The conference media days parade is underway, but as usual, the Big Ten will ride the anchor leg late next week. As we while away the days to the unofficial kickoff to the season, we're taking a look at the reasons why each league team will or won't reach a specific goal in 2015.
It's really quite remarkable that Nebraska finished with exactly four losses in all seven years of the Bo Pelini era. The successes of his tenure -- he never won fewer than nine games in a season, either -- were always overshadowed by that number in the loss column (and the ugly way many of those defeats occurred).
New coach Mike Riley has arrived on the scene with hopes of ending the Cornhuskers' long championship drought. A successful first year might just entail losing fewer than four games. Can the Huskers get over (or, I guess, under) the four-loss hump?
Why Nebraska will lose fewer than four games in 2015:
Stability at the top: For better or worse, Nebraska under Pelini often reflected the personality of its coach, which might be best described as volatile. The Huskers could look like a conference champion one week and get steamrolled the next. It was simply impossible to trust them to play consistently over a 12-game season. Perhaps that will change with Riley, who is as even-keeled and unflappable as any coach in college football. It's very unlikely we'll see Riley throw tantrums on the sidelines. Many Nebraska fans also criticized Pelini for relying on young assistants without long track records. That won't be the case with Riley's veteran staff. Will any of this actually result in more victories? Impossible to say, but the team shouldn't ride as many dizzying highs and terrifying lows as previous years.
Home cookin': Many of Big Red's toughest games in 2015 will be held at Memorial Stadium, which comes as good news. Lincoln is the only place where Nebraska has beaten Wisconsin as a Big Ten member, and the Badgers come to town with their own new head coach on Oct. 10. Michigan State is a difficult crossover matchup, but at least the Spartans must play in the Huskers' house. BYU and Iowa also are at home, and Nebraska might have as many or more fans at Miami than the Hurricanes do. The hardest road game is at Minnesota, which has won the past two games in this series. But if the Huskers simply protect their turf, they should minimize the losses.
Why Nebraska won't lose fewer than four games in 2015:
Star search: Quick: name a Nebraska player who should be All-Big Ten in 2015. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins, for sure. De'Mornay Pierson-El on special teams, yeah, but can he develop into a useful offensive weapon? After that ... it's iffy. The best two players on last year's team, Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory, are in NFL camps, and so is top receiver Kenny Bell. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a rising star who could thrive in Riley's system, but the quarterback has yet to complete more than 53 percent of his passes. Compare Nebraska's overall roster with other top teams in the Big Ten, and the star power is simply lacking.
Linebacker depth: The Huskers had one experienced linebacker during the spring after a string of departures, and they almost certainly will need some true freshmen to fill roles there this fall. Michael Rose-Ivey has a lot of potential but injuries have kept him from fulfilling it thus far. Linebacker play was a sore spot for Pelini once Nebraska transitioned into the Big Ten, after it had geared its recruiting toward stopping the spread offenses in the Big 12. It's hard to win in the physical Big Ten without outstanding linebacker play, and it remains a big question mark whether Riley has the horses at that position in 2015.