Returning Starters: Offense - 5 Defense - 7
2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)
Coach: Bo Pelini, 7th season
The Cornhuskers won enough games in 2013 to keep their coach. Bo Pelini was coaching for his job down the stretch, and it looked like he was on his way out after Iowa stomped Nebraska in Lincoln at the end of the regular season. But a Gator Bowl victory over Georgia saved Pelini his job. (He has since signed a contract extension through 2018.) Nebraska finished with losses to UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa. It's worth noting the Cornhuskers would have lost four of their last six regular season games had they not completed that Hail Mary against Northwestern. Who knows if Pelini would still be around?
For decades Nebraska's strength has been in the running game. This season will be no different. The Cornhuskers are loaded with backfield depth. Senior All-American Ameer Abdullah will get most of the carries, and rightfully so (see his 2013 stats below). But he'll get plenty of rest. Junior Imani Cross, sophomore Terrel Newby and redshirt freshman Adam Taylor can realistically combine for 20 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong is also a running threat. He went 7-1 as a starter last year, but was not efficient in the passing game. If the overhauled offensive line holds, Armstrong must use his strong arm (you knew it was coming) to keep defenses from creeping up to stop the run.
The recent transfer of tackle Aaron Curry hurts the group's depth, but Nebraska's front four, anchored by All-American pass rusher Randy Gregory (see stats below), will still be one of the best in the Big Ten. The back seven, however, won't be as secure. Nebraska lost its starting middle linebacker to injury and two key starters in the secondary to graduation. They have to fill holes with underclassmen, but the Huskers have enough young talent to hold their own on defense.
Three Players To Know
Ameer Abdullah, RB: The 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior led the Big Ten with 1,690 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns last season. Possessing a rare combination of speed, power and vision, Abdullah is the heart and soul of the Nebraska attack. Like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Abdullah has Heisman potential, but he needs his team to have a stellar season to get national recognition.
Tommy Armstrong, QB: Last season Armstrong was thrust into action when four-year starter Taylor Martinez went down with an injury. The redshirt freshman threw for 966 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games as the starter. He also rushed for over 200 yards and two scores. Armstrong needs to develop as a passer to keep the starting job. He only completed 52 percent of his throws last season and struggled with turnovers.
Randy Gregory, DE: At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds Gregory is one of college football's most dynamic edge rushers. In 2013 he recorded a Big Ten-best 10.5 sacks to go along with 66 tackles. The NFL-ready junior headlines one of the best defensive lines Nebraska has had in years.
Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six seasons in Lincoln. Nebraska has more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to exceed that benchmark and win the West Division. This potential is reflected by Nebraska's preseason ranking in both the AP and USA Today Top 25 polls. But a division title is likely contingent on road victories over Wisconsin/Iowa and the maturation of Armstrong.