Nebraska Football: Assessing and Power Ranking the Cornhuskers’ 2021 Alternate Uniform

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. Yes, Nebraska should probably be worrying less about cool alternate threads and more about putting a less-atrocious product on the field. But these things have been ready to go for a while, so I doubt that the Illinois loss can really be hung too much on uniform focus.

Plus, come on now, we could use something positive and fun to focus on, right? More importantly, the uniforms will pay homage to first responders on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Like always, we’re going to judge this year’s entry using the standards from Paul Lukas’ groundbreaking Uni Watch website – good or stupid?

Helmet

Basically the same cream shell, same scarlet skinny stripe, but it’s the old-school interlocking block-NU rather than the sans serif N. Nebraska seems to be giving more space to that old-school logo, so this helmet could very well make its way into a regular rotation. Super sharp, and an easy “good.”

Jersey

The white at home will be a little jarring, but the typeface on the numerals looks amazing. It should be plenty legible and distinctive (in other words, no trash bags). There is an incredibly subtle camouflage pattern throughout the uniform – which, not gonna lie, I didn’t notice until someone else pointed it out. Camo unis are almost always stupid, but because it’s so subtle it actually works as the homage it is intended to be. This one “good” but nearly veering into the other category.

Pants

There’s a camo pattern there too but OMG OMG OMG STRIPES GAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!

Long-time readers will know that this site is firmly Team #SaveTheStripes, and is now holding out the slimmest of hopes that this alternate will be a tentative step towards sartorial sanity and a return to the striped pants. It’s not just “good” it’s fricking awesome!

NEBRASKA ALTERNATE UNIFORM POWER RANKING

11. 2014

The infamous trash bag uniforms, which had numerals which literally couldn’t be read from the stands. The two-toned helmets were pretty cool, but overall the unis were a disaster.

10. 2015

Mystifyingly, adidas took its disastrous 2014 concept and made just a slight tweak, putting it on a black background instead of a red one, and made the uniform only marginally less horrific.

9. 2012

These original (well, except for 2009) throwbacks get far more hate than they deserve, especially how well they combined with Wisconsin’s to make a truly memorable spectacle. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, Wisconsin had the better unis that night.)

8. 2016

The first road alternates Nebraska has worn ended up making good use of the trash-bag silver, working them into an ice concept that ended up very sharp.

7. 2017

The concept was brilliant, to pay homage to the 1997 team by replicating the mesh uniforms. And while it came out great, it was also hard to tell the unis apart from normal ones on the field during the game. (In full disclosure, this picture is also my avatar on an unsettling number of websites).

6. 2013

Even early in the process, adidas got this one right. The basic black uniforms, the different-but-legible stencil numerals, and the overall simplicity gives this one a place of honor in the Nebraska alternate uniform pantheon. The unique stenciled numerals and (of course) the stripes on the pants give 2013 the nod over 2019.

5. 2020

Yes, Nebraska has never actually worn this outfit, but it doesn’t make it any less sharp (especially with the scary Hallowe’en motif for which I am a total sucker). Once you’ve swallowed the concept that the Blackshirts logo is for the whole team – which took some work – then it’s hard not to love this set.

4. 2021

I really do love a monochrome uniform set as an alternate (or unless you’re the Seahawks). And mainly because you can’t really see the camo unless you look hard, this set is incredibly clean. The old-school NU logo on the helmet is a nice change of pace without the helmet looking dramatically different, and the typeface on the numerals is unique and sharp.

And then there’s the stripes. Those blessed, amazing, gorgeous stripes matching the shoulder sleeves and making the uniform connect rather than wearing yoga pants. Hopefully a bellweather of things to come.

3. 2019

OK, I admit it, these things have grown on me to the point where they surpassed the 2013 set, something I didn’t think would happen. Now, if Nebraska goes the full Darth Vader and rolls out with these shirt and the 2020 black pants …

2. 2018

Anything that involves old-school numerals, a shout-out to the Stadium Clock, and the full In the Deed The Glory inscription is going to be hard to beat. If it wasn’t for the silly helmet, this one would be the one to beat. Also, adidas, why could I not buy an “18” jersey with the cool 8 numeral, instead of getting stuck just buying a “1.” Just take my money already!

1. 2009

Because of the three-year hiatus, these gorgeous threads frequently get left out of the alternate uniform consideration. That’s a shame, because these throwbacks, with the curly-Q numerals and numbers on the helmets, have yet to be surpassed. Quite honestly, Nebraska could go to these uniforms as their regular ones tomorrow and I’d be quite happy (as long as they put the stripes back on the pants, natch).

GBR, baby!

Nebraska Football: A Fan’s Survival Guide After the Illinois Debacle

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Rita Mae Brown, “Sudden Death” (and not Albert Einstein)

’But I don’t want to go among mad people’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

Lewis Carrol, “Alice in Wonderland”

You felt it, didn’t you Husker Fan? That familiar tingle of excitement, of connection, as Nebraska’s 2021 season started up. You opened your heart, you let yourself believe again, you got on the roller-coaster and started the ride.

