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Nebraska can be a Big Ten West contender if it makes 1 fewer mistake per game

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The Huskers were better than their record claimed last year, but still have plenty to work on in Mike Riley's second year.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. First impressions

In Mike Riley, Nebraska elected to bring in a guy who a) is the opposite of Pelini in demeanor and b) only won more than nine games once in 14 years at Oregon State.

The minuses and pluses (he won 70 games in 10 years at Oregon State; just think of what he could do at a bigger program) of his hire were evident, and that makes it difficult to know what to expect. His friendly grandpa carriage means he will earn a level of goodwill that Pelini never did, and perhaps that means that on-the-field bar won't be as high.

Then again, Solich was a super-nice guy. He got dumped after averaging 9.7 wins.

It was easy to see what Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst saw in Riley. Pelini was a fiery coach who always won, but never won quite enough. His win percentage (.713) was very close to Frank Solich's (.753), and Solich got fired. It was probably going to happen at some point regardless. Winning nine games each year doesn't keep you gainfully employed in Lincoln forever.

But Pelini's demeanor betrayed him quite a few times, and when he left, there was a natural desire to replace him with his temperamental opposite. Riley is exactly that. And as a head coach at three different levels (NFL, CFL, college football), he's now won 153 career games. Not bad. He was guaranteed to win the 2015 offseason, going on a statewide glad-handing tour and showing everybody just how good a guy he seems to be.

But then the games started, and Nebraska finished below .500 for just the third time in 54 years. Despite solid experience on both sides of the ball, the Huskers fell from 28th to 36th in Off. S&P+ and from 46th to 57th in Def. S&P+.

They got creative in the ways they figured out how to lose close games.

  • Against BYU, they lost via Hail Mary.
  • Against Miami, they pulled off a fierce fourth-quarter comeback, then fell in overtime.
  • Against Illinois, they blew a 13-0 lead in the fourth quarter and gave up the game-winning TD with 10 seconds left.
  • Against Wisconsin, they took a 21-20 lead with under four minutes left but allowed a 46-yard field goal with four seconds left.
  • Against Northwestern, they failed on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with four minutes left, then allowed a bad offense to run out the final minutes.
  • Against Purdue, they allowed three touchdowns in five minutes to turn a 21-16 deficit into 42-16, then once again failed to make stops during a mad comeback in a 55-45 loss.
  • Against Iowa, they outgained the undefeated Hawkeyes by 183 yards but threw a pick six (and three other interceptions) and allowed the Hawkeyes to score TDs in each of their three scoring opportunities in a 28-20 loss.

That's a spectacular, diverse set of failures. The Huskers were the anti-Iowa, figuring out ways to lose games they were well-positioned to win. On paper, the Huskers and Hawkeyes were very similar. But Nebraska ended up with half the wins.

That's the bad news. The good news is that, even though there were moments of good luck, too (the Michigan State win in particular), this level of misfortune will be almost impossible to replicate. When you win games by an average of 16 points and lose by an average of four, that means your record probably doesn't quite reflect your quality.

S&P+ likes the Huskers quite a bit, and if the bad bounces turn into good bounces, NU could be in store for a whale of a season. The Huskers might even win nine games!

This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the Big Ten so far!

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 36 | Final S&P+ Rk: 48
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep BYU 35 28-33 L 50% 23% -9.1 -12.0
12-Sep South Alabama 102 48-9 W 94% 100% +12.3 +12.0
19-Sep at Miami-FL 62 33-36 L 33% 10% +0.6 +0.5
26-Sep Southern Miss 56 36-28 W 89% 91% -15.6 -14.0
3-Oct at Illinois 65 13-14 L 46% 32% +8.9 +6.0
10-Oct Wisconsin 32 21-23 L 69% 51% 0.0 -3.0
17-Oct at Minnesota 55 48-25 W 86% 96% +29.2 +25.0
24-Oct Northwestern 52 28-30 L 44% 27% -8.0 -9.5
31-Oct at Purdue 93 45-55 L 14% 3% -20.1 -20.5
7-Nov Michigan State 9 39-38 W 72% 66% +6.1 +7.0
14-Nov at Rutgers 101 31-14 W 90% 100% +4.4 +7.5
27-Nov Iowa 38 20-28 L 45% 15% -7.3 -6.5
26-Dec vs. UCLA 28 37-29 W 74% 63% +13.5 +15.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 34.1 36 27.0 57
Points Per Game 32.8 43 27.8 76

2. A different team every week

Nebraska's performance was all over the map. The Huskers took on the profile of a super-young team, playing poorly one week, well the next, back and forth, all year. In terms of single-game percentile performances, they hit the 86 percent or better mark (~top 20 caliber) four times and fell below 50 percent (top 65 or worse) five times.

