Mike Riley’s first season at Nebraska resulted in a disappointing 6-7 record, but the Cornhuskers could be the biggest challenger to Iowa in the Big Ten West in 2016. The offense is led by senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong and a dynamic group of receivers, while the defense can lean on the back seven until the line finds a new wave of reinforcements. Additionally, after losing six games by eight points or less and a minus-12 turnover margin, the Cornhuskers are due for better luck in 2016.
How much improvement should Nebraska fans expect in year two under Riley? Athlon polled a few writers to get their take on Nebraska’s realistic 2016 win/loss projection.
Nebraska Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
at Ohio State
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
Nebraska has talent on its roster. The problem is that most of the Cornhuskers’ elite talent is not on the offensive or defensive lines. The defensive front was average at best a season ago, yet two players from that unit were taken on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Huskers will face some of the best offensive lines and individual linemen in the country, blocking for what I count as nine running backs who will find homes on NFL rosters one day. Nebraska will struggle to control the tempo most weeks.
Offensively, Nebraska's receivers have the ability to be a matchup problem against all but two teams on the schedule. The issue will be protecting quarterback Tommy Armstrong and limiting his poor decisions in the effort to get the ball in the hands of those wideouts.
I have Mike Riley’s team losing six games in the regular season -- a one-game improvement from 2015. They'll lose four games this fall based on talent alone.
Progress is being made in Lincoln. It's up to the fans, boosters and administration to be patient and let Riley build a roster and subsequently a program that can compete for division and conference titles every year.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Nebraska's road schedule isn't easy and the offensive and defensive lines enter fall practice as big question marks for coach Mike Riley’s team, but Nebraska should improve off last year’s win total. The Cornhuskers had their share of bad luck with close losses and turnovers in 2015, and both trends generally reverse the other way the following year. Assuming quarterback Tommy Armstrong takes better care of the ball, Nebraska’s offense should rank near the top of the Big Ten once again. However, challenging Iowa for the Big Ten West and a top 25 nationally will hinge on the development of a revamped defensive line.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Looking back at last year's Nebraska team, it really is amazing in hindsight to see how the Cornhuskers blew so many games in the final few minutes. Call it bad luck or bad decision-making but something tells me that the trend will be reversed in 2016 with a more veteran team taking the field. The schedule is very, very favorable and that should balance out concerns along both lines. If Tommy Armstrong makes any sort of jump at quarterback, this should be a team that can move into in the Top 25 and contend for the Big Ten West Division title.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
You would be hard-pressed to find a team that lost seven games in a season in such crushing fashion as Nebraska last season. Those Cornhuskers may have been the best seven-loss team we have seen in a while; although seven losses are seven losses and that shows there is room for improvement across the board. If Tommy Armstrong cuts down on his mental breakdowns and the team as a whole can finally reduce the number of self-inflicted penalties, some close calls may go the other way. The schedule sets up well for a decent start but the second half of the season could get rough on the road.
Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces)
The potential for a major rebound season in year two of the Mike Riley era is there. However, it’s going to come down to how much quarterback Tommy Armstrong has improved in terms of turning the ball over (if he has). The offense has a bevy of weapons and the defensive back seven looks much improved, especially the linebackers.
Northwestern looks like a trap game to me coming after what will be a very emotional Oregon game win or lose and I see a shootout in Bloomington, Ind., with Armstrong making one mistake too many. A loss on the road to Big Ten King of the Mountain Ohio State wouldn’t surprise. Iowa loses its pass rush, but quarterback C.J. Beathard and All-Everything cornerback Desmond King keep a win just out of reach in Iowa City.
This season looks like a solid second campaign for Riley, setting up for big things in 2017 with the current youth getting another year of experience under their belt and the next wave of talent ready in the wings.