It started … ok, at least. Yeah, Nebraska couldn’t run the ball between the tackles, which was troubling. Yeah, it looked like Adrian Martinez didn’t realize he was allowed to step into a throw. But the Blackshirts looked like the Blackshirts and maybe, just maybe …

When was it for you? For me, it was when Cam Taylor-Britt – one of the team’s unquestioned leaders – inexplicably fielded a punt running backwards at the one, let his momentum take him into the end zone, then tried to throw the ball out of bounds. That mystifying, skull-numbing, soul-crushing moment which you could never predict and was so utterly predictable for this Nebraska team, finally generated this response from a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst.

We’ve been trying to fight against this conclusion, haven’t we Husker Fan? We’ve been hoping against hope that despite what our lying eyes have shown us, that this year, this game, this play, will be different. We’ve been wanting to ignore the weed of stagnation that’s taken root, choking out the sunlight of progress.

So here we are. And after Illinois 2021, I would wager that most of you are where I am right now.

But … where is that place we are? A loss of faith in the current regime, sure. A protective distance emotionally from the team, of course.

Striking your colors, abandoning Nebraska football – abandoning the heritage and tradition handed down to us from generations past? Nah, Husker Fan, you’re made of sturdier stuff than that.

Uncomfortably, after last year’s Illinois loss the program seemed to be at an existential crisis, and a smart and particularly handsome analyst gave you Ten Commandments about how to wander through what appeared to be the impending desert. Go read that again, everything in there you’re gonna need in the next few months – and likely years.

But there’s still 11 games left to play, and a squad of kids that still need your support.

I know you say you don’t want to. Heck, I don’t want to. After all the pain of the last decade seemed to be balled up and concentrated into a three-hour gut-punch on Saturday, I get the instinct that you don’t ever want to let that team hurt you again.

But, like King George sang to the colonists in “Hamilton” …

(Yeah, I know, King George in that show is a metaphor for an abusive relationship and the colonists did not, in fact, come back. But come on, where else are you gonna get that GIF in a piece about Nebraska football? This is the content you come here for, admit it.)

And that’s ok. Remember, even after last year’s Illinois debacle, Nebraska just about went to Iowa City and got the Heroes Trophy back.

Nebraska fans don’t expect championships, regardless of what silliness Paul Finebaum and Colin Cowherd might like to spout. They don’t even expect conference titles on the regular.

They just want Nebraska football to be fun. Nebraska football is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a source of excitement, of escape, of being that incredibly important irrelevant thing you spend your summers anticipating, your autumn days obsessing over, and your Saturdays being all-consumed by.

Nebraska football isn’t fun, and it hasn’t been for some time. It’s heavy, like an obligation, like a curse laid upon a fanbase by an angry ghost.

And I promise you, Husker Fan, there’s still fun to be had in Nebraska football. Read up on the Commandments, take a deep breath, check your expectations, and don’t check out. I know you’re mad (or as Dave Feit masterfully observed in Sports Illustrated, just disappointed) at him right now, but listen to what Martinez is asking of you (from his post-game Illinois quotes)

Look we are here to play some football. We are here to enjoy it. We are here to have fun. And our guys are going to do that. And we are getting better and we are giving it everything we have. There is a lot of investment on this end. We are going to get things right so stick with us. We are going to play our tails off every week and I sincerely hope you enjoy watching that.

Adrian Martinez, Illinois post-game quotes 08/30/21

I’m … not as convinced as 2AM that this team will, in fact, get things right. But I owe it to him, to this team, and to myself to give him the shot.

One thing I’m definitely not going to do is go all Spectre of Death like the Omaha World-Herald’s Dirk Chatelain did. It’s a long piece, but here’s the conclusion of his column.

But what does this program look like in 10 years? Main Street after the factory left town? Dry-land corn during a summer drought? Wyoming?

I don’t know. You don’t know. For years, I’ve told myself that it’s coming back when the circumstances get right again. When the right people fill the big chairs. Frost was supposed to make it right.

“I believe in my heart this team can still have a special season,” Frost said Saturday.

There was a time when those words would’ve read like Gospel truth. Now they just sound like desperation.

Dirk Chatelain, Omaha World-Herald

Chatelain is a great writer – you can read that just in those paragraphs. And I was one who defended Chatelain to the hilt when he was former head coach Bo Pelini’s favorite cartoon villain.

But this column is just maudlin nonsense. It’s raw, undiluted despair spilled out in newsprint and pixels behind a paywall. It’s also exactly how I felt most of Saturday evening.

After just a bit of reflection, though, it’s not true. At least it’s not the only truth.

Could Nebraska be the college football equivalent of a ghost town in 2031? Sure. The zombie apocalypse could also finally happen making all of this discussion relatively moot.

But all of Nebraska’s inherent advantages – specifically its history, its home in the B1G, its pound-for-pound unrivaled fanbase which leads to eyeballs on televisions – still remain.

That smart and particularly handsome analyst we keep talking about told you back in 2018 how Scott Frost could fail at Nebraska. And that same analyst told you this about where Nebraska would be if that failure should come to pass.

Nebraska football as a program is bigger than one coach – yes, even Frost. Maybe he’s not the right guy for the job. Maybe it’s the next guy that comes in that gets Nebraska back to the promised land.

