Nebraska Football: Realistic Expectations for the Cornhuskers' 2014 Season

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent IMay 16, 2014

Nebraska Football: Realistic Expectations for the Cornhuskers' 2014 Season

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nebraska football fans aren't exactly known for their realism. Visions of Nebraska’s glories in the nineties can cloud the most rational fans' judgment.

    But Nebraska fans are also painfully aware of how the “Conference Championship” banner on the West Stadium has not been updated since 1999, making memories of those past glories grow dimmer by the day.

    So perhaps a little realism isn’t a bad thing. Here are some realistic expectations of what Nebraska may achieve in 2014.

Star Performers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Ameer Abdullah, IB

    It would not be a big surprise to see Abdullah’s carries decline from his 281 rushing attempts last year given the depth in the backfield. However, Abdullah's production may actually increase with what looks to be an improved (or at least more stable) offensive line.

    Don’t be shocked if, should he stay healthy, Abdullah at least gets close to a 2,000-yard rushing season in his senior campaign.

     

    Tommy Armstrong, QB

    Armstrong has all the intangibles, and the one big tangible of being 7-1 as a starter. But his underlying statistics—less than a 52 percent passer and a 9-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio—are not indicative of long-term success.

    A full offseason of preparation and an offense tailored to his skill set will help, but expecting dramatic improvement from Armstrong’s 2013 statistics is probably not realistic.

     

    Randy Gregory, DE

    Gregory was an exciting, unknown prospect last year at this time as a junior college transfer. This year, he’s been tapped by many as a first-round NFL draft pick for 2015.

    Gregory had 9.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2013. Now that Gregory is a known commodity, I expect that he will see a lot more double teams and schemes designed to slow him down.

    His influence may increase, but it is entirely possible that his stats will not reflect that increase.

Breakout Candidates

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    Terrell Newby, IB

    Imani Cross will likely be ahead of Newby on the depth chart at the start of the season, but Newby’s breakaway speed and shiftiness make him a home run threat unlike any other on Nebraska’s roster.

    If he is able to run between the tackles, something he showed in the spring game, then Newby could truly be a game changer for Nebraska’s offense.

     

    Zaire Anderson, LB

    Nebraska’s linebacker corps is full of youth, talent and potential. But it is also full of question marks.

    Anderson—looking to get a full season in without injury—may be the most talented of all Nebraska’s linebackers. He brings a level of experience that should elevate his level of play in 2014.

The Non-Conference Schedule

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    Gary Kazanjian/Associated Press

    Nebraska’s non-conference schedule looks to present two challenges. One being a trip to Fresno State and the other being a home matchup against Miami.

    However, both the Bulldogs and the Hurricanes are not the teams they were last season.

    Fresno State looked to be a BCS buster in 2013-14, but should be a very different team without quarterback Derek Carr. Miami has quarterback questions as well with senior Ryan Williams undergoing surgery on his right ACL.

    It is possible that Williams will be able to play against Nebraska, but there is no doubt that he will miss all of fall camp.

    Nebraska’s non-conference schedule looks challenging on paper. However, it is not at all unreasonable to expect NU to emerge 4-0 heading into conference play.

The Conference Schedule

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Nebraska’s conference season schedule is far more challenging than it was last season. There are plenty of pitfalls on the schedule despite avoiding Ohio State and Michigan from the Big Ten East.

    Back-to-back trips to Michigan State and Northwestern, and subsequent road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa will be the biggest challenges for Nebraska this season.

    The Spartans are the defending B1G champions and return a number of starters. Northwestern very easily could be 3-0 against Nebraska in conference play. Wisconsin remains formidable even after a down season, and Iowa is coming off a victory over Nebraska in Lincoln.

    Nebraska navigating this schedule at 3-1 would be doing well, and a 2-2 record in those four games is not at all out of the question.

The Postseason

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Will Nebraska make it back to Indianapolis? It’s possible, but the odds are stacked against them. Both Wisconsin and Iowa have much more favorable schedules than Nebraska.

    It is entirely possible that Wisconsin will not lose more than two conference games, and Iowa not more than one. Results like that would put a tremendous amount of pressure on both of those games for Nebraska.

    Even if Nebraska gets off the four-loss schneid this year, which is eminently possible, a loss to either Wisconsin or Iowa would likely hand the division to either of those teams in a tiebreaker.

    Nebraska may be a better team than last year, but NU’s chances of going back to Indianapolis are dimmer thanks to the relative schedules around the Big Ten.

     

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