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.

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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.

Nebraska Football: Position-by-Position Grades for the 2015 Recruiting Class

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have now had a couple of weeks to digest the 2015 recruiting class, and see how it fits in to the overall roster makeup (with great thanks to the Omaha World-Herald). We’ve already looked at who are the Super Six of this class, but now is a time to take a step back and see how the class as a whole, looks, position by position.

The overall class grade for each position will consider two factors. First, it will look at how much raw talent at each position was brought in. Second, it will look at the needs at each position and how the incoming class fills those needs.

All measurables and rankings from 247 Sports.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Jalin Barnett (OG, four-star, .9207 composite)

Michael Decker (OG, three-star, .8544 composite)

Christian Gaylord (OT, three-star, .8882 composite)

The signing of Barnett by new head coach Mike Riley might have been one of the biggest coups of this year’s recruiting class. Barnett, the best of the 2015 class according to one smart and particularly handsome analyst, was not a Bo Pelini recruit that Riley held on to. Rather, he was new to the class, and a big addition.

A refreshing of the position is always important, particularly as Nebraska has six seniors set to graduate in 2015. But with a strong class of redshirt freshmen this year, the offensive line might not have been a position of need like some of the others.

Still, the landing of Barnett gives rise to a high mark for this position group.

Final grade: A-

BACKS

Devine Ozigbo (RB, three-star, .8560 composite)

Ozigbo was another Riley-only signing, decommitting from Iowa State after Nebraska lost Kendall Bussey. The I-back position might be Nebraska’s strongest position, and the addition of (with all due respect) an Iowa State-level talent to the mix likely won’t be a game-changer for NU.

Failing to sign a quarterback in the 2015 class might be understandable given the depth of the position and the likelihood that Nebraska’s new staff will be wanting a different type of signal-caller than the previous regime. But it’s always a little concerning to see a recruiting class without a quarterback.

Nebraska also did not sign a scholarship fullback, and after the graduation of senior Andy Janovich will not (absent giving a scholarship to a walk-on) have a scholarship fullback on the roster next season. While Nebraska did add a walk-on fullback in Austin Hemphill, and there is still uncertainty in Riley’s offensive structure of a fullback’s importance, the lack of depth at the position has to at least raise an eyebrow.

Final grade: D

RECEIVERS

Lavan Alston (WR, three-star, .8832 composite)

Stanley Morgan (WR, three-star, .8765 composite)

Matt Snyder (TE, three-star, .8523 composite)

Getting Jamal Turner back from injury should boost Nebraska’s wide receiver corps in 2015, and NU’s depth at the position means quality over quantity could be the rule of the day. Both Morgan and Alston look to add some speed to the position.

But the start of this group might well be Snyder, a receiving-threat tight end that could come in right away and add to the threat Cethan Carter currently poses. If Riley’s offensive scheme is more willing to utilize the tight end in the offense than the previous regime—which, in fairness, means the scheme would use the tight end more than once in a blue moon, not exactly a high bar—then Snyder could end up to be the steal of the class.

Final grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE

DaiShon Neal (DE, three-star, .8588 composite)

Khalil Davis (DT, three-star, .8730 composite)

Carlos Davis (DT, three-star, .8891 composite)

Alex Davis (DE, three-star, .8059 composite)

Three of the four defensive line recruits, Neal and the Davis twins (Khalil and Carlos) were bigger stories about their retention than their impact on the roster. The Davis twins were thought to perhaps waiver on their commitment to Nebraska after Pelini was fired, and Neal was the target of a late recruiting push by new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

But the recruiting “victories” aside, the additions to the defensive line were sorely needed. The three that Riley had to sweat about keeping are easily in the top half of the class in terms of overall talent. And at both defensive end and defensive tackle, Nebraska was sorely needing both talent and depth. The absence of a four-star talent is the only thing that puts a damper on this grade.

