2014 CFN Preview - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 3, 2014


CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Really, you're upset about lots and lots of successful seasons? (Getty Images)


Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2014
 

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By Pete Fiutak 

- 2014 Nebraska Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Bo Pelini
7th year: 58-24
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 20. ST 3
Letterment Lost: 30
Ten Best Husker Players
1. DE Randy Gregory, Jr.
2. RB Ameer Abdullah, Sr.
3. WR Kenny Bell, Sr.
4. QB Tommy Armstrong, Soph.
5. RB Imani Cross, Jr.
6. S Corey Cooper, Sr.
7. OG Jake Cotton, Sr.
8. OT Alex Lewis, Jr.
9. LB Davis Santos, Jr.
10. RB Terrell Newby, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Florida Atlantic
Sep. 6 McNeese State
Sep. 13 at Fresno State
Sep. 20 Miami
Sep. 27 Illinois
Oct. 4 at Michigan State
Oct. 11 OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 at Northwestern
Oct. 25 Rutgers
Nov. 1 Purdue
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 15 at Wisconsin
Nov. 22 Minnesota
Nov. 29 at Iowa

What's your problem with Bo Pelini?

He's always on the hot seat, Nebraska fans are always grouchy about him for one reason or another, and it always seems like he's one bad loss away from getting canned, but this isn't 1985 anymore. The days of relying on a walk-on program, bringing in a few national recruits, and then rolling through an awful schedule before losing to Oklahoma at the end of the year are over. Considering the landscape of college football at the moment, Pelini is doing a fantastic job.

Nebraska is in a tough spot – and I don't mean Lincoln. Actually, I sort of do.

Jimbo Fisher was able to reload Florida State with recruits within a short drive from the greater Tallahassee metropolitan area. Bob Stoops had Texas to mine from when he rebuilt Oklahoma, and Nick Saban didn't have to look far to get players to bring Alabama back to glory. But the Huskers have to cast a wider net and have to work a little harder, especially considering they don't rely on a specific offensive style that requires just a few key parts to work behind the cultivated linemen.

Now, Nebraska is trying to work its way through a world with stronger recruiting on a national scale, and with a brand name that doesn't mean now what it did ten years ago considering many players on the current roster weren't alive yet when Tommy Frazier was bringing home banners.

And yet, on a relative island in terms of recruiting base, and with everyone going for the same talented players harder and smarter than ever, Pelini's ability to win nine games or more in each of his first six seasons is actually a terrific feat.

How many other coaches from BCS leagues won nine or more games in their first six years? Eight, including Steve Spurrier, Barry Switzer, Mack Brown, and Tom Osborne. Speaking of aging superpowers, you don't think Michigan fans would be a wee bit happier with six straight nine-plus win campaigns?

Last season, Nebraska lost its star starting quarterback and still finished second behind Michigan State in the Legends division – not exactly anything to get in a twist over – making it just the second time that a Pelini team hasn't won at least a share of a division title. He broke a bowl slide with a good win over a beat up Georgia team in the Gator Bowl – remember, there was a stretch during the late 1980s into the early 1990s when you couldn't have a bowl season without a Nebraska loss under Osborne – and now he comes into the 2014 season a bit more solidified on the job front and with a potentially terrific team ready to bring home yet another season with nine or more wins.

But will that be enough?

There are depth issues on the defensive front, the linebacking corps could be a bit sketchy, and the secondary was dinged a bit this offseason, but it's still a sound group with enough talent to be sound and solid.

The offense could be tremendous with one of the best groups of running backs in America and an improved line that could quietly become a major strength.

So now it'll be up to Pelini to put it all together and win the new Big Ten West and at least get to the Big Ten championship. And if he doesn't, the Husker nation will have to once again settle for a really, really good year that most programs would kill for.

What to watch for on offense: Nebraska has boasted some impressive running games over the many, many years, but this year's backfield has the potential to be among the strongest in a long time. There isn't a Mike Rozier or an Ahman Green, but Ameer Abdullah is about to go from being one of the nation's most underappreciated backs to a weekly star. However, he's not going to need to carry the entire load with Imani Cross and Terrell Newby two terrific options able add more than five yards per dash. Tommy Armstrong Jr. might not be electrifying like Taylor Martinez was, but he run a little bit, too. Considering the O line has the potential to be terrific with Colorado transfer Alex Lewis filling in a missing piece, the Huskers should be far closer to the 3,547-yard rushing year of 2012 than the 2,804-yard campaign of last season.

