinez at quarterback. And the 2014 Gophers will be arriving in Lincoln without either quarterback Phillip Nelson or star defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. So, easy sailing, right?

As Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend. The Gophers are in perfect position to be a classic trap game, wedged between Nebraska’s trips to play Wisconsin and Iowa. A depleted Minnesota team, which may well struggle in 2014, could easily be overlooked by a Nebraska team potentially chasing a conference title with two marquee road contests surrounding the game. And that, my friend, is the textbook definition of a trap game.

Rutgers (Oct. 25)

Bear with me on this one for a bit. Yes, I know that Rutgers was 6-6 last year. Yes, I know that Minnesota transfer quarterback Phillip Nelson has been dismissed from the team after an assault arrest. So there’s plenty of reason to think that the Scarlet Knights will be a soft target for Nebraska in 2014.

But keep in mind that Rutgers is a new opponent for Nebraska, with NU winning the only other game in the series 28-0. In 1920. At the Polo Grounds.

So there may be some unfamiliarity with the opponent. More importantly, though, is that Rutgers was really young last year. With a bulk of that talent returning, Rutgers could pose a greater challenge to Nebraska than most anticipate. And with Nebraska under Bo Pelini being dogged by inexplicable home losses in the past, it’s hard not to put the Scarlet Knights in the category of at least a potential trap game opponent.

At Fresno State (Sep. 13)

Many are pointing to Nebraska’s game against the Bulldogs as a real challenge for NU, which would almost by definition mean the contest is not a “trap game.” But that analysis comes largely from looking at Fresno’s stellar 2013 campaign, where the Bulldogs spent almost the entire year in the top 25 and were a BCS threat until the final weeks of the season.

Gone from the Bulldogs squad, however, is quarterback Derek Carr, and with Carr goes a great deal of Fresno’s threat. Comparing roster to roster, Nebraska should beat Fresno State comfortably.

So why is this a trap game? Because it is on the road, Nebraska’s first road game of the season, and bizarrely scheduled for a 9:30 p.m. central time kickoff.  Those factors, combined with what looks to be a marquee matchup at home against Miami the following week, make the game at least potentially hazardous for Nebraska.

At Northwestern (Oct. 18)

The Purples are another team that is hard to put in the “trap game” category for Nebraska. Yes, Northwestern fell apart at the end of 2013, and looked pretty bad in doing so. And yes, Nebraska is 2-1 against Northwestern as a conference opponent.

But keep in mind that Nebraska could be—indeed, probably should be—0-3 against Northwestern. Last year, Nebraska needed the “RK III to 1” Hail Mary from Ron Kellogg to Jordan Westerkamp as time expired to win. And in 2012, Nebraska was down 28-16 with 8:31 left to play, and looked absolutely dead to rights. An improbable 13-point comeback in the final minutes of the game was needed for Nebraska to pull out a 29-28 victory.

So from a talent standpoint, the Purples may not match up well against Nebraska. But on the road, against a team with the kind of track record that Northwestern has against Nebraska, this game has all the makings of problems for NU.

Nebraska Football: Realistic Expectations for the Cornhuskers’ 2014 Season

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans are not exactly known for their realism. Visions of Nebraska’s glories in the nineties can cloud the most rational fan’s judgment. But Nebraska fans are also painfully aware how the “Conference Championship” banner on the West Stadium has not been updated since 1999, making memories of those past glories grow dimmer by the day.

So perhaps a little realism isn’t a bad thing. Here are some realistic expectations of what Nebraska may achieve in 2014.

Star Performers

Ameer Abdullah (IB) – Given the depth in the backfield, it would not be a big surprise to see Abdullah’s carries go down from his 281 rushing attempts last year. But with what looks to be an improved (or at least more stable) offensive line, Abdullah’s production may increase. Don’t be shocked if, should he stay healthy, Abdullah at least gets close to a 2,000-yard rushing season in his senior campaign.

Tommy Armstrong (QB) – Armstrong has all the intangibles, and the one big tangible of being 7-1 as a starter. But his underlying statistics—less than a 52 percent completion, and a 9/8 touchdown to interception ratio—are not indicative of long-term success. While a full off-season of preparation and an offense tailored to his skill set will help, expecting dramatic improvement from Armstrong’s 2013 statistics is probably not realistic.

Randy Gregory (DE) – Last year at this time, Gregory was an exciting but unknown prospect as a junior college transfer. This year, he’s been tapped by many as a first-round NFL draft pick for 2015. Last year, Gregory had 9.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. I would expect, now that Gregory is a known commodity, he will be seeing a lot more double teams and schemes to slow him down. So while his influence may increase, it is entirely possible his stats will not reflect that increase.
Breakout Candidates

Terrell Newby (IB) – Imani Cross will likely be ahead of Newby on the depth chart at the start of the season. But Newby’s breakaway speed and shiftiness make him a home run threat unlike any other on Nebraska’s roster. And if he is able to run between the tackles, something he showed in the Spring Game, then Newby could truly be a game changer for Nebraska’s offense.

Zaire Anderson (LB) – Nebraska’s linebacker corps is full of youth, talent, and potential.  But it is also full of question marks. Anderson, looking to get a full season in without injury, may be the most talented of all Nebraska’s linebackers, and brings a level of experience which should elevate his level of play in 2014.

