Nebraska Football: Prediction for the Cornhuskers’ 2017 Season

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There’s nothing quite like leaving things late, but a season prediction on the morning of Nebraska’s first game still counts as getting your shot called. First, a caveat. With a new quarterback, a functionally new offense, an entirely new defensive scheme, and a new special teams coach, there’s only one honest answer about what to expect for this season.

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Unfortunately, that’s not enough content for a site like this. So let’s go through the exercise and look through Nebraska’s 2017 schedule game by game. In an effort to make this more than just guesswork, for a season prediction I break the games down into four categories:

Better Win: Given the disparity in talent, Nebraska should be expected to win all of the games in this category.

Should Win: Nebraska should be a favorite in this game, but the opponent is strong enough to win even without a total NU meltdown. Nebraska should win a majority of these games.

Might Win: Nebraska should be an underdog in this game, but close enough in talent to win without needing a miraculous performance. Nebraska should win a minority of these games.

Won’t Win: Nebraska is outclassed from a talent standpoint and would need the stars to align for a victory. Nebraska should not expect to win any of these games.

By breaking the games down into these categories, the idea is to take the guesswork out of predicting a final record. Of course, I’ll also give a Fearless Forecast guess of the result, meaning I get two bites at the apple in terms of a final record prognostication.

Arkansas State (Sep. 2)

The Red Wolves come into Lincoln with some talent, including a likely NFL draft pick on the defensive line in Ja’Von Rolland-Jones. Nebraska’s depth should ultimately win out, but with all of the new schemes NU is breaking in don’t be surprised to see this contest tight in the fourth quarter.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Arkansas State 17

at Oregon (Sep. 9)

The Ducks have a new coach in Willie Taggart, so Oregon will be in a full-on year-one scenario when Nebraska comes to Eugene. But Oregon should have at least equal, if not greater talent than Nebraska on the field. And while Nebraska did knock the Ducks off in Lincoln last year, the metrics (as well as Oregon’s bizarre aversion to extra points) suggest NU was pretty fortunate to get that win. A Nebraska win would be quite a springboard for 2017, but it looks an uphill climb.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Oregon 27, Nebraska 20

Northern Illinois (Sep. 16)

Another Group of Five school that has some degree of talent, but not to the level of Nebraska. With two games in the books, Nebraska’s transition should be a little more solid and ready to handle what the Huskies have to offer.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Northern Illinois 10

Rutgers (Sep. 23)

Although the Scarlet Knights gave Washington a scare for a half, eventually the Huskies were able to pull away in Piscataway. Second year head coach Chris Ash is laying the foundation for Rutgers to climb out of the B1G cellar, but there’s still a ways to go.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 38, Rutgers 13

at Illinois (Sep. 29)

This has trap game written all over it. Nebraska goes to Champaign on a Friday night, to what is likely a half-empty stadium, playing a struggling Illini squad ahead of a brutal two-game stretch. Riley’s last trip to Illinois ended poorly, and last year Nebraska seemed to put an end to its head-scratching losses. But if there were ever a time for a shocker, this is it.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 24, Illinois 9

Wisconsin (Oct. 7)

Here’s where the rubber hits the road for Nebraska. While Wisconsin has had Nebraska’s number since NU joined the B1G, keep in mind that the last two games between these squads have been coin-flips. With the game in Lincoln, and the transition well underway, look for Nebraska to finally get over a Wisconsin-sized hump.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 24, Wisconsin 21

Ohio State (Oct. 14)

If Wisconsin is a measuring stick for where Nebraska stands in the B1G West, the Buckeyes will give Nebraska a good look at where it stacks up against the elite. Ohio State, along with Alabama, might be the most talented team in the country. A combination of the game being in Lincoln and a functioning offense should make things closer than last year (an admittedly low bar), but Nebraska is still quite a ways from competing head to head with Ohio State.

Won’t Win

Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 41, Nebraska 21

at Purdue (Oct. 28)

Nebraska returns to the house of horrors that inflicted the program’s worst loss since Iowa State in 2009. But a week’s rest after Wisconsin and Ohio State should help Nebraska focus and get its season back on track.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 51, Purdue 13

Northwestern (Nov. 4)

The Purples have a history of hanging tough in Memorial Stadium, pulling off an upset two years ago and losing only on a Hail Mary two years before that. Nebraska should be on more stable footing this time around, though, and allow the talent differential between the to squads to show through.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 37, Northwestern 17

at Minnesota (Nov. 11)

P.J. Fleck was quite a hire for Minnesota, but will be a huge culture shift from the program Jerry Kill built in his years up north. The Gophers look to be dangerous in the next few seasons, but it’s a big ask for them to be ready in year one to compete.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 21, Minnesota 13

at Penn State (Nov. 18)

Ooh, I so want to be bold on this game. Penn State looked like world-beaters at the end of last season, with a legitimate argument to get into the College Football Playoff. But at the start of last year, the Nittany Lions were decidedly average, and much of their late-season success was down to YOLO balls from quarterback Trace McSorley. Still, the Lions have elite talent (including Saquon Barkley, the best tailback in the B1G), and the game is in Happy Valley. At best, Nebraska would have to be well ahead of schedule to pull off this upset.

