Head coach: Mike Riley
2014 Record: 9-4 overall; 5-3 Big Ten
2014 Bowl: 45-42 loss to USC at Holiday Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +17500
Odds to win 2015 Big Ten Title: +1700
Regular Season Wins: Over 8 (-140); Under 8 (+110)
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The Nebraska Cornhuskers are installing a pro-style offense that will render its QB more of a passer, seeking to rely less on the rushing that ranked him second on the team in rushing yardage a year ago.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska’s leading rusher last year, is duly departed. The offense will be restructured to a pro-style offense. Opposing defenses may still anticipate rushes, but the Cornhuskers are going to air it out far more this season.
QB coach Danny Langsdorf wants better efficiency and more consistency from Armstrong, though. Head coach Mike Riley said he liked Tommy Armstrong, but he’s also in competition with Ryker Fyfe and Johnny Stanton to fight it out for the position. Per Patrick Runge, there are actually two more candidates in Zach Darlington and A.J. Bush. Runge gave Armstrong a 50-percent chance of being the starter, the highest of the five. Stanton is now out of the picture according to Mike Husker of SB Nation (Jun 25). (Editors note: Sorry for the initial inaccuracies surrounding the QB report, the speculation can be contradictory and lead to mistakes, we’ll continue to monitor this situation as it evolves).
At WR Nebraska will have the trio of De’Mornay Pierson-El, Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly (walk-on). In the backfield, the Cornhuskers will go to Terrell Newby and Imani Cross. It’s going to require both to step up to replace what Abdullah left behind.
Even with how good the backs and WRs can be, the OL is going to have to be solid and tackle Alex Lewis is the heart of it. He started every game last season and will be the leader of the unit. The Cornhuskers return 10 lettermen on the line, but Lewis and fellow tackle Zach Sterup are the only with any valuable experience.
The defense is going to get an overhaul with a new coordinator in Matt Banker. He is one who streamlines his scheme and allows players to make plays, something the group had complained it lacked the freedom to do last year. Daniel Davie started all 13 games at CB after coming back from a knee injury last season. Jonathan Rose and Jackson will be in the mix for the other corner spot.
Safety Nate Gerry made the All Big Ten defensive team and led the Cornhuskers in interceptions with five last season. Byerson Cockrell is both a nickel and free safety who will be instrumental as well. The defense is strongest up front with three starters back from last season in Greg McMullen, Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine.
Collins led the team in tackles for loss last year while managing to make the second-team All Big Ten defensive squad. At LB, depth will be a problem given that Nebraska had just six scholarship LBers in the spring.
Pierson-El was one of the best punt returners in the country last year as a true freshman. He returned three for TDs. He likely won’t be used on kickoff returns, though, because of his large role offensively as a receiver. Sam Foltz and Drew Brown are punter and placekicker, respectively, and Jordan Ober will handle long snaps. Bruce Read is the Special teams coordinator, a position that Nebraska has lacked in the past.
The Cornhuskers over/under on wins at 5dimes is ‘8.’ Last year the team won nine, and it has won nine or more in each of Bo Pelini’s seven seasons as coach. That’s a good reason to favor the over on season wins. How much over? Well, his overall record is 67-27, but the non-conference schedule is tough this year, featuring BYU and Miami (FL).
The Cornhuskers haven’t won a conference title since 1999, and this likely won’t be the year it happens either. Even so, Nebraska has a decent shot at winning the Big Ten West. It will require a better defensive effort, though, as well as the rushers stepping up to fill Abdullah’s shoes.
Prediction: 9 wins