The time Nebraska football fans have been waiting for has finally arrived. It's college football season. As a result, the Huskers have begun preparations.
The Big Ten looks a little different this year with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. This change has also removed the Legends' and Leaders divisions in favor of the simpler East and West. Nebraska falls into the West, which includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
The 2014 season doesn't just bring new teams to Nebraska's schedule. It also brings a fresh start for head coach Bo Pelini and his staff. After a roller-coaster season in 2013, it's exactly what fans are looking forward to.
|2014 Coaching Staff|
|Title||Name||Years on Team|
|Head Coach||Bo Pelini||7|
|Offensive Coordinator||Tim Beck||7|
|Defensive Coordinator||John Papuchis||7 (3 as D.C.)|
|Running Backs Coach||Ron Brown||7|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Rich Fisher||4|
|Tight Ends Coach||Barney Cotton||7|
|Offensive Line Coach||John Garrison/Barney Cotton||4/7|
|Defensive Line Coach||Rick Kaczenski||3|
|Linebackers Coach||Ross Els||4|
|Secondary Coach||Charlton Warren||1|
|Special Teams Coach||Staff Effort||N/A|
Pelini enters his seventh season at the helm of Nebraska football. As he prepares, it's no secret that all eyes are on him.
After all, Pelini went from a very rough end to the 2013 season to one of the best possible offseasons from a public relations standpoint. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer recently took a look at the Pelini no one knows and highlighted everything that has happened to the coach in the last several months.
As a coach, Pelini's numbers are all over the place. Paul Myerberg of USA Today summed it up best:
On one hand, Pelini is one of eight major-conference coaches in college football history to win at least nine games in each of his first six years. Of those eight coaches, only one, Pelini, took over a program coming off a losing season. Three first-time coaches have opened with six consecutive nine-win seasons: Pelini, Osborne, Switzer.
Yet he is 8-14 against ranked teams, 2-8 against top-10 teams and 0-3 in conference championship games, the last in humbling, humiliating fashion. Only one Pelini-coached team, in 2009, finished inside the top 19 of the final Amway Coaches Poll.
That's what makes Pelini the man to watch. The staff around him is just as important. Both Tim Beck and John Papuchis have things to fix. However, it's Pelini who needs to become the CEO of this team and lead.
By doing so, the rest of the coaches on his staff will have better opportunities of being successful. This staff needs to develop and doesn't have much more time to do so. It all begins and ends with Pelini.
What to Watch for on Offense
|Nebraska 2014 Offensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Tommy Armstrong||Ryker Fyfe||Johnny Stanton|
|RB||Ameer Abdullah||Imani Cross||Terrell Newby|
|WR||Kenny Bell||Alonzo Moore||Brandon Reilly|
|WR||Jordan Westerkamp||Sam Burtch|
|WR||Jamal Turner||Taariq Allen||Lane Hovey|
|TE||Cethan Carter||Sam Cotton||Trey Foster/Greg Hart|
|C||Mark Pelini||Ryne Reeves||Paul Thurston|
|OG||Jake Cotton||Chongo Kondolo||Corey Whitaker|
|OG||Mike Moudy||Givens Price||Chongo Kondolo|
|OT||Alex Lewis||David Knevel||Sam Hahn|
|OT||Zach Sterup||Matt Finnin||Sam Hahn|
|K||Drew Brown||Mauro Bondi|
|PR/KR||Jordan Westerkamp/Kenny Bell||Terrell Newby/Ameer Abdullah|
Who else do you watch for on offense than I-back Ameer Abdullah? He's a major factor of this offense (just see the X-Factor section below for more) and easily the player whom most fans are excited to see.
His name has been thrown around as a possibly Heisman candidate. Whether he becomes one or not, the national awards will still be plentiful for the senior who chose to return over the NFL. As long as he remains healthy, the sky is the limit for Abdullah. That's what will make him fun to watch.
However, Abbullah isn't it for Nebraska. The Huskers have what looks to be a much stronger offensive line in 2014. The unit in 2013 faced several injuries, which had its positives and negatives. While the group of young players got experience, it created some growing pains right off the bat.
With a new season on the horizon, the offensive line is poised to be much stronger. Colorado transfer Alex Lewis helps, too. Big Red Report's Bryan Munson believes Lewis has a "mean streak" that Nebraska needs. With Lewis and Jake Cotton, the offensive line will be in a much better position going forward.
After all, players like Abdullah can't run without protection. Key parts of the passing game can't happen either without a strong offensive line. So while watching Abdullah run all over the place, make sure to pay attention to the offensive line, too. That's where things could really come together for the Huskers.
What to Watch for on Defense
|2014 Nebraska Defensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|DT||Vincent Valentine||Kevin Williams||Logan Rath|
|DT||Maliek Collins||Kevin Maurice|
|DE||Randy Gregory||Maliek Collins||A.J. Natter|
|DE||Greg McMullen||Joe Keels||Marcus Newby|
|BUCK||David Santos||Trevor Roach||Luke Gifford|
|MLB||Josh Banderas||Jaevon Walton||Bo Kitrell|
|WLB||Zaire Anderson||Austin Williams|
|CB||Josh Mitchell||Byerson Cockrell||Chris Jones|
|CB||Jonathan Rose||Daniel Davie||Boaz Joseph|
|SS||Corey Cooper||Zach Stovall|
|FS||Nathan Gerry||Anthony Ridder||Chris Jones|
|P||Sam Foltz||Mauro Bondi|
While the offense has Abdullah, the defense has Randy Gregory. The All-American is big and quick. He posted 66 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 2013, per Huskers.com. Alone, Gregory is a powerhouse; however, it's what surrounds him that makes the defensive line worth watching.