Final grade: A-

LINEBACKERS

Mohamed Barry (LB, three-star, .8398 composite)

Dedrick Young (ATH/LB, three-star, .8609 composite)

Tyrin Ferguson (LB, three-star, .8312 composite)

Adrienne Talan (S/LB, three-star, .8416 composite)

Antonio Reed (S/LB, three-star, .8026 composite)

If wide receiver was about quality over quantity, then linebacker was the opposite. Coming into 2015, Nebraska only had five (!) scholarship linebackers on the roster, so getting bodies to play the position was critical. It’s one reason why hybrid players like Antonio Reed, Dedrick  Young and Adrienne Talan are listed at linebacker, simply because the position is so thin that it is likely they will be put there first.

There is no stand-out talent in the group, although Young has the best chance to out-perform his star ranking once he gets on campus. But Nebraska was able to fill up the numbers with players that have enough talent to be considered at least lottery tickets, in the hopes that some will come good. Still, look for linebacker to be a position of focus for the 2016 class.

Final grade: B-

SECONDARY

Eric Lee (CB, four-star, .9414 composite)

Aaron Williams (DB, three-star, .8610 composite)

Avery Anderson (ATH/DB, three-star, .8935 composite)

Lee and Anderson have been committed to Nebraska for so long that it’s almost strange to think of them as part of the 2015 class. But for Riley to hold on to their commits (particularly Lee, who could arguably be the best player of the class) and have them available for spring practice as early enrollees might be one of the most important feats of Riley’s young career in Lincoln.

Defensive back is an area where Nebraska is very—almost ridiculously—deep in 2015. But don’t be surprised if at least one of these guys pushes for playing time next season.

Final grade: A

SPECIALISTS

Jordan Ober (LS, two-star, .7478 composite)

Don’t laugh. Long snappers are amazingly important. Not being competent at long snapping can be akin to a turnover on punts, and a surrender of points on field goals. While the position is about as specialized as a left-handed knuckleball middle reliever in baseball, it’s vital to have for a program that wants to compete for championships.

With the injury to Gabe Miller, Nebraska was without a scholarship long snapper. With Ober’s addition, Nebraska now has that hole filled. Mission accomplished.

Final grade: A

Nebraska Football Three Redshirts With Best Chance To Earn Starting Spot in 2015

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have already started to dive into the roster, trying to imagine what next year’s starting lineup will look like. The players who redshirted last year (31 in total) will get their first chance to see the field this fall. Of course, between talent and position depth, some will have a better chance than others to work their way up the depth chart.

Here are three of the most likely redshirt freshmen to win a starting spot next season.

Tanner Farmer

The line is one of the most difficult places for younger players to break in, simply because of the physical demands of the position. At least a year of college-level weight training is usually required before linemen on both sides of the ball can usually be ready to stand up to the demands of the position.

Farmer is one of three redshirts (along with D.J. Foster and Nick Gates) who will be in the mix this year for playing time at offensive line. There are currently six senior offensive linemen, with two of those (Matt Finnin and Chongo Kondolo) limited to reserve roles. Of the five players who are sophomores and juniors on the offensive line, only one (Paul Thurston) has really claimed any significant playing time.

That means the door should be open for the incoming redshirt freshman to fight for and win a starting spot on the line. As the highest-rated recruit (according to 247 Sports), Farmer gets the slight nod over the other two, but all three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen should see a terrific opportunity for themselves in 2015.

Mick Stoltenberg

Other than linebacker, defensive end might be the thinnest position on Nebraska’s roster coming in to 2015. The early departure of Randy Gregory, combined with Avery Moss being denied re-entry to the school, leaves Nebraska with only four defensive ends outside of the redshirt freshmen. Two of those four, Joe Keels and A.J. Natter, have struggled to make any impact since arriving in Lincoln.

The depth is such a concern that (according to Corn Nation) Freedom Akinmoladun is being considered for a move from tight end to defensive end. While Akinmoladun is an impressive athlete, learning a new position is a challenge, meaning that Stoltenberg (who was a higher-ranked recruit, according to 247 Sports, than Sedrick King, the other redshirt freshman defensive end) should be considered to have a better chance at winning a starting role.

