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Know your Northwestern football opponent, Week 8: Nebraska

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Nebraska could be the class of the Big Ten West.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

With our Summer Guide now complete, you probably have a general sense of Northwestern's outlook for the coming season. But breaking down any given team's strengths and weaknesses doesn't paint a complete picture. To truly gauge a team's win-loss potential, analyzing the schedule is arguably just as important.

Come game week, we will have detailed, timely, matchup-based write-ups on each opponent, but in the interim, we present to you our Know Your Opponent series. It's our look ahead at all 12 teams on Northwestern's 2015 schedule. So by the time training camp rolls around, you'll have a fuller view of the upcoming season.

Today, we preview Nebraska.

The Basics

Returning Starters: Offense - 6, Defense - 7
2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)
Coach: Mike Riley, 1st year (93-80 in 14 seasons at Oregon State)

The Stats

The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Football Outsiders. You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.

2014 S&P+ Overall Rank: 31
2014 S&P+ Offense Rank: 33
2014 S&P+ Defense Rank: 41
2015 S&P+ Projection: 30

2014 Capsule

Nebraska was a good football team in 2014 that won nine games and whose four losses -- aside from a brutal loss to Wisconsin -- all fell within five points. So, after seven-straight years of winning at a minimum seven games, the Cornhusker brass, naturally, fired Bo Pelini. The decision still puzzles me.

Offensive Overview

Losing running back Ameer Abdullah will put more pressure on junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who showed glimpses in 2014 of being a real solid option under center. Nebraska will also have to replace top playmaking wide receiver Kenny Bell, as well as their entire interior offensive line. Senior running back Imani Cross and junior Terrell Newby, both former four-star recruits, will get their first opportunities to show what they can do carrying the load in Lincoln. The passing game looks to take another step up as Armstrong continues to develop and wideout weapon De'Mornay Pierson-El takes a bigger role on offense.

Defensive Overview

The defense is definitely the weaker of the two units for Nebraska. Losing Randy Gregory to the NFL is a huge loss for a line that tended to struggle overall a season ago. Regardless, the defense is experienced and, on paper, should be better than it was a year ago. This defense has the talent to be solid but most of that will be based on its ability to defend against the run as a cohesive unit.

Three Players to Know

Tommy Armstrong Jr. (QB) - Quietly, Armstrong was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten last season racking up yards both through the air and on the ground. As a junior, the arrow is pointing way up for the 220-pounder. He's a dark horse, in my opinion, to be a transformative offensive player in the Big Ten West.

De-Mornay Pierson-El (WR) - Pierson-El is probably the best special teams weapon in the country. He is dominant in the return game and has the potential to be a standout wide receiver on offense. He caught four touchdowns in 2014 in a limited role and his targets will surely go up in 2015. As the team's top weapon on offense with the departures of Bell and Abdullah, Pierson-El will be Armstrong's top target.

Nate Gerry (S) - After making the switch from linebacker to safety ahead of the 2014 season, Gerry was a monster for Nebraska. In six of the Huskers' eight Big Ten games, Gerry had a takeaway, earning him an All-Big Ten second team selection. A junior, Gerry joins Armstrong and Pierson-El in a nucleus of playmakers on both sides of the ball. He will be the leader of an experienced, yet relatively untested group in the defensive backfield.

Behind enemy lines

Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald on expectations for Mike Riley in year one:

This is a 9-4 program. That's where Nebraska football is now. That's the standard, the expectation. The Husker players know how to do enough to get to nine wins and also do enough to lose three or four.

If you want more, expect more. After last season's overtime win at Iowa, a Nebraska assistant — former assistant now — walked by some Nebraska media types on the way to the locker room and shouted, "Nine wins, baby!"

Mission accomplished?

Time to change the mission.

Bill Connelly Says...

SB Nation college football guru Bill Connelly has been maniacally churning out previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here's an excerpt from his Nebraska preview on their chances this season:

Mike Riley has brought infinite good vibes to a program that needed them, but the goodwill will expire if he misses out on an opportunity to make noise in a wide open West.

Final Thoughts

Nebraska, at this point, seems to be the class of the Big Ten West and I say that because I think they have the best quarterback in the division. Armstrong is a game-changer for the Cornhuskers and Riley should be able to make his skill set blossom in a pro-style offense. His big arm could be devastating in a play-action scheme when coupled with his ability to escape the pocket. Nebraska's schedule sets up nicely with two decent tests (home for BYU in week one and at Miami in week three) before Big Ten play gets started. In back-to-back-to-back weeks, the Cornhuskers host Wisconsin, go to Minnesota and are home against Northwestern in what could very well determine they're fate in the division. Go 3-0, the crown is there's. If they end up 2-1, they've still got a shot. But wind up 1-2 or 0-3 and the season goes down the tubes.

The Game

Date: Oct. 24
Time: TBA
Home/Away: TBA
TV: TBA
Projected Betting Line: Northwestern +8.5