5 Bold Predictions for Nebraska's 2014 Season
The long wait is over, and Nebraska’s 2014 season is about to begin. As Nebraska prepares to face Florida Atlantic for this year’s lid-lifter, it’s time to get crazy and think about what might happen as the season unfolds. So here are five bold, but mostly plausible, predictions for the upcoming campaign.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from cfbstats.com.
Randy Gregory Breaks Nebraska’s Sack Record
Nebraska’s current sack record for a season is 15, held jointly by Jim Skow (1985) and Trev Alberts (1993). Last year, Gregory had 9.5 sacks in 13 games. Gregory had arrived in Lincoln just before camp started. He had almost no time to learn a new system and was less than a year removed from a horrific injury.
The numbers show that it took a little while for Gregory to get into the swing of things. Nine of his 9.5 sacks came in the last eight games of the 2013 season, including the Gator Bowl. Assuming Gregory is able to start strong in 2014 after a full offseason's work in the training room and with the playbook, a 16-plus-sack season is not at all unlikely.
Nebraska Goes to East Lansing and Wins
Everyone loves Michigan State. With the season-ending injury to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, the Spartans have now become the consensus pick to win the Big Ten, as evidenced by a revote of B1G media, as reported by Cleveland.com.
But Nebraska has enjoyed particular success against Sparty since joining the B1G. Nebraska registered a comfortable win against Michigan State in Lincoln three years ago and won a nail-biter in East Lansing the following year.
Yes, the Spartans beat Nebraska 41-24 in Lincoln last year. But Nebraska was minus-five in turnovers in that game and provided Michigan State with countless short fields to score. Absent the turnovers, Nebraska was at least the equal of Michigan State on the field.
Look for Nebraska to get what is likely to be considered an upset win over the defending B1G champions.
Kickers Will Cost Nebraska an Otherwise-Winnable Game
Nebraska fans were not happy at the end of last year's 8-4 campaign. How much worse would it have been, though, if Nebraska had ended 2013 at 7-5 instead of 8-4? Would head coach Bo Pelini, who barely kept his job at 8-4, have survived a 7-5 mark?
Well, you can thank a reliable kicker for getting Nebraska to 8-4 last year. In between the Michigan State and Iowa games was an overtime win over Penn State on the road, in which transfer kicker Pat Smith had to hit a clutch field goal twice (due to a penalty on Nebraska) to seal the victory.
This year, Nebraska’s place-kicking battle is between junior Mauro Bondi, who has never inspired enough confidence from the coaches to earn the job outright, and true freshman Drew Brown. Long snapper Gabe Miller has been out the entire fall camp due to injury but is working hard at a comeback, according to Mike Schaefer of 247Sports.
Nebraska has been living on the edge for some time, going 9-1 in games decided by three points or less. With questions in the kicking game, those numbers will bite Nebraska this year.
Cethan Carter Will Have at Least 10 Touchdown Receptions
I've made references to Nebraska coaches falling victim to "Mike McNeill Syndrome," in which a talented and dangerous tight end emerges and then quickly evaporates from the offense. It happened with McNeill, and it happened with Kyler Reed the year after his eight-touchdown performance in 2010.
Sophomore tight end Cethan Carter looks to have as much, if not more, athletic ability than McNeill and Reed. Couple that with a quarterback in Tommy Armstrong who is looking to find his feet as a passer, and an expansion of Carter's role (especially taking advantage of mismatches in either size or speed, depending on the defensive matchup) looks to be in the cards.
We know Nebraska's offense can generate an eight-touchdown season from a tight end. Carter looks to be the type of talent who could break out and snag 10 this year.
Zaire Anderson Will Lead the Team in Tackles
It’s not a stretch to think a linebacker will lead the team in tackles. In the last five years, a linebacker has been either first or second in tackles on the team.
This year looks like Zaire Anderson's time to shine. As a senior among a group made up almost entirely of underclassmen, Anderson will be the most experienced linebacker of the crew likely to see playing time. And according to Grant Muessel of Hail Varsity, Anderson could be a “surprise” in blitz packages.
Last year, 36 of Anderson’s 52 tackles came in the second half of the season and the bowl game. Look for him to continue the strong finish to the season he showed last year.
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