Head Coach: Mike Riley
2015 Record: 6-7
2015 Bowl: 37-29 Win over UCLA at Foster Farms Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 5 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +16000
Odds to win 2016 Big Ten Championship: +975
Regular Season over/under: over 9 (+120), under 9 (-150)
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The Nebraska Cornhuskers return fourth-year starting QB Tommy Armstrong Jr, and last year finished with a 6-7 mark while still managing to win a Bowl appearance over UCLA at the Foster Farms Bowl. The Huskers have the coaching in place to make Armstrong succeed, but the OL is going to be rebuilt and lost NFL draftee Alex Lewis over the offseason.
Nebraska will move sophomore Nick Gates to LT, and he is a physical player with plenty of presence. The Huskers will seek to rush the ball plenty this season, and last year they ran for 180.0 yards per game, tied for 52nd in the nation. The Huskers averaged 32.8 points and 446.9 yards per game, ranking No. 43 and No. 34 in the country, and there is enough offensive potential to eke out a better season this year in Armstrong’s final NCAA campaign.
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Devine Ozigbo carried it 21 times in the bowl game last year, and he could do that regularly this season. Senior Terrell Newby has 1,360 career rushing yards and is able to function in a variety of roles within Riley’s sets. Armstrong has a top notch WR available when he does air it out, with Jordan Westerkamp being a strong senior who can make plays. Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore are also both senior WRs bringing plenty of experience to Armstrong’s primary targets this season.
The DL is going to be a place of turnover for the Huskers this year with Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine both gone to the NFL, as well with as Greg McMallen and Kevin Williams departing.
Ross Dzuris is a former walk on and converted TE Freedom Akinmoladun both give the Huskers some experience at DE. Both started four games last season. Akinmoladun could have a big season and he had 4.5 sacks after moving to defense in his freshman season.
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Kevin Maurice will be at DT, and the senior has ample experience having served as a valuable backup for two seasons. Khalil and Carlos Davis are both giant bodies at tackle who will be ready to step in soon. At CB, Nebraska will have juniors Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones. Nate Gerry is a third-year starter at safety. 5’11” sophomore Aaron Williams will start at the other S. He led the team in tackles and INTs last season.
Sam Foltz is a fourth-year punter who averaged 44.2 yards last season, which was the highest since 2005 for a Husker. Drew Brown hit 11 of his final FGA in finishing 21 of 27, including 12 of 14 from 40 to 49 yards.
Nebraska opens the season at home for weeks 1 through 3, with matchups against Fresno State, Wyoming and Oregon beginning Sept. 3. Conference play opens up at Northwestern on Sept. 24, and the Huskers will face Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. The season concludes Nov. 25 at Iowa. Three tough conference games on the road are not a blessing for Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers had a -12 turnover margin last season, and that has to improve this year to have much more than another middling campaign. There were issues last season that may not have been avoidable, but Riley has enough talent in Lincoln to keep this team afloat in the Big Ten at least. The schedule really is tougher this year with home/away, and last season the Huskers won two of its final three games, including a 39-38 win at home against Michigan State.
Prediction: 8 wins
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