Nebraska has played college football since 1890. Memorial Stadium was built in 1923. Nebraska fans have been, well, Nebraska fans, swarming to follow the scarlet and cream to its first Rose Bowl in 1941.

Nebraska football will be there after Frost is gone – whether he’s fired after abject failure or after winning national championships. That’s why being a Nebraska fan is so powerful – because it connects you to that history, that tradition, that rhythm of life that was there before you were here and will be there once you’re gone.

Patrick Runge, The Double Extra Point

Keep the faith, Husker Fan. Find the joy in the little things as we prepare ourselves for another trek through the desert. Just know that you’re not going to be wandering alone. Because, y’know, in all kinds of weather …

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: What New Redshirt Rules Mean for the Cornhuskers

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Wednesday, the NCAA adopted new rules that will have a significant impact on college football rosters. Under the new rules, players can participate in up to four games in a season and still be eligible to redshirt for that season.

Under the previous rules, participating in even one snap during a season would burn a player’s redshirt for the year unless that player received a medical exemption from the NCAA. Now, a player can participate in up to four games – a quarter of the regular season – and still be able to redshirt and not lose a year of eligibility.

This rule change, which takes effect this coming season, will have a significant effect on how all college football teams manage their rosters. What will those effects be, and how specifically will they affect Nebraska?

DEPTH OPTIONS FOR INJURIES

More than likely, the biggest change this rule will create is the ability for schools to expand the pool of players they can use to cover injuries. Take a look at Nebraska’s roster distribution and you can see an alarming depth situation at a number of key positions.

With the new rule, Nebraska will now be able to press true freshmen in a crisis situation without having to burn their redshirts for one play. So if Nebraska finds itself due to injury or suspension down to a choice between a true freshman scholarship player or a walk-on without the requisite talent to hold up, Nebraska will now not have to factor in the loss of a redshirt season to let that freshman play for a game or four.

This could become even more important on the offensive and defensive lines, when freshmen are given an extra couple of months in the strength and conditioning program to build up size and strength to stand up against B1G competition. Particularly at offensive line, even being able to increase the number of players that can be included in a rotation will help preserve the starters’ ability to last throughout a season.

IN-GAME OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROMISING FRESHMEN

The other significant change that the new redshirt rule will provide is the ability for teams to give immediate in-game opportunities for incoming freshman that could compete for playing time.

As an example, take a look at Jaylin Bradley’s 2017 campaign for Nebraska as a true freshman.

Game Total touches Total yards
Northern Illinois 0 0
Rutgers 6 16
Illinois 1 7
Purdue 7 42
Penn State 1 9
Iowa 9 19
TOTAL 24 93

Under the old system, once Bradley entered the game against Northern Illinois – even though he didn’t touch the ball – his redshirt year was gone.  Whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze with regards to the decision to burn his redshirt season is certainly up for debate. But there’s no question that as a result of the old rule, his sporadic use was a sunk cost.

Under the new rule, Bradley’s entry into the game against Northern Illinois and Rutgers would have still left the coaching staff with the ability to find spots for him to potentially contribute (such as Purdue and Iowa) while protecting his redshirt eligibility.

An even clearer example of how the new rule and avoiding the sunk cost of a burned redshirt could benefit both players and teams is wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey. Here’s Lindsey’s 2017 total offensive output.

Game Total touches Total yards
Arkansas State 0 0
Oregon 2 5
Northern Illinois 0 0
Rutgers 0 0
Illinois 0 0
Wisconsin 0 0
Ohio State 0 0
Purdue 1 3
Northwestern 2 -6
Minnesota 0 0
Penn State 1 1
Iowa 1 1
Total 7 4

Lindsey was one of Nebraska’s most exciting recruits in the 2017 class, and it made perfect sense to get him onto the field and see if his electric skills could make a difference. Unfortunately for Lindsey, it didn’t really work out for him to contribute last year – although, in Lindsey’s defense, not a lot went well for Nebraska last year.

But again, under the old system, once he set foot on the field for one snap against Arkansas State, his redshirt season was gone. Even though the Lindsey experiment was clearly failing, there was no point in not playing him, as the redshirt season was a sunk cost.

Under the new rule, Lindsey would have had four games to demonstrate his ability to contribute on the field. If it wasn’t happening – and boy, was it not happening for Lindsey – then the coaches could have benched Lindsey after those four games and saved a full year of his eligibility.

(Stats from cfbstats.com)

ADDITIONAL MOTIVATION OPPORTUNITIES

Under the old rule, redshirting freshmen pretty much knew they were in for a season of observation. Sure, there’s still plenty of motivation for them to be putting work in for seasons to come. But it’s human nature to have a little extra motivation if you know a payoff for your hard work can come sooner rather than later.

Well, with the new rule there’s another carrot that coaches can use to help drive freshman performance. If a player knows that he could get into four games during the season and not burn a redshirt year, there’s little doubt that will provide a little extra motivational push to perform and earn that playing time.

SPECIFIC ADVANTAGES FOR NEBRASKA

Every school is going to reap the benefits of this new rule, of course. But a program like Nebraska seems poised to take particular advantage of the change.

