Stanley Morgan Jr. was one of the few bright spots for an otherwise disappointing season for the Cornhuskers
The 2017 season may not have gone exactly according to plan for Nebraska. Missing out on the bowl season for the first time since joining the Big Ten has led to a coaching change that gives Cornhuskers fans reason to be optimistic about the future of the program. While the highlights of the 2017 season may have been few and far between, there were still some things worth remembering and recognizing.
Offensive MVP: Stanley Morgan Jr., WR
Nobody had a better year in Nebraska’s offense than Morgan. The junior had a team-high 61 receptions for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 89.6 receiving yards per game led the Big Ten and he tied for the conference lead with most touchdowns with Iowa’s Noah Fant. Only one receiver in the Big Ten had more receiving yards (Maryland’s D.J. Moore).
Defensive MVP: Chris Weber, LB
The Nebraska defense rarely had a reason to smile during the 2017 season, but Weber was always out there trying to clamp down on opposing offenses. Weber led the team with 87 tackles, including 39 solo tackles and an average of 7.25 tackles per game. The loss of the senior in the middle of the field will be one that must be addressed in the spring.
Best Freshman: JD Spielman, WR
The freshman out of Minnesota certainly did not take long to have an impact on the Nebraska offense. In 11 games, Spielman hauled in 55 receptions for 830 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and his ability to return kickoffs (669 yards, TD) made him a versatile threat. Expect to see more of that in 2018.
Best Play of the Season: Stanley Morgan Jr.’s game-winning TD vs. Purdue
With 18 seconds to play staring at third down inside the red zone, time was running out for Nebraska on the road against the Boilermakers. But Tanner Lee was having a career day and was feeling confident. A pass over the middle to Morgan was caught by the leading receiver, and he made a slight move to make sure he got the ball across the goal line to give the Cornhuskers a one-point advantage with 14 seconds remaining. Nebraska would hold on to keep its bowl hopes alive for a little longer.
Best Performance by a Player in 2017: Tanner Lee vs. Purdue
A week after throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State, Lee had his best game of the season against Purdue. In a 25-24 victory against the improved Boilermakers, Lee passed for a season-high 431 yards and two touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his pass attempts. The win also helped keep Nebraska’s bowl hopes alive at the time, so Lee came through at the best possible time in late October.
Best Game (Team Performance): 28-6 win at Illinois
When the best team performance you had of the season came against Illinois, you know just how rough a year it was for Nebraska’s football program. But credit the Huskers for their showing against the Illini. Nebraska recorded 411 yards of total offense and held Illinois to just 199 yards. The Huskers were 7-for-11 on third down, Tanner Lee had three touchdowns and Devine Ozigbo had 106 rushing yards.
Defining Moment: Hiring Scott Frost as head coach
The 2017 season was not kind to the Husker faithful on the field, but the hiring of Nebraska’s favorite son to be the next head coach offered more than a glimmer of hope as the program moves forward. After coaching UCF to a 12-0 record and an AAC championship, Frost is coming home with the intention of turning things around at Nebraska.
Biggest Surprise: Losing at home to Northern Illinois
True, the Huskies ended up having a nice season, but it’s not as though the Huskers took a loss at home against an NIU team led by Jordan Lynch or anything. Nebraska’s first loss to a team from the MAC came in unforgivable fashion in Week 3 with Tanner Lee having two interceptions in the first quarter returned for touchdowns and the Huskies finding a way to hold on for a close win.
Biggest Disappointment: Bob Diaco’s failure as a defensive coordinator
When Nebraska added former UConn head coach Bob Diaco to the coaching staff as a defensive coordinator, some may have gone so far as to call it a home-run hire for Nebraska. Well, swing and a miss. The Huskers' defense was a train wreck all season long under Diaco's leadership.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR
One of the top offensive players for Nebraska was wide receiver Pierson-El (above, right). In 12 games, the senior finished the season with 45 receptions for 623 yards and five touchdowns as a nice consistent piece on offense.
Player to Watch in 2018: Patrick O’Brien, QB
O’Brien got minimal playing time in his redshirt freshman year in Lincoln by appearing in just four games. Expect O’Brien to be given a good chance to compete for the starting job in the spring under new head coach Scott Frost. The former four-star recruit under Mike Riley may be the most likely option to take the reins of the Nebraska offense for Frost in 2018.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: How quickly can Scott Frost turn things around?
Asked at his introductory press conference how he intends to adjust his offensive mindset in the Big Ten, Frost confidently responded he hopes it is the Big Ten that has to adjust to him. It’s a line that plays well to fans, but just how much can Frost change with the offense before the 2018 season? Look for the work to spruce up the offense to begin in the spring, but it may take a recruiting cycle or two to start getting the players Frost needs to get Nebraska back up to full speed.
— 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.