If you're a super-young team, this makes sense. It can even be a hint at the ceiling to come. But was Nebraska really that young? The Huskers had a second-year starter at quarterback, juniors and seniors atop the depth chart in the skill positions and on the offensive and defensive lines, and mostly juniors and seniors in the secondary. They were dealing with a coaching change, but this is the level of experience you strive for.

This season, Nebraska could start as many as eight seniors on offense and four or five on defense. There are questions at quarterback (Tommy Armstrong Jr. has a bit of an interceptions problem) and in the trenches, but this team is too experienced to be so up and down. Either it gets rectified, or it reflects very poorly on Riley and his staff.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.30 47 IsoPPP+ 118.5 21
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.6% 56 Succ. Rt. + 110.2 30
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.5 86 Def. FP+ 29.9 71
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.5 58 Redzone S&P+ 112.4 29
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.9 ACTUAL 27 +7.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 34 23 30 21
RUSHING 52 32 41 35
PASSING 33 21 28 16
Standard Downs 24 46 18
Passing Downs 24 15 30
Q1 Rk 29 1st Down Rk 20
Q2 Rk 22 2nd Down Rk 35
Q3 Rk 20 3rd Down Rk 16
Q4 Rk 30

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. 6'1, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9003 222 402 3030 22 16 55.2% 11 2.7% 7.0
Ryker Fyfe 6'3, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 34 55 440 5 5 61.8% 2 3.5% 7.4
AJ Bush 6'4, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8044
Patrick O'Brien 6'4, 230 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9189

3. Those pesky picks

Armstrong brings most of what you would love to see from a dual-threat quarterback. He averages more than six yards per carry (not including sacks), and he doesn't take many sacks. He's a little bit on the inefficient side (55 percent completion rate), but he looks downfield a lot and usually gets the ball where it needs to be. Nebraska's top three wideouts (Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, and Alonzo Moore) each averaged at least 9.3 yards per target.

He was at the helm of an explosive passing game, and he added some efficiency to the run game. That Nebraska ranked in the top 25 in both Standard Downs S&P+ and Passing Downs S&P+ was a nice sign that he could both carry out the game plan and make plays when the game plan failed.

He also threw 16 interceptions. An interception rate over 3 percent or so is pretty damaging, and Armstrong's was 4 percent. Backup Ryker Fyfe's: 11 percent.

Only five teams threw more interceptions than Nebraska in 2015, and while part of that was perhaps unlucky -- interceptions accounted for 31 percent of opponents' passes defensed (INTs + break-ups), and the national average trends closer to about 22 percent; that, and fumble recoveries led to NU suffering 4.5 poitns per game of bad turnover luck, third-worst in FBS -- Armstrong and Fyfe both threw into tight coverage a lot.

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf didn't put together the most QB-friendly system in the world. NU was a little bit predictable, running more frequently than the national average on standard downs and passing more frequently on passing downs, and there wasn't much of a horizontal aspect: Either Armstrong was looking downfield or dumping to running back Terrell Newby.

This approach frequently worked. But it is begging for a high INT rate, unless you've got a supremely accurate quarterback. Armstrong is probably a better thrower than he gets credit for, but he's not supremely accurate.

Basically the entire receiving corps returns. Last year's top six targets are back, as is electric return man De'Mornay Pierson-El, who missed more than half the season with injury.

