Nebraska Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of a Big Ten Championship
It's no secret that Nebraska fans want to win the Big Ten championship. After having only made it to the big game once in its three-year existence, fans (and players) are getting antsy.
With new East and West divisions, the path to Indianapolis is very doable for the Huskers. Can the team make it there?
It will be filled with some challenges that could get in the way. But can head coach Bo Pelini overcome those obstacles?
Here are five things standing in the way of a Big Ten title for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
After the conclusion of the spring game, Pelini made it clear that Tommy Armstrong was his starting quarterback. That still doesn't mean Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe can't make a run for the job, but it seems likely the role belongs to Armstrong.
What that means for Nebraska is that Armstrong is going to have to use this offseason to really get comfortable in the position. The spring game was an okay showing for the quarterback, but improvements still need to be made.
One of the main areas that Armstrong needs to work on is managing the game, as Bleacher Report's own Patrick Runge pointed out. Armstrong knows this too.
"If I’m on the same page and putting my team in the right position, we’ll be the best offense in the Big Ten," Armstrong said in the post-spring game press conference.
Additionally, Armstrong noted that he's working on not shutting down after mistakes this year. He was quick to say it was something he struggled with in 2013.
The good news is that his team believes in him.
"Tommy is focused; he's very mature," junior I-Back Imani Cross said, per Lincoln's 1011 News. "He understands defenses and rotations. When you see it day in and day out, a guy putting your team in the right positions, you have that same confidence."
With the confidence there from his team, Armstrong just needs to work on the mental aspect of his game. If he can improve on that, the quarterback position will be an obstacle the Huskers can overcome.
When it comes to the coaches, trust is going to be fundamental in 2014. Whether it's trusting one another or trusting a player, it's imperative that it's there.
In 2013, the trust levels were always a bit shaky. It's difficult to evaluate from an outsider perspective, but there were visible moments where the trust was wearing thin among coaches and players.
For instance, there were times where it seemed like Armstrong wasn't fully empowered to play quarterback. Part of that was due to him learning his role in Taylor Martinez's shadow. However, there were times it appeared as if Armstrong was not confident in being a game manager.
In order to become more confident, coaches have to build trust with the players. If Armstrong believes offensive coordinator Tim Beck trusts him to manage the game, things will go much smoother in 2014.
That goes for any position on the team too.
For example, Pelini is working to instill trust in the offensive lineman. Jake Cotton told the Lincoln Journal Star's Darnell Dickson how the offensive line is working to build that trust and how it's benefiting the group:
It’s more a matter of bringing in guys and eliminating mental mistakes. It’s about getting after it and then you control what you can control. Then cohesiveness will come, and it comes faster than you think. In the first practice with (David) Knevel, and then when Alex started getting into the mix, it’s there. After the first play, it’s there. Like anything in life, you’ve got to have trust. I trust Alex, I trust Knevel. The rest will take care of itself.
And truly, once the trust is there, Cotton is right. The rest really will take care of itself.
Nebraska got a break from playing Wisconsin in 2013. That makes the 2014 meeting even more interesting.
With the new East-West divisions in the Big Ten, Nebraska and Wisconsin are going to be a regular matchup. It will likely decide who makes the trip to Indianapolis too.
The matchup between the two programs has been interesting since the Huskers joined the Big Ten too. In their first meeting in 2011, the Badgers ran away with a 48-17 victory. In 2012, the Huskers were able to make up for it with a 30-27 win at home.
However, when the programs met in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, things were once again not so pretty for the Huskers. Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 70-31, leaving the matchup on a bit of a sour note.
With November 15 looming, Nebraska will have to find a way to get past Wisconsin at Camp Randall. It won't be easy, especially with the history, but the Huskers must get past this obstacle.
The Huskers better find a way to get past the prime-time problems fast. With three on the docket for now (and likely more to come), Nebraska can't escape being in the national spotlight come fall.
With ABC/ESPN rolling into town for the Miami game on September 20, the Huskers will be on display. Two weeks later, Nebraska will face off in prime time against Michigan State in East Lansing. Add the just-announced prime-time slot for the Fresno Game on CBS Sports Network on September 13 and the Huskers have a lot of pressure to face.
For whatever reason, prime time has been a form of kryptonite for Nebraska in recent years. When the Huskers faced UCLA in prime time two years ago, the team fell flat. That's not the only example, though. From the 2012 Big Ten Title game to countless other examples, prime time has been a big challenge for Nebraska.
After a 2013 season that was mostly filled with early games on the Big Ten Network, the Huskers are back in the spotlight. Prime time is good for recruiting and it's good for national attention. For Nebraska, it's now all about clearing that hurdle and making prime time nothing but another game.
Call it the "Senior Curse." Some do if they're superstitious enough. Others just call it bad luck.
Whatever the case, the list of Nebraska players who become injured during their senior seasons is long. Over the last few years, the list has included players like Rex Burkhead, Jared Crick, Spencer Long and Taylor Martinez.
And it's those injuries that make a big impact on the Huskers' conference-title hopes.
There are 14 seniors on Nebraska's roster for 2014. Within that group are several crucial players for the Huskers. One of those players is I-Back Ameer Abdullah.
When Abdullah chose to forego the NFL draft to play his senior season at Nebraska, some worried the injury curse would get him. As of now (and knock on wood), Abdullah is just fine.
However, it's still something to keep an eye on. In certain players' absences, the Huskers would be able to rebound. For example, Abdullah leads a group of very talented I-Backs, including Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. If Abdullah were to be injured, the loss would be noticeable but there would be solid backups.
And that seems to be the case with about any position this season. But that doesn't mean losing a star player to an injury wouldn't have any complications for the team.
Ultimately, if the Huskers can stay as healthy as possible, a victory in Indianapolis is much more likely.
All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.