Nebraska Football: Why 'Huskers Will Be Big Ten Title Threat in 2014

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Nebraska Football: Why 'Huskers Will Be Big Ten Title Threat in 2014
Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Nebraska Cornhuskers fans know exactly how Bill Murray's character in the film Groundhog Day feels.

Each of the past six seasons, 'Huskers fans have woken up to a record-baring four losses—not three, not five but four in each of Bo Pelini's six seasons in Lincoln.

That span has brought four divisional titles but zero outright conference champions, leaving the same question each season: Is this finally the year Nebraska will win the Big Ten title?

The answer might lie in the quarterback battle that will take place this spring and likely carry over into the fall.

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Taylor Martinez was at the helm for the 'Huskers for the better part of the last four seasons, but injury limited his action last year. It also allowed Tommy Armstrong Jr. to get his feet wet.

The redshirt sophomore accounted for 1,168 total yards and 11 touchdowns last year and is the only returning quarterback with game experience. Even still, he's expected to face some stiff competition from redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton, who was showered with praise coming out of high school.

Stanton was an Elite 11 finalist as a prep player and will give Armstrong a run for his money. But as talented as Stanton might be, Armstrong has one enormous advocate in star running back Ameer Abdullah, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star

Senior running back Ameer Abdullah said Armstrong's leadership at QB was "a huge factor" in Abdullah coming back for another season.

“Because, he’s probably one of the most competitive guys on this team, and that’s what you want out of your quarterback,” Abdullah said.

While the quarterback battle could take some time to pan out, Abdullah's spot at running back is a given. Abdullah tallied 1,999 all-purpose yards last year—the most in the Big Ten.

If he stays healthy, he'll be one of the best players in the nation at his position.

While Abdullah is sure to lead the offense no matter who his under center, the defense will have its share of leaders as well.

All three of Nebraska's top tacklers will come back, but none will be relied upon more than defensive end Randy Gregory.

Nebraska 2014 Football Schedule
Date Opponent Site
Aug. 30 Florida Atlantic Lincoln, Neb.
Sept. 6 McNeese State Lincoln, Neb.
Sept. 13 Fresno State Fresno, Calif.
Sept. 20 Miami (Fla.) Lincoln, Neb.
Sept. 27 Illinois Lincoln, Neb.
Oct. 4 Michigan State East Lansing, Mich.
Oct. 18 Northwestern Evanston, Ill.
Oct. 25 Rutgers Lincoln, Neb.
Nov. 1 Purdue Lincoln, Neb.
Nov. 15 Wisconsin Madison, Wis.
Nov. 22 Minnesota Lincoln, Neb.
Nov. 28 Iowa Iowa City, Iowa
Dec. 6 Big Ten Championship Indianapolis

Gregory wasn't even with the program at this time last year. He enrolled in August as a 4-star and the No. 8 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

As it turned out, he didn't need the early enroll period that many newcomers use to become acclimated to the college game. Gregory was a star from the start and ended up leading the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks on the season.

Corey Cooper and David Santos will both return as well after combining for 178 tackles, including 12 for a loss and four sacks. 

Nebraska has plenty of star power coming back between that duo and Gregory, leaving the defense looking promising.

The 'Huskers have had similar big-time players, but this season will be about filling in the details. Pelini believes his defense is far ahead of where it was this time last year, as he told Steven Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star:

Our foundation is good, meaning our guys understand what we're trying to get accomplished. We're so much further ahead right now than what I knew we were going to be going into last season. I mean, it's like night and day. It just gives you more options. You can do more. That — "doing more" — isn't always the answer. But building on a foundation is kind of what this defense is all about. Last spring and fall, we had guys just trying to survive out there.

Pelini has been trying to survive and build the 'Huskers up over his six-year tenure, but they haven't managed to do much climbing.

While six seasons with nine and 10 wins are great, Nebraska fans are thirsty for a conference title.

Based on all the talent this team has coming back, it might finally be time to wake up from the four-loss monotony.

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