Perhaps Pierson-El's full-time presence will allow NU to work the ball more horizontally and/or throw more frequently on standard downs. At Oregon State, Langsdorf did an interesting job of tweaking his system for the strengths of the personnel, and if NU can add "accurate throwing and good blocking on screen passes" to the list of strengths, the Huskers will have an answer for just about anything a defense wants to do. At least, they will if Armstrong is completing passes mostly to his own team.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Terrell Newby RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9404 147 765 6 5.2 4.9 38.8% 0 0
Imani Cross RB 111 444 6 4.0 2.7 37.8% 1 1
Tommy Armstrong Jr. QB 6'1, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9003 87 529 7 6.1 6.4 42.5% 3 2
Andy Janovich FB 42 265 3 6.3 6.5 42.9% 1 0
Devine Ozigbo RB 5'11, 230 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560 40 216 1 5.4 5.5 35.0% 1 0
Alonzo Moore WR 6'2, 195 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8856 14 106 0 7.6 4.3 71.4% 0 0
Brandon Reilly WR 6'2, 200 Sr. NR NR 11 96 0 8.7 5.4 63.6% 0 0
Mikale Wilbon RB 5'9, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8822 9 35 0 3.9 3.9 44.4% 0 0
Ryker Fyfe QB 6'3, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 5 -17 0 -3.4 4.2 40.0% 1 1
Jamal Turner WR 4 23 0 5.8 14.9 25.0% 0 0
Harrison Jordan FB 5'10, 230 Jr. NR NR
Adam Taylor RB 6'2, 210 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9058
Tre Bryant RB 5'11, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8638







4. Hype vs. production

In Terrell Newby, Mikale Wilbon, and Adam Taylor, Nebraska boasts three former four-star recruits in the backfield. Taylor has struggled with injuries, and Wilbon was lost in a crowded depth chart. Newby was perfectly decent in 2015 but was not quite efficient enough to be an efficiency back or explosive enough to be a big-play guy.

Between these three, big sophomore Devine Ozigbo, and incoming freshman Tre Bryant, Nebraska appears to have plenty of upside in the backfield. But even with these options, plus Imani Cross and fullback Andy Janovich, NU still ranked just 41st in Rushing Success Rate+ last year. And now Cross, Janovich, and four of six linemen with starting experience are gone. How quickly can upside turn into production?

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jordan Westerkamp WR 6'0, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9060 100 66 926 66.0% 23.1% 9.3 63.0% 56.0% 1.53
Brandon Reilly WR 6'2, 200 Sr. NR NR 68 40 754 58.8% 15.7% 11.1 58.8% 52.9% 1.96
Cethan Carter TE 6'4, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8572 47 24 329 51.1% 10.9% 7.0 40.4% 38.3% 1.65
Alonzo Moore WR 6'2, 195 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8856 40 24 395 60.0% 9.2% 9.9 72.5% 52.5% 1.89
Stanley Morgan Jr. WR 6'1, 200 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8765 40 25 304 62.5% 9.2% 7.6 57.5% 50.0% 1.48
Terrell Newby RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9404 37 24 159 64.9% 8.5% 4.3 43.2% 29.7% 1.34
Lane Hovey WR
24 12 158 50.0% 5.5% 6.6 70.8% 50.0% 1.30
De'Mornay Pierson-El WR 5'9, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460 21 12 111 57.1% 4.8% 5.3 42.9% 38.1% 1.22
Jamal Turner WR 19 9 93 47.4% 4.4% 4.9 57.9% 42.1% 1.11
Taariq Allen WR 11 5 41 45.5% 2.5% 3.7 72.7% 36.4% 1.00
Devine Ozigbo RB 5'11, 230 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560 9 5 62 55.6% 2.1% 6.9 55.6% 33.3% 1.95
Sam Cotton TE 6'5, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8181 6 3 35 50.0% 1.4% 5.8 33.3% 33.3% 1.28
Mikale Wilbon RB 5'9, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8822 3 2 28 66.7% 0.7% 9.3 33.3% 66.7% 1.32
Lavan Alston WR 6'0, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8832
Matt Snyder TE 6'5, 255 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8523
JD Spielman WR 5'9, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8690
Jack Stoll TE 6'4, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8524
Derrion Grim WR 6'0, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8521

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 109.4 3.16 3.07 40.8% 61.1% 17.7% 185.8 1.3% 5.7%
Rank 29 25 80 38 98 38 14 6 31
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Alex Lewis LT 13 26
Zach Sterup RG 7 17
Dylan Utter LG 6'1, 295 Sr. NR NR 13 14
Ryne Reeves C 13 14
Nick Gates LT 6'5, 290 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8929 10 10
Chongo Kondolo RG 9 9
David Knevel RT 6'9, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8767 0 0
Jerald Foster LG 6'3, 310 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8708 0 0
Paul Thurston C
0 0
Corey Whitaker RT 6'5, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322 0 0
Sam Hahn RT 6'7, 300 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Zach Hannon OL 6'5, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625 0 0
Tanner Farmer OL 6'4, 295 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9021 0 0
Jalin Barnett OL 6'4, 310 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9207