For schools at the top end, the rule change is going to have limited effect. Part of what makes schools like Alabama and Ohio State such perennial powers is that their rosters are loaded up with blue-chip athletes both young and old. As a result, those schools are far less likely to reach a depth crisis where they would be forced to consider burning a redshirt year to fill a gaping hole in the depth chart due to injury or suspension.

As a result, this de facto expansion of a team’s eligible roster – somewhat akin to Major League Baseball’s expanded rosters in September – should act as somewhat of a leveling device between programs. Because programs such as Nebraska, a tier (or two or three) below teams like Alabama and Ohio State, are more likely to need and use freshmen to fill in depth gaps, the rule change is likely to benefit those lower-tier schools more. That will help close the gap between the Alabamas of the world and those chasing them.

Additionally, because those top-flight schools have stacked rosters already, it would be more difficult for top-tier freshmen to crack the starting lineup. Because those freshmen can see the field earlier without burning a redshirt, the “chasing” programs now have an additional card to play in recruiting battles for highly-regarded prospects – come to a school like Nebraska, and it’s more likely you’ll see the field right away.

The NCAA is quite rightly criticized for any number of things it has done poorly (GIVE US BACK OUR NCAA FOOTBALL VIDEO GAME!!!!) over the years. But this rule change is great. It’s good for the players. It’s good for the schools. And in helping to level the playing field, it’s good for the sport in general.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Three Things We Learned from the Cornhuskers’ Pre-Spring Defensive Depth Chart

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The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!

– To A Mouse, Robert Burns

A certain smart and particularly handsome analyst had a great idea. Do a preview of Nebraska’s depth charts before spring practice started, as a great way to lead into a discussion about how the roster could be composed. The depth chart projection, then, would be a convenient vehicle to analyze where the roster might be weak, or how changes on both sides of the ball could alter how players get used.

Then head coach Mike Riley, in his opening press conference of spring practice, had to go and mess everything up by announcing the entire defensive depth chart. You can see it here, thanks to Hail Varsity.

Now, in fairness, this isn’t exactly a depth chart in the sense of knowing who are the starters and who will be backups. But it does group the defensive roster into positions for new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s 3-4 scheme.

So now that the cat’s out of the bag, and our plans for the next couple of articles at the DXP are ruined, let’s at least take a look at Riley’s version of the Sorting Hat and see what stands out.

Field-side inside linebacker could be a problem

For the most part, Nebraska looks to have decent depth at most positions. But at field-side ILB, the roster looks a little thin. Dedrick Young should have the inside track to start, given the amount of time he played last year (even though his performance fell off towards the end of the season). But after Young, it’s two untested players. Mohammed Barry saw some work on special teams last year but precious little on defense, and redshirt freshman Greg Simmons is an unknown quantity.

Should something happen to Young – either through injury or poor play – then the field-side ILB spot for Nebraska becomes one of the biggest question marks on the defensive unit next season.

Whither the 2015 class?

Of Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class, two of the top four recruits were defensive backs. Eric Lee was the highest rated recruit of that class (according to 247 Sports) at cornerback, and Avery Anderson was the fourth-highest rated player who moved between cornerback and safety.

So it’s a little jarring to see the pre-spring depth chart to list neither Lee nor Anderson. There’s spots on the depth chart for untested kids like JoJo Doman, Dicaprio Bootle, Tony Butler, and Marquel Dismuke. But no mention of the stars from Nebraska’s 2015 class.

That could mean the two of them are destined to be considered busts. Or, it could mean that Nebraska has an untapped vein of talent waiting in the wings of the secondary.

The names are going to take getting used to

Two inside linebackers? A “strong-side” and “field-side” outside linebacker? Defensive “ends” that have functionally the same role as defensive tackles Nebraska fans have grown up watching?

Yes, switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 will be a big adjustment for Nebraska’s players and coaches, both in terms of players on the field and recruiting for the future. But it’s also going to be a big adjustment for fans watching Nebraska’s defense starting in 2017.  The new names – and new roles – for the front seven of the Blackshirts will take some practice.

Nebraska Football: Cornhuskers’ 3 Most Underrated Recruits of 2015

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have been watching the 2015 class take shape as National Signing Day on February 4 approaches. Currently, the class sits at 14, and is ranked no. 36 nationally and no. 5 in the Big Ten by 247 Sports. New Nebraska head coach Mike Riley will be working hard to make up those numbers before National Signing Day.

While the ranking is alarmingly low, the small number of commits (no school ahead of Nebraska has fewer than 16) should help boost the number by the end of the process. But what shouldn’t be lost in the worry about the overall ranking is the quality of prospects already in the class. Here are three that haven’t received the attention they deserve.

All measurables and rankings from 247 Sports

Daishon Neal (Defensive End, 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, three-star, 89 composite)

It might not be entirely fair to list Neal here, as there has been much real and virtual ink spilled about Neal’s flirting with other programs (such as this article from Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald discussing Michigan’s overtures to Neal).

But it’s big news for a reason. Check out this Scholarship Distribution Chart done by the Omaha World-Herald, a phenomenal resource you should have bookmarked. After 2015, Nebraska will only have three (!) scholarship defensive ends. Other than Neal, Nebraska only has one other defensive end commit in Carlos Davis (three-star, 89 composite), so a second defensive end commit is a must-have for NU to fill out its class.