Mikale Wilbon

Nebraska will have a huge, Ameer Abdullah-shaped hole in its offense for 2015. And there is no clear-cut candidate to step in and fill the role. Senior Imani Cross has the most experience, but also lacks the speed to be an explosive threat. Junior Terrell Newby has the speed, but has failed to grasp the opportunities he’s been given to earn more playing time to date. Sophomore Adam Taylor has been hampered by injuries, so we really haven’t had a chance to see what he can do at the collegiate level.

Which leaves the door wide open for Wilbon, who has been put “into the same sentence as Ameer Abdullah,” according to Big Red Report’s Josh Harvey. With a new coaching staff and the departure of one of the best I-backs to play in Lincoln, competition for the starting job should be wide open—leaving Wilbon a clear opportunity to win it in 2015.

Nebraska Football Class: Super Six of Cornhuskers’ 2015 Class

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

While it sounds far more like the name of a B-list superhero team, the “Super Six” is the cliché for laying out the best six recruits in a team’s class. Nebraska’s 2015 class signed 20 players, ending up no. 31 nationally and no. 4 in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports.

So who is Nebraska’s Super Six out of the 2015 class? Here’s the view (along with a bonus sleeper) from one smart and particularly handsome analyst.

No. 6: Dedrick Young (ATH/LB, three-star, 87 composite)

Given Nebraska’s desperate need to build depth at linebacker, it’s almost impossible to fill out a Super Six without including one. Young looks to be the most promising of Nebraska’s three linebackers in the 2015 class (four if you count Adrienne Talan). He’s also an early-enrollee, meaning Young will get to participate in spring practice. Don’t be surprised to see him competing for playing time as a true freshman in 2015.

No. 5: Matt Snyder (TE, three-star, 88 composite)

Under Bo Pelini, the tight end position was maddeningly under-utilized. While being blessed with a number of offensive threats at the position (Mike McNeil, Kyler Reed, and Cethan Carter), Nebraska’s offense never found a way to really utilize the kind of matchup problems a pass-catching tight end can cause.

So to see Nebraska land another threat in Snyder, to compliment what will hopefully be an expanded role for Carter going forward, is a promising sign of things to come.

No. 4: Carlos Davis (DE, three-star, 89 composite) and Khalil Davis (DT, three-star, 89 composite)

Yeah, I know it’s cheating (and kind of trite) to list them both in one spot. But, honestly, they’re both incredibly talent, both will be playing on the defensive line, and landing the twins was very much a package deal for Nebraska.

So while they may not see the field at the same time (given the depth issues, Carlos has a better shot at freshman playing time), listing them both at the same time feels about right.

No. 3: Daishon Neal (DE, three-star, 89 composite)

While raw, Neil looks to have the potential to be a dominant defensive end. Enough potential to draw interest from a number of big-time programs around the country, particularly a late push by Michigan (according to Corn Nation) once Jim Harbaugh arrived.

Given the position of need he is filling, the potential he is showing, and the ability of Nebraska to protect a home-state kid (Neal is a graduate of Omaha Central) from being poached by a conference rival, Neal’s signature is a big deal.

No. 2: Eric Lee (CB, four-star, 93 composite)

Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions on defense to play, combining the need for speed, aggression, ball skills, and the knowledge to read both an offensive play and the receiver being covered. Lee possesses all those skills, and has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Blackshirts.

While not getting the top overall nod, Lee’s retention in the class after the coaching change was one of new head coach Mike Riley’s biggest successes in his young tenure at Nebraska.

No. 1: Jalin Barnett (OG, four-star, 92 composite)

You could make a pretty good argument that Lee is a better overall player than Barnett, or at the very least a better NFL prospect. But during his Signing Day press conference (a transcript found on Huskers.com), Riley repeatedly referred to offensive linemen as “gold.”