When looking at the defensive line, Myerberg was clear that the Huskers have a lot of potential:
After some painful misses on the recruiting trail, Nebraska has accumulated the talent and tackle depth to shine across the board, harassing quarterbacks on the edges and controlling the point of attack from tackle to tackle. Ohio State's line is the best in this conference; Nebraska's, if not as star-studded, may end up being the Big Ten's most pleasant surprise.
While the secondary lost LeRoy Alexander to a suspension and Charles Jackson to a knee injury similar to the one that former Husker Rex Burkhead suffered in 2012, the Blackshirts should be able to recover. Depth is definitely going to be of some concern going forward, but the Huskers have players to take over in Jackson and Alexander's absence.
When watching the Nebraska defense, it will be hard not to zero in on Gregory. There's nothing wrong with that, either. He's going to be an outstanding player for the Huskers in 2014.
Makes sure to take a look at the newer players, though. They should be stepping up big this season.
|Player Name||Injury||Expected Return Date|
|Charles Jackson||Left Knee Injury||Indefinitely|
|Michael Rose-Ivey||Torn ACL||Indefinitely|
|Adam Taylor||Broken Ankle||Indefinitely|
|Kevin Williams||Ankle Injury||Currently day-to-day|
|Zach Sterup||Unknown Leg Injury||Unknown|
|Gabe Miller||Back Issue||Unknown|
Injuries were a major part of the daily practice news for Nebraska during fall camp. Within the first week, three players went down with season-ending injuries. Thankfully, things have been quieter since.
Going forward, the Huskers (specifically on defense) need to stay healthy. Losing Jackson and Michael Rose-Ivey definitely hurt the depth on that side of the ball. Everyone else will now need to do all they can to keep away from injuries.
Surprise, surprise. The X-factor for Nebraska is I-back Abdullah. For proof, just read his bio on Huskers.com. He'll definitely be the man to stop in 2014.
However, that also means defenses will be targeting him. While it may mean little to the senior, it's still important for the Huskers to be ready. Imani Cross should be able to step up when defenses target Abdullah.
One could argue that the entire group of running backs will be the X-factor for Nebraska. Abdullah will just be leading the way.
|Nebraska 2014 Schedule|
|Aug. 30||Florida Atlantic||Lincoln, NE|
|Sept. 6||McNeese State||Lincoln, NE|
|Sept. 13||Fresno State||Fresno, CA|
|Sept. 20||Miami (FL)||Lincoln, NE|
|Sept. 27||Illinois||Lincoln, NE|
|Oct. 4||Michigan State||East Lansing, MI|
|Oct. 18||Northwestern||Evanston, IL|
|Oct. 25||Rutgers||Lincoln, NE|
|Nov. 1||Purdue||Lincoln, NE|
|Nov. 15||Wisconsin||Madison, WI|
|Nov. 22||Minnesota||Lincoln, NE|
|Nov. 28||Iowa||Iowa City, IA|
Nebraska's 2014 schedule isn't the most difficult in the Big Ten, but it's also not the easiest. More specifically, the home schedule is actually much easier than the road schedule.
Nebraska faces Florida Atlantic, McNeese State, Miami, Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota at home. On the road, the Huskers take on Fresno State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa. Needless to say, it's definitely unbalanced as far as difficulty of home versus away.
For the best chance at a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, the Huskers must go 7-0 at home. That would allow for some losses on the road, which seem likely.
Rutgers and Purdue sound great for cold November games, don't they? Should be interesting to see how many fans show up for those two.
The Huskers have quite a few make-or-break games in 2014. The first is the trip to Fresno State on Sept. 13. To start, the game kicks off at 10:30 p.m. ET. That's a challenge for any team. Additionally, the Huskers face Miami the week after, which could potentially distract the team from focusing properly on the Bulldogs. Fans have already been showing their excitement over Miami coming to Lincoln all offseason.
Fresno State will be a test for the Huskers, win or lose. If it's an emotional win or loss, it could carry over into the rest of the season. This is makes it a big game for Nebraska. Keeping emotions in check will be vital.
I've also talked about the Wisconsin game and its important before. The last time the two met in 2012, the Badgers defeated the Huskers 70-31. Not exactly fond memories for the Nebraska. Two years later, Wisconsin doesn't have Russell Wilson. They also have a new head coach, which makes things very different.
Wisconsin is beatable, but that doesn't mean it's a guaranteed win for the Huskers. How the team handles the challenge will speak volumes about Nebraska.
Nebraska unveiled new alternate uniforms for the homecoming game versus Illinois on Sept. 27. The uniforms were introduced to the public on Aug. 1 during Nebraska's annual fan day.
Pelini even got into the spirit of unveiling the new uniforms to the team.
When asked to describe this team in one word, it would be "opportunity." Everything is in place for the Huskers to have a breakthrough season; it all depends on the team's mentality.
Fans expect this young group to not be perfect. However, this team is talented. Due to the team's youth, victories may not come easy and may not always be the prettiest, but this group should be able to tough out the season.
After six years of four losses, it would be easy to predict the same for Pelini and his team again in 2014. However, Year 7 feels a little bit different. The team may be young, but it's talented. If the defense can establish itself early in the season and play like it did after Oct. 1, 2013, things will fall into place for Nebraska.
From there, as long as Tommy Armstrong steps up and makes plays, things should be much different for the team. The Huskers will likely still lose a couple of games, but they should escape the nonconference schedule before that happens.
Call it being overly optimistic if you wish, but the trend of four losses ends in 2014.
Overall Record: 10-2
Conference Record: 6-2