What to watch for on defense: The back seven has to come up with a sound, solid starting lineup and let the pieces fall into place. This might not be a vintage killer of a Nebraska D, but it has the potential to be good as long as the right starting 11 is figured out in a hurry. The line will turn out to be outstanding as long as Randy Gregory is healthy and sitting on quarterbacks' heads again, and now the linebacking corps has to take all the parts and make them fit while hoping for the secondary to mature in a hurry. Zaire Anderson, Michael Rose and David Santos are good veterans who made lots of tackles, and now they have to make a bigger impact. Corey Cooper is a terrific tackling safety, but it's going to take a little time to reload without Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans.

The team will be far better if… the offense stops giving up fumbles and the defense starts to force them. Turnover margin was a big, big problem for the Huskers with the defense coming up with just four recovered fumbles on the season and with just three of the 14 interceptions coming in the final seven games. Meanwhile, the 13 interceptions thrown weren't all that bad considering eight came in a three-game midseason stretch, and the Huskers won two of them, but fumbling continues to be an issue with 16 lost on the season after giving up 22 in 2012. The Huskers were -16 in turnover margin over the final eight games or the year after being +5 in the first five games.

The Schedule: The Huskers might have a dangerous-looking game at Fresno State, but this isn't the same Fresno State team of last year. After opening up with tune-ups against Florida Atlantic and McNeese State, Nebraska has to rebound from the trip to Fresno and be ready for a national spotlight game with Miami. Win that, and it's almost certainly 5-0 after opening up the Big Ten season with Illinois. And then comes the fun.

The schedule isn't that bad overall, but going to Michigan State as the tail end of a six-game start to the season without a break stinks. Getting the week off before going to Northwestern will help, and then home games against Rutgers and Purdue should boost the record before getting another week off to prepare for the West showdown at Wisconsin. Closing out with Minnesota and a trip to Iowa isn't that bad.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Ameer Abdullah. You'd think a Nebraska running back who ran followed up a 1,137-yard season with 1,690 yards would be on everyone's Heisman short list, but he's not there quite yet. It might not be a bad thing for the Huskers if he doesn't come up with the same stats considering his 5-9, 190-pound body isn't really built to handle the ball 300 times a year, and he won't have to with all of the depth in the backfield. However, he's a proven workhorse with a terrific combination of toughness and pop.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Randy Gregory. Consider this a yearlong audition for the kids at the next level. With a great frame, an outstanding burst, and the ability to seemingly get into the backfield any time he wants to, he's going to be someone's pure pass rushing end and it's probably going to take a top 15 pick to do it. It's a good Nebraska line, but it's not necessarily a great one. The perception might be different if Gregory has another monster season.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. The plus side to Taylor Martinez not being able to go for most of last season was the time Armstrong got in a rotation with Rob Kellogg III. However, Armstrong ended up starting eight games and now he should be ready to be the dual-threat option to help do a little of everything. The key will be not just his performance, but his health. Sophomore Ryker Fyfe, redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and freshman Zack Darlington are all talented and promising, but if any quarterback other than Armstrong is seeing meaningful time, there will be problems.

The season will be a success if ... the Huskers get to the Big Ten championship game. Nebraska is probably the league's third or fourth best team, but most of the big boys are in the East. Considering Wisconsin's relatively easy schedule, a ten win regular season for Nebraska might not get it done if one of the two losses is against the Badgers. Considering the road games at Michigan State and Iowa, just getting to Indianapolis for a 13th game would be excellent.

Key game: Nov. 15 at Wisconsin. Get ready for the start of a big-time rivalry in the West. The Huskers came back to stun the Badgers in Lincoln in 2012, but the 70-31 rematch in the Big Ten championship was more than just a little bit of payback. This time around, the winner will at the very least have the inside track to taking the division and going off to Indy.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Nebraska 32 (lost 16) – Opponents 18 (lost 4)
- Punt Return Average: Opponents 8.1 – Nebraska 3.0
- Sacks: Nebraska 39 for 270 yards – Opponents 17 for 140 yards
 
- 2014 Nebraska Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players