The down-to-the-wire chasing of recruits happens every year, but given Nebraska’s lack of depth at the position and how slim the pickings are if Neal de-commits, it’s almost hard to over-state the importance of Neil for this class.

Jalin Barnett (Offensive Guard, 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, four-star, 92 composite)

Why is the second-highest rated prospect in Nebraska’s 2015 class consider underrated? Well, it’s not because we don’t know about his skills and how he projects at the next level.

What’s underrated about Barrett, at least to this point, is when he was signed. Barrett wasn’t a Bo Pelini recruit that Riley has held onto. Barrett signed for Riley, not for Pelini, a sign that the man from Corvalis, Oregon, is able to convince top-flight talent to come to Lincoln.

Whether a flow of four-stars to Lincoln under Riley will continue is a question that will be answered in part this February, and in more detail with next year’s class. But the fact that Riley was able to land one so quickly after taking charge bodes well for his future.

Stanley Morgan (Wide Receiver, 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, three-star, 87 composite)

Nebraska’s senior-laden defensive end class has been well documents, but less attention has been paid to thirty percent of NU’s scholarship wide receivers being seniors in 2015. After this year, though, Nebraska will be down to seven scholarship wide receivers, two of them (Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly) having a history of injuries.

Which makes having just one wide receiver in the 2015 class (at least to this point) a bit of a gamble. Morgan looks to be a good addition to Nebraska’s wide receiving corps, with the potential to fight for playing time right away. But given Nebraska’s impending lack of depth at wide receiver, coupled with a likely shift to more of a passing attack under Riley, Morgan’s addition to the class becomes incredibly important.

Nebraska Football: Who Will Be The Huskers’ Starting Quarterback in 2015?

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans looking forward to the 2015 season will have one question on their minds over almost all others: who will be the starting quarterback?

There are five candidates on the roster as we speak. Tommy Armstrong is the incumbent, having started 21 games over the last two years. Waiting in the wings are Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe, who saw limited playing time in 2014, and Zack Darlington and A.J. Bush, who redshirted last year.

Of course, it’s a big guessing game at this point as to who will win the job, as we don’t know what type of offense new head coach Mike Riley will be playing. We also don’t know how each of the quarterback prospects will perform this spring or this fall.

But based on what we know now, we can at least make some educated guesses as to where the quarterbacks currently on the roster stand.

Tommy Armstrong

As the incumbent starter, Armstrong has to open as the favorite to win the job in 2015. And there’s a lot of reasons to like Armstrong. He’s 16-5 as a starter. He’s led Nebraska on gutty comeback performances, either in victory (Iowa) or close defeat (Michigan State, USC). He’s a leader on the field who commands respect from his team-mates.

But there are also reasons to question whether Armstrong will be the guy who gets the nod next year. He has a 52.9 percent career completion rate, which is simply not good enough to win a conference title. As thrilling as the comeback against USC in the Holiday Bowl was, don’t forget that the Trojans also dropped a host of interceptions that would have put the game truly out of reach at halftime.

That’s not to say Armstrong can’t get better, particularly with a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator who are both skilled in working with quarterbacks. Given his experience, Armstrong is still the clear favorite to win the job next year.

But given the new staff coming in and looking at things with fresh eyes and installing a new offensive system, it’s a lot closer than it would be otherwise.

Chance of being the 2015 starter: 50 percent.

Johnny Stanton

If there’s anyone that has benefited from the transition from Bo Pelini to Mike Riley, it’s Stanton. Until the very end of last year, Stanton was unable to even win the backup job, ceding that role to walk-on Ryker Fyfe. But the Elite-11 prospect has the kind of underlying skills that made Riley want him very badly at Oregon State, meaning Riley arrived in Lincoln aware of his skills.

If Stanton couldn’t see the field last year because he struggled picking up Tim Beck’s system, then a change in offensive coordinators gives him a fresh start. And given his unquestioned physical talents, that might be enough to create some real drama this spring.

Chance of being the 2015 starter: 25 percent

Ryker Fyfe

Fyfe looked to be playing the role of Joe Ganz from a few years earlier, being the plucky kid who worked hard in the shadow of much higher-regarded quarterback prospects until he got his chance to shine. When Armstrong was injured against Michigan State, it was Fyfe who got the nod and led Nebraska to a score to keep the game competitive.

But with a new staff and a new system coming in, Fyfe will be starting from scratch, much like all of the other quarterback prospects. That means the same hurdles he needed to clear last year will be facing him again. That’s not to say he can’t be successful. It’s just a lot more difficult for him.

Chance of being the 2015 starter: 5 percent

Zack Darlington

Darlington has been lost in the shuffle a bit, in part because of his redshirt and in part because his concussion history had many wondering if he would be able to play quarterback at all for Nebraska. But he’s still here, with the same three-star dual-threat quarterback pedigree (according to 247 Sports) that made him a target for schools like Ohio State, Arizona, and Mississippi State.

He’s also a coach’s son, which would tend to suggest he might have a leg up in terms of picking up a new system and understanding the game as a whole. Maybe he’s not as flashy as some of the other signal-callers on Nebraska’s roster, but Darlington might be a bit of a sleeper.