Won’t Win

Fearless Forecast: Penn State 45, Nebraska 31

Iowa (Nov. 24)

It was last year’s 40-10 (!) loss to Iowa that likely ended Mark Banker’s tenure as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator, so this year’s Heroes Game will be a good marker to see how far the Blackshirts have come. If Nebraska is able to present more of an offensive threat than a hobbled Tommy Armstrong did last year, look for Nebraska to get back on track in this rivalry.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 27, Iowa 17

Season Summary

Under the category system, Nebraska has five Better Win games (meaning five wins), three Should Win games (meaning two wins), two Might Win games (meaning one win) and two Won’t Win games (meaning no wins). That comes out to a 9-3 campaign for Nebraska.

Looking at the Fearless Forecasts, Nebraska also comes out with a 9-3 season, losing to Oregon, Ohio State, and Penn State. A 7-2 B1G record might be enough for Nebraska to earn a trip to Indianapolis, unless Wisconsin can win out the rest of its conference slate.

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Nebraska Football: Five Reasons Cornhuskers Will Flop in 2014

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans are eternal optimists, looking forward to the 2014 season with excitement and hope for future glories. But in every season, there is always the risk of things going south. Nebraska fans need only to remember 2007 to see how quickly the air can escape from the metaphorical balloon.

Certainly, that’s not what Nebraska fans want to see. But the danger is out there. Here are five sharks in the water that could devour the 2014 season.

Tommy Armstrong

Armstrong is a pretty beloved character at this point in his Nebraska career. He is following Taylor Martinez, who was one of the most polarizing figures amongst the Husker faithful. He answered the bell as a freshman, and went 7-1 as a starter. He’s got the charisma and the leadership to take charge of the team and inspire confidence.

But his underlying statistics are disturbing. Last year, he completed less than 52 percent of his passes. Even more worrisome, his touchdown to interception ratio was a terrifying 9/8. While his moxie, his intangibles, and his record as a starter are very encouraging, those numbers are not the stats of a quarterback who will lead a team to a conference title.

Statistics from cfbstats.com.

An Untested Kicking Game

Nebraska’s overtime win over Penn State on the foot of Pat Smith was the most obvious reason as to why a dependable kicking game Alex Henery’s 57-yard bomb against Colorado, in many ways, changed the direction of Nebraska football. So Nebraska fans know how important a reliable kicking game is to the Huskers’ success.

But there is little reason for optimism that Nebraska will have a dependable kicking game in 2014. Mauro Bondi has done nothing to inspire confidence, nor have any of the other kickers on the roster. Many have pinned their hopes on true freshman Drew Brown to answer Nebraska’s kicker needs. But that’s a big ask for a kid less than a year removed from his high school prom to walk on the field in Happy Valley and win a game.

A Green Offensive Line

Nebraska has some exciting things happening on the offensive line, led by Colorado transfer Alex Lewis. But the fact remains that four out of the five starters from last year’s offensive line have graduated. While many on the line do have experience, the fact remains that Nebraska will be breaking in functionally a new offensive line, including a new center.

If that offensive line isn’t able to gel, that struggle will cascade to cause problems with Nebraska’s offense, which in turn will put even more pressure on a defense that was up and down in 2013.

Dark Pelini Returns

This spring, Bo Pelini went through one of the most remarkable public relations rehabilitation in modern history. At the end of the Iowa game, “Coach Chickenbleep” looked like he was about to get fired after an ugly loss and a profanity-laced postgame press conference where Pelini all but challenged Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst to fire him.

Between his tweets during Nebraska basketball’s NCAA tournament game, his embrace of the popular Twitter parody account FauxPelini, and ultimately him carrying a cat out on the field at the Spring Game, Pelini looks far more relaxed and likeable.

But we have seen what Pelini looks like when things go south. After a tough loss or what he perceives to be a raw deal from the officials, it’s not impossible to imagine the post-Iowa Pelini coming out. And if that Pelini surfaces in the middle of a struggling season for Nebraska, the response from the fanbase and the national media could help to pull the 2014 season under the water.

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

In the last three years, Nebraska has played in eight games decided by four points or less. NU is 7-1 in those games. You can look at that in a positive light, showing Nebraska’s internal strength to find ways to win when the going gets tough.

But it can also be seen as riding your luck, big time. And at the risk of succumbing to the gambler’s fallacy, it’s not at all hard to see a circumstance where those close games go the wrong way for Nebraska. Think about what 2013 would have looked like if Ron Kellogg’s prayer to Jordan Westerkamp against Northwestern hadn’t been answered, and if Pat Smith’s kick against Penn State hadn’t gone through the uprights. Nebraska would have ended the season at 6-6, and the ugly loss to Iowa might have had a very different ending for Bo Pelini.

More than likely, Nebraska will have close games again in 2014. If NU isn’t able to keep up its remarkable run in close games, 2014 could be the year when Nebraska’s chickens come home to roost.