And for good reason, given the importance of the offensive line to everything a football team is trying to do. Barnett looks to be the best of the bunch, even at a position of depth for Nebraska at the moment. While he may not make the field in 2015, Barnett’s potential still makes him the top pick of the class.

Sleeper: Lavan Alston (WR, three-star, 88 composite)

I have somewhat of the same propensity as Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, in that I think you can never have too much speed on the field. (I also like white jumpsuits and little chains to hold my glasses, but that’s another story for another day).

One thing that will improve a running game immensely is a wide receiver who is a threat to stretch the field. When Kenny Bell was injured last year, Nebraska’s ability to take the top off opposing defenses was limited, and the running game suffered as a result.

Alston is the kind of deep-threat receiver that can make a difference not only in the plays he makes, but in the way he forces defenses to adapt to his presence on the field. Don’t be surprised to see him in the mix this season.

All rankings from 247Sports.

Nebraska Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans will be closely following coverage of National Signing Day on February 04. But as Signing Day approaches, Nebraska fans will be wondering what NU’s class for 2015 will look like. The contours of the class seem pretty clear, however. It is currently ranked no. 30 in the nation and no. 4 in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports.

While there are, of course, unexpected changes that can occur, it’s likely that the 20-man class of enrollees and commits that we currently know will end up as Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class. So, absent a huge shock, here’s what the newest group of Huskers should look like.

All rankings from 247 Sports.

The Early Enrollees

Eric Lee (CB, four-star, 93 composite)

Avery Anderson (ATH, three-star, 88 composite)

Aaron Williams (S, three-star, 88 composite)

Dedrick Young (ATH, three-star, 88 composite)

Early enrollees are the recruiting version of money in the bank. Once they’ve enrolled, you feel much more protected that the players will actually sign and become part of your class for the following year.

But this year’s early enrollees are more than just a security blanket. Lee might be the best overall player in the class, and the early enrollees as a whole could become the cornerstone of Nebraska’s secondary in the years to come.

The Top of the Class

Jalin Barnett (OG, four-star, 92 composite)

Christian Gaylord (OT, four-star, 90 composite)

Khalil Davis (DT, three-star, 89 composite)

Carlos Davis (DE, three-star, 89 composite)

Daishon Neal (DE, three-star, 89 composite)

Lavan Alston (WR, three-star, 88 composite)

Matt Snyder (TE, three-star, 88 composite)

The top of Nebraska’s class was the first test of new head coach Mike Riley’s recruiting acumen. Riley was able to land Barnett, Alston, and Snyder on his own, and was able to keep the Davis twins on board and Snyder and in the fold after new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh made a run at them.

Gaylord and Austin will help to fill positions of need for Nebraska. But with only three four-stars in the class, Nebraska fans will be hoping a full season of recruiting (along with more scholarships to offer) will help Riley pull in a bigger haul in 2016.

The Rest of the Class

Stanley Morgan (WR, three-star, 87 composite)

Devine Ozigbo (RB, three-star, 86 composite)

Michael Decker (OG, three-star, 86 composite)

Willie Sykes (CB, three-star, 85 composite)

Alex Davis (DE, three-star, 84 composite)

Tyrin Ferguson (LB, three-star, 84 composite)

Mohammed Barry (LB, three-star, 84 composite)

Antonio Reed (S, three-star, 83 composite)

Jordan Ober, (LS, two-star, no composite)

The rest of Nebraska’s class addresses some glaring needs, particularly at linebacker with Ferguson and Barry. Missing out on junior college linebacker transfer Kaiwan Lewis was a blow, as Nebraska was hoping for adding some instant depth at the position.

The addition of Morgan should help a wide receiver corps that becomes disturbingly thin after graduation this year. Ozigbo is an interesting running back transfer from Iowa State, while Sykes and Reed should add to what looks to be a deep and imposing secondary. And Ober could very well be cover for an injury to scholarship long snapper Gabe Miller last season.