Chance of being the 2015 starter: 10 percent

A.J. Bush

If Darlington is the sleeper pick, Bush is the trendy redshirt to back for next season. During bowl preparation, interim head coach Barney Cotton called Bush “intriguing” and praised his athleticism and work ethic in preparation for the Holiday Bowl (according to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star).

Hearing the praise about Bush’s work ethic certainly would have to bode well for his chances to make a splash with Nebraska’s new coaches. Combine that with his physical skills, and he should have a fighting chance to make an impression.

Chance of being the 2015 starter: 10 percent

Nebraska Football: Reasonable Goals for Huskers’ Offseason

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans are now officially settled in for a long offseason, and the first step of any offseason is to define some goals. Sure, winning a national title in 2015 would be awesome, but Nebraska’s odds of doing so are pretty remote.

So what are some realistic goals new head coach Mike Riley can accomplish before the 2015 season starts? Here are three baseline goals that will go a long way towards building a foundation for Riley in Lincoln.

Recruit Strong

In the brief few weeks since Riley arrived in Lincoln, his job got a lot more complicated. Ohio State won the national championship, demonstrating (if you didn’t realize it already) that the Buckeyes have a talent pool that can compete with anyone in the country. Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, who has won big every place he has gone and looks to take the Wolverines’ top-ten recruiting classes and have them competing with That School Down South in a hurry. Add into the mix Penn State, with a top-flight recruiter in James Franklin, being freed from the Sandusky-era sanctions and a Michigan State squad that has lived in the top ten for the last few years, and you can see the B1G isn’t quite the cakewalk it seemed to be.

That said, Riley landed four-star offensive guard Jalin Barrett this week, the highest-ranked recruit of the 2015 class. Nebraska’s class, according to 247 Sports, sits at no. 27 nationally and no. 3 in the B1G. With a small class and a short recruiting period, a gaudy recruiting ranking for Nebraska is unlikely.

But if Nebraska could at least crack the top 25 with its 2015 class, it would be a promising sign going forward.

Get To Know the Roster

Yes, that goal sounds quite banal and obvious. But it’s also one of the biggest and most important things Riley and his staff will be doing this offseason. Riley was known as running a pro-style offense at Oregon State, and many were fearful upon hearing of his hire that he would attempt to take Nebraska’s squar-peg roster of zone read players and force it into the round hole of a pro-style offense.

New offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf seemed to quell those fears (according to Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald).

“We haven’t necessarily been a huge zone-read team (at Oregon State), more because we haven’t had necessarily the right person to do that,” Langsdorf said. “I think here, it looks like there’s a little bit more possibility of that. So we’ll definitely look at that and consider more with who we have.”

It’s fair to assume that Nebraska’s defense will have the same adjustment, even with new defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s preference for quarters coverage. Brandon Vogel of Hail Varsity has an excellent summary of the similarities and differences between what look to be Banker’s philosophies and what Bo Pelini did on defense.

But that means Riley and his staff will have to very quickly get a handle on the strengths and weaknesses of Nebraska’s current roster, so it can start making offensive and defensive plans accordingly.

Choose a Quarterback

Goal number three comes right on the heels of goal number two, of course. One of the biggest decisions that Riley and his staff will be making this offseason is about the nature of Nebraska’s offense. And what that offense will look like should inform the skill-set of the quarterback that wins the starting job.

But it might not be that simple. With a new staff arriving, the door will be more open than ever for a new person to win the starting quarterback job. As the coaches look at all five quarterbacks on the roster (Tommy Armstrong, Ryker Fife, Johnny Stanton, Zack Darlington, and AJ Bush), they will be able to assess each of their skills and sculpt an offensive philosophy around the one that they believe gives Nebraska the best chance to succeed in 2015.

So deciding on a starting quarterback not only will be a roster decision, but will also likely be an indicator of what Nebraska’s offensive identity will be next season.

Nebraska Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Cornhuskers

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have long memories, long enough to remember the recruiting hype for the freshmen who redshirted last year and have extended their careers in Lincoln as a result. Of course, there is no real data available to make any kind of informed analysis of where the redshirt freshmen stand.

Having said that, we do have recruiting rankings available, to give at least some idea of a player’s potential. We can also look at the opportunities available to the players, either from roster attrition, a new coaching staff, or both, and make some informed projections about how these players may fit in next season.

All ratings from 247 Sports.

No. 5: Mick Stoltenberg (DT)

Stoltenberg was a three-star recruit (.8296 composite) coming out of high school, and plays a position that should see a lot of competition prior to the 2015 season. With Randy Gregory declaring for the NFL draft, Greg McMullen looks to be the only sure-fire starter returning for Nebraska.

Stoltenberg will be competing with Jack Gangwish, Joe Keels, and A.J. Natter, all who saw playing time last season.

No. 4: Freedom Akinmoladun (TE)

Let’s agree at the start that guessing what new head coach Mike Riley’s offense will look like in 2015 is a fool’s errand. Having said that, given Riley’s history and the fact that his new offensive coordinator is a quarterback coach, it’s a fair conclusion that Nebraska will lean more on the passing game than it did under Bo Pelini.

