With spring practice underway in the Big Ten, we’re taking a look at each Big Ten program, using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching, current and future personnel. In continuing to look at the West Division, up next is Nebraska.
2015 record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
Three-year record: 24-15
Coaching situation: Mike Riley encountered too many troublesome moments during his first season with the Cornhuskers. Some turbulence is typical with every coaching change -- and Nebraska perhaps rightly expected more than usual after Bo Pelini’s loud exit at the end of 2014. But who could have imagined game-deciding plays in the final 10 seconds of regulation or in overtime of four losses before Oct. 15? To Riley’s credit, the Huskers rebounded well in November and December and have continued to build momentum in the offseason as positive vibes fill Memorial Stadium. Riley hired former Husker John Parrella to coach the defensive line, and the 62-year-old coach appears poised to preside over an improved group in 2016.
Roster situation: The Huskers need to put in work before September on the offensive and defensive lines. At the nine positions closest to the line of scrimmage, Nebraska may not start a man at the position he held a year ago -- that is, if Greg McMullen sticks with the move inside on defense, Dylan Utter completes the transition from left guard to center and Nick Gates remains at left tackle after playing on the right side in 2015. Nebraska is solid at receiver and has made big strides at linebacker. It’s young and athletic in the secondary, deep at running back and experienced at quarterback with Tommy Armstrong Jr., set to build on 33 career starts.
Recruiting situation: It’s solid. Nebraska’s first full class under Riley ranked 26th nationally and first in the Big Ten West. While the Huskers missed on a game-changing pass-rusher and lost two top in-state prospects, they did more right than wrong. The 2016 class featured four ESPN 300 recruits, including two from California in addition to quarterback Patrick O'Brien, the No. 20-ranked pocket-passer quarterback. Nebraska invested considerable new resources in recruiting as Riley arrived, and the addition of Parrella adds energy to a dynamic group of recruiters. The Huskers’ organization in recruiting is top notch and evident in the early connections made for the 2017 class. Expect it to begin to take shape soon.
Trajectory: Up. Consider where they’ve been in the past 16 months, and it’s difficult to dispute that the Huskers are, at least temporarily, moving in the right direction. They bottomed out on Halloween with a loss at Purdue. The turnaround began a week later as Nebraska handed Michigan State its lone regular-season loss. The Foster Farms Bowl win over UCLA marked another step forward. This month, as Nebraska gets back on the practice field, an increased level of comfort is evident, too. Players know their coaches. Yes, that helps. But the upward momentum of this offseason may grind to a halt in a hurry if Nebraska fails to handle business early next season -- business that includes a visit from Oregon. The Week 3 game figures to serve as a telling gauge of the progress made in a year after the Huskers’ troubling first month a year ago.