Nebraska will have some new faces to look forward to this season as the Cornhuskers look to make a push to get to the Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the year. Head coach Mike Riley needed to make a few changes this season after the Huskers dropped four of their final six games to end 2016. With the addition of a transfer quarterback and a new defensive coordinator, there is a chance good things could be coming to Nebraska this season.
However, the Cornhuskers play host to a Sun Belt challenger that could spoil the opener in Lincoln if they play their best football. Arkansas State has a sneaky-good offense and a defensive front that must be slowed down if Nebraska is going to avoid being the victim of an upset this weekend.
Arkansas State at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Nebraska -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Nebraska looks to find an offensive identity
Fans have become accustomed to seeing Nebraska running the football over the years, and that is not about to change in 2017. The question is who will emerge as Nebraska’s top running option? Like many teams in the beginning of the season, the Cornhuskers will look to give a few players a chance to carry the ball with Tre Bryant, Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo the leading candidates, and freshman Jaylin Bradley also probably in line to get a few snaps
2. Arkansas State’s D-line could cause problems
The Red Wolves may have some new faces along the defensive line, but it is a unit that is expected to be one of the strongest in the Sun Belt. It could also be ready to disrupt Nebraska’s running game just enough to keep things dicey for the Huskers at home. Dee Liner, previously at Alabama, joins Ja’Von Rolland-Jones to bring pressure up front and get in the quarterback’s face. Rolland-Jones tied for fifth nationally with 13 sacks last season and became just the second defender in Sun Belt history to be named the conference’s player of the year.
3. Tanner Lee and Bob Diaco’s Nebraska debuts
Two key additions to the Cornhuskers’ football program could be big factors on Saturday. Tanner Lee steps in at quarterback after transferring from Tulane, and he could be the steady hand Nebraska needs in a time of some transition on the offense. On defense, new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco should manage to get back to what he does best (defensive coordinator) and move away from what he does not (creating rivalry trophy games). Both should prove to be valuable assets for Nebraska right from the start.
Nebraska may be in for a battle with Arkansas State if the Cornhuskers are sloppy coming together on offense, but the Red Wolves will need Nebraska to have a poor game or make several mistakes in order to give the home team a true scare. Arkansas State may challenge for the Sun Belt, but the Huskers still have more depth and skill to count on to find a way to pull away for the win.
Prediction: Nebraska 42, Arkansas State 24
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.