And if we take past as prologue, we see that the tight end in Oregon State’s offense in the last three years has been either third or fourth in receptions. Compare that to Nebraska’s offense over the same time period, where the tight end has only been fourth one year (Kyler Reed in 2012) and sixth every other year.

In 2015, Nebraska will have a dangerous receiving threat at tight end returning in Cethan Carter. But Akinmoladun looks to be cut from the same mold as Carter, and should have a chance to shine.

No. 3: A.J. Bush (QB)

Bush might be the biggest wild card of all Nebraska’s redshirt freshman. As discussed earlier, we don’t know what Nebraska’s offense is going to look like next year, so it’s hard to guess what skill set the next NU quarterback will need. Tommy Armstrong has off-the-chart intangibles and nearly two years of starting experience under his belt. Johnny Stanton was recruited by Riley at Oregon State, so there’s no question Riley likes what Stanton has to offer.

And yet Bush’s name keeps coming up, even over Nebraska’s other redshirt freshman quarterback Zack Darlington. During preparation for this year’s Holiday Bowl, interim head coach Barney Cotton called Bush “an intriguing guy” (according to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star).

With a new coaching staff coming in, all the quarterbacks will be starting with a clean slate. That may give this “intriguing guy” a chance to make an impression and work his way up the depth chart next season.

No. 2: Mikale Wilbon (RB)

The graduation of Ameer Abdullah leaves a huge hole at Nebraska’s I-back position. Returners Imani Cross and Terrell Newby certainly have the advantage of game experience. But that experience has also shown some of the weaknesses in both of their games.

Adam Taylor, if he is able to bounce back from an injury that cost him the 2014 season, looks to provide a middle-ground in skill sets between a bruiser like Cross and a scatback like Newby. A three-star prospect (.8822 composite), Wilbon will have the chance to impress the new coaching staff and make an immediate impact in 2015.

No. 1: Tanner Farmer (OL)

In some ways, picking the redshirt offensive lineman for this list was a challenge, as Nick Gates and Jerald Foster will be in the mix as well. But Farmer’s recruiting pedigree (four-star, .9021 composite) along with his size (six-foot-four, 310 pounds) give him the slight nod in this contest.

Farmer’s familiarity at guard should help, as Nebraska is returning both starting tackles for 2014. But the depth of talent and competition for playing time should be a good problem for new Nebraska offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

Nebraska Football: 5 New Years’ Resolutions for the Cornhuskers

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans have been looking forward to the new year even more than usual with the firing of Bo Pelini and the hiring of Mike Riley. So as a new year dawns, it’s a good time to look forward and see what kind of resolutions for 2015 would help move things forward and make things better for the Cornhuskers.

Here are five to consider—and hopefully keep in place longer than the two weeks my “do sit-ups every night” resolution is likely to survive.

Keep the Class Together

The first thing Riley has to do is help protect and preserve Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class. The dismissal of Pelini has already cost Nebraska standout running back prospect Kendall Bussey, although there was always some question as to whether Nebraska could have kept him even if Pelini stayed.

But there are other critical parts of the 2015 recruiting class assembled by Pelini that Riley needs to keep committed to the Big Red. Defensive backs Eric Lee and Avery Anderson, along with the Davis brothers Khalil and Carlos (both defensive tackles) are critical parts of the recruiting class, and Riley’s first priority must be to get their signatures in February.

Find a Quarterback

Riley is known for operating a pro-style offense at Oregon State. His most recent quarterback, Sean Mannion, just broke the Pac-12 record for passing yards in a career. While it is not clear what Nebraska’s offense will look like next season (more on that later), it’s a safe bet that Nebraska will be throwing the ball more under Riley.  Combine Riley’s talent in developing quarterbacks with the recent hiring of Danny Langsdorf—who was quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants last year—as offensive coordinator suggest the passing game will be a big focus for Nebraska in 2015.

Tommy Armstrong will be the incumbent coming into next year, but he will also be bringing in a 53 percent completion rating. Behind him will be Johnny Stanton, who Riley tried very hard to get to Corvallis, along with unknown quantities in Ryker Fife, Zack Darlington, and A.J. Bush. Riley and his staff will have this offseason to see what they have to work with as Nebraska’s signal-caller for 2015.

Play the Hand You’re Dealt

Yes, Riley is known as running a pro-style offense. But there is no question that Nebraska does not have a pro-style collection of talent. Nebraska fans are scarred with the memory of a new coach trying to shoehorn a quarterback into a system that does not fit his skill set (see Dailey, Joe).

So while Riley will be tasked with installing his system in Lincoln, he will also need to make sure he takes into account the talent on his roster when developing his game plan.

Avoid Lazy Comparisons

This one’s not for Riley, it’s for Nebraska fans. While the goodbye speech helped turned public opinion against Pelini, the fact remains that Riley is taking over for a coach that never won fewer than nine games. Nebraska opens next year against BYU, South Alabama (who played in a bowl game) and at Miami. While unlikely, it’s not inconceivable that Nebraska could start 2015 at 1-2.

If that happens, Nebraska fans need to take some advice from Aaron Rodgers. R-E-L-A-X.