 

The Non-Conference

Nebraska’s non-conference schedule looks to present two challenges, a trip to Fresno State and a home matchup against Miami. However, both the Bulldogs and the Hurricanes are not the teams they were last season. Fresno State looked to be a BCS buster last year, but should be a very different team without quarterback Derek Carr. Miami has quarterback questions as well, with senior Ryan Williams undergoing surgery on his right ACL. While it is possible Williams will be able to play against Nebraska, there is no doubt he will miss all of fall camp.

So while on paper Nebraska’s non-conference schedule looks challenging, it is not at all unreasonable to expect NU to emerge 4-0 heading into conference play.

 

The Conference Season

Nebraska’s conference season schedule is far more challenging than it was last season. While Nebraska does avoid Ohio State and Michigan from the Big Ten East, there are plenty of pitfalls on the schedule.

Back-to-back trips to Michigan State and Northwestern, and subsequent road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa, will be the biggest challenge for Nebraska this season.  The Spartans are the defending B1G champions and return a number of starters. Northwestern very easily could be 3-0 against Nebraska in conference play. Wisconsin remains formidable even after a down season, and Iowa is coming off a victory over Nebraska in Lincoln.

Nebraska navigating this schedule at 3-1 would be doing well, and a 2-2 record in those four games is not at all out of the question.

The Postseason

So, will Nebraska make it back to Indianapolis? It’s possible, but the odds are stacked against them. Both Wisconsin and Iowa have much more favorable schedules than Nebraska. It is entirely possible that Wisconsin will not lose more than two conference game, and Iowa not more than one. That would put a tremendous amount of pressure on both those games for Nebraska, then.

Even if Nebraska gets off the four-loss schnide this year, which is eminently possible, a loss to either Wisconsin or Iowa would likely hand the division to either of those teams on a tiebreaker. Nebraska may be a better team than last year, but with the relative schedules NU’s chances of going back to Indianapolis are dimmer.

Extra Points 05/08/14

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Some of the best info about Nebraska football from around the web.

A deep dive into Nebraska’s 2011 recruiting class, seeing how NU did in retrospect. (Omaha World-Herald)

The Nebraska football program is one of the best academic performers nationwide. (WOWT)

Nebraska unveils a new “seat yourself” mechanism for season ticket selection. (Corn Nation)

Is the B1G kicking the football season off in New York on the cards? (Big Ten Network)

Nebraska Football: Five 2015 Recruits Every Cornhusker Fan Should Be Following

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know that recruiting never ends, and that NU must be focused now on the class of 2015 to help secure future glories. So as the spring game fades from memory, and fall camp still seems quite far off, those fans will be spending this summer keeping track of Nebraska’s prospects for next year’s recruiting class. Here are five names to keep an eye on, and help you through those long summer months until football comes back.

All rankings (including national rankings in parentheses for each position), measurables, and ratings are from 247 Sports.

J.W. Ketchum III

Position: Athlete (no. 14), Dual-Threat Quarterback

Measurables: 5-foot-11.5, 201 pounds, 4.56 40-yard dash

Rating: Four-star (0.9225)

The search for a quarterback is never-ending. Even with Nebraska’s signing of Kevin Dillman, a second dual-threat quarterback target is important for Nebraska’s 2015 class. Ketchum would fit the bill nicely, with decent speed and athletic talent to provide depth and competition at signal-caller in a post-Tommy Armstrong world.

Marquise Doherty

Position:  Running Back (no. 39), Safety, Athlete

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, 4.62 40-yard dash

Rating: Three-star (0.8778)

Much like at quarterback, it’s hard for Nebraska to have too many running backs. Right now, the backfield depth seems pretty deep. But look down the road a couple of years, after the departure of Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, and you can see how important keeping the flow of tailbacks is for Nebraska. Doherty fits the bill, with enough athleticism and flexibility to play other positions if need be.

D.J. Beavers

Position: Outside Linebacker (no. 27)

Measurables: 6-foot-2.5, 200 pounds, 4.70 40-yard dash

Rating: Three-star (0.8721)

As we see Nebraska’s defense evolving under Bo Pelini, one of the crucial areas will be finding players that can effectively rush the passer. Landing Beavers would be a nice addition to an area where Nebraska is already young, providing depth and a solid pipeline of talent for years to come.

Landis Dunham

Position: Outside Linebacker (no. 47), Weak-Side Defensive End

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

Rating: Three-star (0.8530)

Are you sensing a theme? Yes, Nebraska will be looking hard for edge pass rushers, particularly if Randy Gregory decides to forego his senior season in 2015 and head for greener pastures in the NFL. Dunham is the kind of player Nebraska is looking for, with the flexibility to slide from defensive line to linebacker depending on the need.

Monte Harrison

Position: Wide Receiver (no. 60)

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds

Rating: Three-star (0.8818)

Yes, I know that Harrison is signed and part of Nebraska’s 2014 class. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be seeing him on the field in Memorial Stadium this August. Harrison is baseball player as well, and likely to be drafted fairly high by a major league club. Much like the Bubba Starling saga, whether or not Harrison decides to forego his college career for a pro baseball paycheck is a question that won’t be answered until August.

But of all the recruiting questions Nebraska fans will be following, Harrison’s decision will have the most immediate impact on NU’s prospects.

Extra Points 04/29/14

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Some of the best info about Nebraska football from around the web.

Nebraska spends the most in the B1G in recruiting costs. (Iowa City Gazette)

ESPN making a “30 for 30” about Nebraska going for 2 in the ’83 Orange Bowl. (Lincoln Journal-Star)

Many athletic directors believe college football playoffs will expand. (Yahoo!)

Nebraska’s all-Spring Game team. (Bleacher Report)