Around the Big Ten, few teams have been as disappointing this season as the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The pressure continues to mount for the program as head coach Mike Riley faces criticism for the level of play in Lincoln. Already this season we have seen a change at athletics director, which does not seem to bode well for Riley and his future.
On the field, Nebraska has been far too insecure with the football with former Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee piling up the interceptions and seeing far too many of those picks being returned for touchdowns. The Huskers' running game is a shell of what it once was, and the defense continues to be exposed on a regular basis.
Are there any bright spots on this Nebraska football program? You bet. Is there a chance Nebraska can turn their season around? Probably not to the extent Nebraska fans expect.
Here is a quick look at where Nebraska has been this season and where we are going next in the 2017 season.
Offensive MVP: WR Stanley Morgan Jr.
Nebraska’s passing game may have its issues, but Morgan is not one of them. The junior wide receiver has been a model of consistency with a team-high 510 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He has recorded a 100-yard game three times and has missed two more by a combined total of 10 yards.
Defensive MVP: DB Aaron Williams
The junior defensive back leads the Cornhuskers with a pair of touchdowns, including the only pick-six for the defense this season last weekend against Wisconsin. Williams also is Nebraska’s leading tackler midway through the season.
Best Moment of the First Half: Beating Rutgers and Illinois back-to-Back
This speaks volumes about determining what exactly has been the best moment of the first half for a program like Nebraska, but the bar was lowered so low that coming up with back-to-back wins against Rutgers and Illinois really has been the best moment of the season for the Cornhuskers midway through the year.
Best Newcomer: WR JD Spielman
The redshirt freshman worked his way into the starting lineup at the start of the season and has fit right in with veterans Stanley Morgan Jr. and De'Mornay Pierson-El. Spielman has 20 receptions for 275 yards and a touchdown so far, and he is coming off season highs against Wisconsin with six catches for 79 yards.
Biggest Surprise: Losing at home to Northern Illinois
Perhaps no loss better paints a picture of the struggles of the 2017 season than losing at home to the Huskies from the MAC. It was the first time Nebraska lost a game against a MAC opponent, and it included two pick-sixes thrown by Tanner Lee in a putrid display of offense.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Does Tanner Lee hold onto the QB job?
Lee has tossed 11 touchdowns and been intercepted 10 times. With the continued struggles of the offense, a change at quarterback would seem to be the most logical move if redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien is ready to get a shot.
2. Mike Riley’s job may be on the line
This is pretty obvious, but Riley could stand to benefit from a strong finish to the season. With a change at athletic director in Lincoln and the football program trending in the wrong direction, Riley will have to prove something in the second half to make a case to keep the job in 2018.
3. Can Nebraska get to a bowl game?
It will not be easy at all. At 3-3, Nebraska needs to win three more games this season to get to a postseason bowl game, but the remaining schedule features two tough draws in cross-division play and a couple of other dangerous road trips.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Oct. 14 vs. Ohio State
The second half of the season kicks off with a home game against an Ohio State team that has seemed to get back on track since losing to Oklahoma. The Buckeyes will come storming into Lincoln as a sizable favorite.
2. Nov. 18 at Penn State
A late trip to Happy Valley is looking more and more challenging considering how these two programs are trending. Saquon Barkley could have a big day against the Nebraska defense and keeping up with the pace on the scoreboard against Penn State’s defense should prove to be tricky.
3. Oct. 28 at Purdue
Few people would have expected a road trip to Purdue to be this threatening, but Jeff Brohm has the Boilermakers playing much better football this season. Purdue’s offense could be a problem and the game could be a must-win game for each for bowl purposes.
4. Nov. 24 vs. Iowa
The regular season will end at home against Iowa, and you never know what Hawkeyes team will show up. Running back Akrum Wadley and the Iowa defense have all you need to take down Nebraska.
5. Nov. 11 at Minnesota
The Gophers are still trying to get the paddles rowing but P.J. Fleck has them competing. The Gophers have some issues they are sorting through, making this a bit of a toss-up game.
6. Nov. 4 vs. Northwestern
Northwestern has given Nebraska a few fits over the years since joining the Big Ten, and this game could easily turn in that direction once again. But the Wildcats are struggling on offense and that could hold them back in this one.
— 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.