Transitions take time, and there are bumps in the road. While I don’t think it’s likely, it’s not at all inconceivable that Nebraska’s record could end up worse in 2015 than it did in 2014. So if that does happen, Nebraska fan, take a step back.

Much like the record in and of itself didn’t tell the whole story about the Pelini era, the record in and of itself won’t tell the whole story about Riley’s first season. Certainly Riley isn’t above criticism, but judge Nebraska’s performance in year one of the Riley era on performances, not just results.

Let It Go

I know, I’m sick of hearing this song too. But it’s good advice, particularly for Nebraska’s returning players.

Pelini did a lot of good things about creating a family atmosphere around his team. But one of his primary motivating tactics was creating an “us-against-the-world” mentality, and his goodbye address made it very clear that Pelini thought Nebraska’s administration (as opposed to Pelini) was responsible for NU’s struggles and his own dismissal.

Of course, he’s entitled to that opinion. But by explicitly telling that to his players—right after his firing, when they were angry and emotionally vulnerable—Pelini set all kinds of psychological land mines in place that could go off when Nebraska faces adversity next season.

Ultimately, it will be up to the players next year—and specifically to the senior leaders that arise on the team—to flush that kind of victimization and make sure the team remains accountable to itself and avoid the easy-out scapegoating that looked to consume it at times under Pelini.

Nebraska Football: 5 Takeaways From The Holiday Bowl

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans saw the Bo Pelini tenure in microcosm while watching NU’s 45-42 loss to USC in the Holiday Bowl. Ugly offensive performances. Head-scratching playcalling decisions. A defense gouged by a power rushing attack. A furious comeback fueled by heart that came achingly close to success.

And, of course, a fourth loss to a season.

Yes, the next time Nebraska takes the field there will be a new coaching staff in place. But there are still things that can be learned from Nebraska’s performance going forward.

Tommy Armstrong’s Job Isn’t Secure

Armstrong’s stats for the Holiday Bowl were impressive. He was 32-51 (!) for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, with 41 yards rushing and another touchdown to boot. But those statistics might be a little misleading.

In the first half, USC defenders dropped no less than four sure-fire interceptions. If those picks are made—heck, if even half of those picks are made—the Trojans would have had the opportunity to bury Nebraska in the first half and put a very different shine on the game.

In late-game situations needing a comeback (Michigan State, Iowa, USC), Armstrong has been at his best. But he’s also been hopelessly, dangerously erratic and inaccurate early in games.  Armstrong has earned his season-long 53.3 completion percentage, which is not going to be good enough to win conference titles.

This isn’t to say that Armstrong won’t be the starter. His intangibles are off the charts, and Armstrong does have the experience of a year-and-a-half of starting games. But given the flaws in Armstrong’s game—coupled with the fact that his backup in Johnny Stanton was heavily recruited by incoming head coach Mike Riley when he was at Oregon State—suggest that Armstrong’s game will have to improve if he wants to keep the starting job in 2015.

Nebraska Has The Talent To Hang With USC

Sure, Nebraska was facing a USC squad still feeling the effect of a scholarship limit, and was able to wear the Trojans down in the fourth quarter as a result. But athlete-for-athlete, Nebraska was able to stay with USC throughout the game. The game was not a mismatch, which was reflected in the exciting, down-to-the-wire finale.

Incoming coach Mike Riley has some holes to fill, to be sure. But the cupboard in Lincoln is far from bare.

The Offensive Line Needs Work

It was certainly jarring to see Nebraska throw the ball 51 (!) times against USC in the Holiday Bowl. But given how beat up Nebraska’s offensive line was, the run/pass ratio starts to make a little more sense. Nebraska was down to its third-string center (which, unfortunately, was likely part of yet another ball-to-the-facemask incident at the worst possible time), and the struggles on the offensive line were a big part of why Nebraska’s rushing attack struggled to gain traction.

With an influx of young talent (headlined by guard Tanner Farmer), Nebraska’s offensive line could look radically different in 2015. And with Ameer Abdullah’s graduation, it will have to perform radically better for Nebraska’s offense to have a chance.

De’Mornay Pierson-El Will Be Next Year’s Offensive Star

True freshman receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El made a name for himself on special teams this year, but struggled to make an impact on offense. Pierson-El never had more than four catches in a game prior to the Holiday Bowl, and his fumble against Minnesota did display the dangers of inserting a true freshman into the starting lineup.

Against USC, though, Pierson-El had eight receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. It was Pierson-El, not Ameer Abdullah, whose number was called on a critical fourth down conversion attempt late in the game. It’s hard to know what Nebraska’s offense will look like next year, with a new coaching staff, uncertainty at quarterback, and the return of Jamal Turner.

But it seems likely that Pierson-El will be one of the primary offensive weapons for Nebraska next season.

The Stormtroopers Are Here To Stay

Surrender whites, they’ve been called. The all-white look has been castigated by traditionalists and believers in superstition as a fashion travesty for Nebraska.

Well, get used to it. Nebraska has gone stormtrooper (white shirt, white pants) three times this season. Even with a new coaching staff, look for this development from the 2014 season to stick around.