Nebraska Football: 2014 Spring Checklist for the Cornhuskers

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Nebraska Football: 2014 Spring Checklist for the Cornhuskers
Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Bo Pelini appears to be the Teflon Don of college football, surviving a series of publicity black eyes and yet another nine-win season at Nebraska. However, one has to wonder how many seasons without a conference title can one coach have and not lose his job at a school like Nebraska? 

Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst put any speculation about his head coach's future to rest in November. With the Huskers moving to the new Big Ten West Division, they've become an instant favorite to make their way back to Indy in Year 4 of Big Ten membership. 

In order to make those projections a reality, there are a number of questions that need to be answered by Pelini and the Huskers. So let's take a look at some of the biggest things that need to happen this spring in order for 2014 to be a success. 

 

Here's Johnny, or Maybe Tommy

It will be strange having no Taylor Martinez roaming in the Huskers backfield. Well, only slightly thanks to Martinez missing most of the 2013 season with various injuries, but I digress. 

Those missed games could end up being a blessing in disguise though, because it gave the Huskers coaching staff a massive glimpse into just who Tommy Armstrong Jr. is as a young quarterback. 

Armstrong finished last year as the starting quarterback but was complemented by senior Ron Kellogg III in certain situations. The younger of the two finished the season by leading the Huskers to an 8-1 record, but his personal stats give people a lot of cause for concern as the long-term answer at quarterback. 

He finished 2013 completing 51.9 percent of his passes for 966 yards and nine touchdowns to eight interceptions. Not exactly confidence-inducing individual results, and ultimately that 8-1 record some point to as a sign that Armstrong is a good enough option is a bit misleading as well. 

Don't forget Armstrong would've had another loss if it weren't for Kellogg III's Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp, and he had a lot of help from some guy named Ameer Abdullah at running back too. 

With all of those numbers in consideration, Nebraska has a true quarterback battle on its hands with redshirt freshman and former Elite 11 finalist Johnny Stanton putting his name in the hat too. 

Stanton reminds some of a young Martinez, only with a much more developed passing game too. 

In order for Nebraska to be a true contender, coming out of the spring with some separation or an outright winner in the quarterback battle would be ideal. The longer the questions linger at quarterback, the more difficult the Huskers' task gets. 

 

Blocking for Those Quarterbacks

If the 2013 season proved anything, it doesn't matter who you have in your backfield if you don't have the players in place to block for them. Just take one look at what took place in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the proof of that. 

On the other hand, Nebraska dealt with its fair share of injuries along its offensive line in 2013 and it may be the reason the Huskers could be successful in 2014. Nebraska is facing life without four starters along its line this season. 

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

However, thanks to those injuries the Huskers return three players with starting experience along the line. Jake Cotton (11 starts), Mike Moudy (three) and Mark Pelini (two) have all made starts on the inside of the line, but there isn't a single player with starting experience in the Big Ten at either tackle positions. 

Nebraska does get Alex Lewis, a Colorado transfer, in the mix this year and his experience as a tackle will be helpful. So, too, will be the valuable snaps played by the likes of Ryan Reeves and Zach Sterup

The task for the Huskers offensive line will be finding a starting five that can work well together and start forming a solid depth chart behind those starters. 

If things don't go so well, the Huskers will be bringing in two 4-star recruits by the 247Sports composite rankings, Tanner Farmer and Nick Gates

However, relying on freshmen this early in their careers isn't the ideal way to go. Nebraska has a lot to figure out this spring along its offensive line and the quicker the answers come, the better off everyone will be. 

 

Replacing an All-Big Ten Secondary

All Nebraska is losing in its secondary is first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Ciante Evans and unanimous second-team cornerback Stanley John-Baptiste. Oh and starting safety Andrew Green is lost to graduation as well. 

No big deal or anything...except the Huskers defense needed the secondary to show up in a big way and it did just that. The Huskers finished 2013 at No. 3 in pass defense, giving up 214.6 yards per game, and they finished third in passing touchdowns allowed. 

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Remaining from that secondary is honorable mention All-Big Ten pick Corey Cooper, who led the team in tackles with 91. He also added an interception, four tackles for loss and two sacks last season. 

At least the Huskers have a good place to start as they look to reload in the secondary. Next to Cooper is likely to be sophomore D.J. Singleton, who has a reputation as a heavy-hitter in high school. 

Cooper won't be alone in the experience department though, as Josh Mitchell returns for his senior season at cornerback. 

Mitchell finished 2013 with 31 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception and six pass breakups—all good numbers for a nickelback. It will be different this year, as he becomes a full-time starter for the first time in his career. 

The question is, who will start opposite of Mitchell? Names to watch include Jonathan Rose, Byerson Cockrell and Boaz Joseph. 

Considering the pressure the Huskers staff puts on the corners, who play on an island more often than not, this spring will be vital to getting things together. 

Last spring was all about replacing talent in the front seven, this year it's the exact opposite, only equally important to the Huskers' success. 

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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