How will the Huskers finish in Mike Riley's first year?
It’s a new era for Nebraska football in 2015. Bo Pelini was jettisoned after leading the Cornhuskers to at least nine wins in every year from 2008-14. Needless to say, the bar is set high in Lincoln, and Nebraska expects to contend (and win) Big Ten titles.
New coach Mike Riley inherits a team capable of winning the West Division, but also a roster with question marks on both sides of the ball and a transition in schemes.
How will Mike Riley’s first season at Nebraska pan out? Will the Cornhuskers finish with nine wins once again? Or can Riley make an immediate impact in his first season in Lincoln?
Athlon polled a few writers to get their take on Nebraska’s realistic 2015 win/loss projection.
Nebraska Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2015
If Tommy Armstrong improves his accuracy and a pass-rusher, or two, emerges, there’s potential in Mike Riley’s first season. The offense could be pretty good — yes, even with Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell playing on Sundays. Jordan Westerkamp, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jamal Turner are talented targets who will make plays, often in exciting highlight fashion. The running game, while inexperienced and unproven, has some nice depth. As for the defense, it’s impossible not to like the tackle tandem of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, massive bodies who should make finding the aforementioned pass rusher(s) a little easier.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
I'll probably have my Omaha home egged for saying this, but the only "gimmies" on Nebraska's schedule are South Alabama and Southern Miss. BYU to open the season is no slouch, but the Huskers are the better team talent-wise and playing at home, so I'll count that as a win. They have Miami on the road, but I like Nebraska's matchups enough to favor the Huskers in that one.
Once conference play comes, I see losses at Minnesota and at home to Wisconsin and Michigan State. The road trips to Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers are all more difficult that meets the eye. They'll lose one of those, and my guess is it'll be at Rutgers.
I believe Nebraska has the talent to prevail over Northwestern at home. As was the case against Miami, the Huskers match up well enough with Iowa to slow down what the Hawkeyes want to do.
I'm probably off by a game here or there, but an 8-4 record seems like the most likely scenario for the 2015 Nebraska squad.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
When I look at Nebraska’s roster I struggle to see a 10-win team that runs through Big Ten play, but when I start going through the schedule I just feel as tough everything seems to work in Nebraska’s favor. Getting Wisconsin and Michigan State at home could be a nice edge to have in what should be a pair of close contests.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This isn’t a daunting or overly difficult schedule for first-year coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers host key games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa and BYU visits Lincoln for the opener.
However, as with every first-year coach, transition is a key word to keep in mind. Nebraska has the talent to push Wisconsin for the Big Ten West Division, but how quickly will the new schemes fall into place on both sides of the ball? Quarterback Tommy Armstrong must adapt to a new offense, and standout running back Ameer Abdullah must be replaced. The defensive tackle duo of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine is arguably one of the best in the nation. However, Nebraska is thin at linebacker and defensive end.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finishes 9-3, but I think there’s enough personnel concerns and transition among the coaching staff to drop to 8-4 in Riley’s debut.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Even though he consistently won at least nine games, the timing was right for Nebraska to sever ties with Bo Pelini. I really liked the Mike Riley hire and expect the transition to go fairly smoothly. Although I am a little worried about the potential drop off in the running game with Ameer Abdullah now in the NFL, as long as Tommy Armstrong embraces what Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf want from him and enough playmakers step up, this should be a fairly balanced and potent attack.
Defensively, I don’t think we’ll see the return of a vintage Blackshirts unit, but I do expect this side of the ball to perform very well because of the combination of experience returning and the fact that I think the defense will play more disciplined and work together better. Schedule-wise, Nebraska has its work cut out for it in both the non-conference and Big Ten, but the only real landmines I see are the trip to Miami, and of course Wisconsin and Michigan State. Bottom line, I think Cornhusker fans are going to be really pleased with Year One of the Riley era, even if it does produce Pelini-esque results in the win-loss column.