Friday, June 23, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Nebraska Cornhuskers (Updated)
The Huskers seemed to be hurtling towards a Big 10 West title in 2016 before a late season stumble pushed them off the grid and into disappointment. Nebraska finished the season 2-4 after a 7-0 start, and one has to wonder why Bo Pelini was really fired, because Mike Riley has done worse than Pelini did overall, and has received none of the hate. Truth is, if Riley does not start to produce, and soon, he could go the way of several coaches since the departure of Tom Osborne over 20 years ago.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Nebraska has always prided itself on the line, and five players with starting experience will return this fall to lead the way. Cole Conrad (OT), Tanner Farmer (OG), Jerald Foster (OG), Nick Gates (OT), and David Knevel (OT) all return this fall. Michael Decker, a sophomore, will get first shot at the open Center job.
Stanley Morgan, Jr. and De'Mornay Pierson-El both return at WR, but Morgan may have some off-field stuff to deal with as he received a violation for marijuana possession in Florida during the off-season. It was bumped down from a felony, but that is something to be concerned about, which we will talk about shortly. They combined for 53 receptions last fall.
Drew Brown will be back at PK after finishing with 12 made FGs in 14 attempts last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
We start at QB, where both Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fife are gone. That leaves the job currently in the hands of junior Zack Darlington, a converted WR who attempted all of six passes last fall. The Huskers have to hope that someone can step in from somewhere and win the job, but there are zero lettermen returning at the position, and Riley failed to land anyone in the last class.
Update: Nebraska spring rosters did not include Tanner Lee, who has been handed the starting job. He will be a junior in 2017, but has never completed more than 55.1% of his passes. He has thrown 23 TD passes and 21 INTs as the QB at Tulane.
Devin Ozigbo will have to be the lead I-Back this fall, but in limited duty last season, he failed to blow the roof off the proverbial building. Tre' Bryant and Mikale Wilbon will also be in the hunt for carries, but again, this is not the best group of backs that the Huskers have ever had. Luke McNitt is back at FB.
The receivers are not what Nebraska is used to having as well. Stanley Morgan's legal problems are still in limbo in some degrees, and Nebraska has not responded as to what they intend to do about his issues. Jordan Westerkamp is gone, leaving a hole at the top of the food chain at receiver. Bryan Reimers and Gabe Rahn are the best backups available, and caught a combined six passes last fall.
What To be Excited About: Defense
Freedom Akinmoladun will be back at DE, and Mick Stoltenberg will be back at DT for the Huskers this fall. They combined for 6.5 TFLs last fall, and will provide a base to build upon for leadership up front.
Dedrick Young will return at the WILL LB spot this fall, and finished with 60 tackles last season. He will be expected to step up into a leadership position in the middle of the defense this fall.
The secondary returns three starters and another who has nine career starts. Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones will return at CB, while Kieron Williams is back at Safety. Kalu and Jones combined for 21 PBUs last fall, and form a lock down tandem outside. Williams is the enforcer, and finished with 69 tackles on the season.
Update: Kalu is likely now to move to Safety this fall.
Aaron Williams has a career nine starts at in the secondary as well, and returns. He finished with seven PBUs last fall, and had three picks, while Kieron Williams led the team with five INTs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The Huskers need half of a rebuild on the line, and need to find some pressure that was lost off of the edge. Look for Alex Davis or DaiShon Neal to win the open DE job, and both are sophomores. Khalil Davis and Peyton Newell are in a battle heading into fall camp for the open DT spot.
Two new LBs need to be found to start at OLB and MLB. Marcus Newby and Luke Gifford are in a fight at the SAM spot, while Chris Weber, a senior, could step in at MIKE.
With all of this open work up front, the front seven which was a strength last season at times, could be significantly weakened while they figure things out.
Caleb Lightbourn is back at Punter, but struggled last season, averaging just 39.66 yards per punt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Arkansas State, 9/9 at Oregon, 9/16 Northern Illinois, 9/23 Rutgers, 9/29 at Illinois, 10/7 Wisconsin, 10/14 Ohio State, 10/28 at Purdue, 11/4 Northwestern, 11/11 at Minnesota, 11/18 at Penn State, 11/24 Iowa
I was never a fan of the Mike Riley hiring for Nebraska based on the fact that he literally ran Oregon State into the ground and was very likely to be fired there. What I see on this spring roster certainly, for me, verifies why I was no fan of the hire. The talent level under Riley has dipped massively for the last two years, and I really only see the Husker as a fourth place finisher in the Big 10 West because I do not believe in Iowa, and Illinois and Purdue are just hideous. I do not see Nebraska getting back to nine wins this season, and this could end up being a team that finishes behind at least Iowa in the division, and could struggle to get back to a bowl game, which would be the second time in three seasons under Riley where that would have happened. Are you missing Pelini yet, Husker fans?
Update: I do not consider the Foster Farms Bowl after 2015 as a legitimate bowl bid. With the team finishing 5-7 during the regular season, and then beating a UCLA team that did not want to be there, was hardly what I consider to be a major accomplishment.