Coach: Mike Riley (0-0, entering first season; 93-80 overall record)
2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Big Ten Conference; tied for second in West Division
Look back: Bo Pelini won 71 percent of his games (67 wins) during his seven-plus seasons as head coach at Nebraska, but he failed to win a conference championship in either the Big 12 or Big Ten. His prickly personality didn’t help his cause, especially among the fans and alumni. Despite winning nine games in 2014, Pelini was fired.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB Ameer Abdullah, WR Kenny Bell, OL Jake Cotton, OL Mike Moudy, OL Mark Pelini, LB Zaire Anderson, S Corey Cooper, DE Randy Gregory, CB Josh Mitchell, LB Trevor Roach
Top returnees: QB Tommy Armstrong, OL Alex Lewis, OL Zach Sterup, WR Jordan Westerkamp, WR De’Mornay Pierson-El, S Nate Gerry, LB David Santos, LB Josh Banderas, CB Daniel Davie, DE Greg McMullen, DT Maliek Collins, DB Byerson Cockrell, DT Vincent Valentine
Strengths: Nebraska put together one of its best offensive seasons in quite some time. The Huskers averaged close to 38 points per game and more than six yards per play in 2014. That said, new head coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have transitioned the offense into a more pro-style scheme. The biggest beneficiary of the move could be Tommy Armstrong. The junior quarterback was second on the team in rushing (705 yards), but he ranked in the middle of the pack in passing efficiency in the Big Ten (133). The defensive front four features three returning starters, including defensive end Greg McMullen and tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine. The trio combined for 11.5 sacks and, more important, 25 quarterback hits.
Weaknesses: Ameer Abdullah was one of six running backs in the Big Ten to rush for more than 1,500 yards last season, tallying 1,611 yards with 19 touchdowns. His departure leaves Nebraska looking to fill a major void in the backfield. Senior Imani Cross (384 yards, 5 TDs) and junior Terrell Newby (297 yards, 5 TDs) shared time behind Abdullah and will play bigger roles in 2015.
Nebraska was hit hard by graduation, especially on the offensive line, where Jake Cotton, Mike Moudy and Mark Pelini combined for 52 career starts. Tackle Alex Lewis leads a rebuilt line that features a little more than two dozen career starts among the five players. The revamped unit needs to develop chemistry quickly because last season Nebraska allowed 22 sacks.
Outlook: Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst surprised everyone when he lured Riley away from Oregon State and named him the Huskers’ next head coach. Riley’s laid-back attitude and likable personality are the total opposites of Pelini, as is his coaching style. Since 2012, Nebraska is 2-7 against opponents ranked in the top 25 and the team has played in just two conference title games since 2010. The Big Red fan base is eager for a return to national prominence. Only time will tell if Riley can deliver.
Sept. 5 BYU
Sept. 12 South Alabama
Sept. 19 at Miami
Sept. 26 Southern Miss
Oct. 3 at Illinois
Oct. 10 Wisconsin
Oct. 17 at Minnesota
Oct. 24 Northwestern
Oct. 31 at Purdue
Nov. 7 Michigan State
Nov. 14 at Rutgers
Nov. 27 Iowa
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com