Christian Gaylord LT 6'6, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8882

Michael Decker OL 6'4, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544

John Raridon OL 6'4, 275 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9435

Matt Farniok OL 6'6, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9049

Bryan Brokop OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8847

5. A successful line rebuilds again

Nebraska only returned two players with more than a game of starting experience last year but gelled into a solid unit. The Huskers struggled in short-yardage situations but did a fantastic job of keeping defenders out of the backfield. The rushing stuff rates were low, as were the sack rates.

This year Nebraska returns ... two players with starting experience. A double dip of attrition can lead to a really young two-deep, but NU will still boast senior guard Dylan Utter and a couple of other juniors or seniors on the two-deep.

Still, as with running back, it would help if some guys pretty quickly lived up to their four-star billing. Sophomore Nick Gates started most of the year at left tackle and appears to be a keeper, but if at least one four-star youngster from a pool of sophomore Tanner Farmer, redshirt freshman Jalin Barnett, and incoming freshmen John Raridon and Matt Farniok could play at a high level in 2016, this unit might survive. Proven depth is an obvious issue, though.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.43 117 IsoPPP+ 94.4 89
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.0% 32 Succ. Rt. + 107.8 41
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.1 59 Off. FP+ 30.5 52
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 69 Redzone S&P+ 106.0 41
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.5 ACTUAL 15.0 -4.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 64 67 41 89
RUSHING 9 35 18 57
PASSING 122 81 53 95
Standard Downs 77 40 96
Passing Downs 61 36 71
Q1 Rk 48 1st Down Rk 88
Q2 Rk 62 2nd Down Rk 106
Q3 Rk 91 3rd Down Rk 44
Q4 Rk 98

6. Get the passer

Nebraska's run defense improved dramatically in 2015. The Huskers went from 88th in Rushing S&P+ to 35th, frequently invading the backfield and playing better than almost anyone in short-yardage situations. The line rotation wasn't incredibly deep -- they played mostly four ends and two tackles -- and the defense as a whole dramatically faded from the start of a game to the end. But all in all, there was little to complain about from the perspective of run D.

The problem was that opponents didn't have to run. The pass defense regressed just as significantly as the run defense improved. The cornerback position was a M*A*S*H unit, with both Jonathan Rose and Daniel Davie missing significant time, and NU ended up allowing 60 completions of 20-plus yards, fourth-worst in the country.

The breakdowns were significant -- NU opponents on third-and-4 or more: 67-for-118 for 879 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 135.5 passer rating. And with decent turnover in both the front and back of the defense, it's hard to say with certainty that things will improve.

If one single thing were to improve, though, the pass rush could do a whole lot of good. As invasive as NU was against the run, the Huskers ranked 96th in Adj. Sack Rate. Only two players had more than three sacks, and none had more than 4.5.

I'm not exactly sure who might step up to more effective pass rush; sophomore Freedom Akinmoladun led the team with 4.5 sacks and still has a lot more developing to do, but who else? The linebackers were used conservatively and combined for all of one sack. That put a lot of pressure on the line to generate pressure; in turn, that ended up putting pressure on the DBs to cover guys for an extended period of time.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 122.8 2.26 2.33 30.8% 42.3% 22.8% 82.2 4.0% 4.6%
Rank 6 6 5 5 2 31 96 98 112
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Maliek Collins DT 13 21.5 3.4% 6.0 2.5 0 1 0 0
Greg McMullen DE
13 20.5 3.3% 6.5 4.0 0 0 1 0
Ross Dzuris DE 6'3, 255 Sr. NR NR 13 19.0 3.0% 6.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Freedom Akinmoladun DE 6'4, 255 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575 11 16.0 2.5% 6.0 4.5 0 0 0 0
Kevin Maurice DT 6'3, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8286 10 15.5 2.5% 2.5 1.0 0 0 2 0
Jack Gangwish DE 10 11.0 1.8% 3.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Vincent Valentine DT 10 7.0 1.1% 3.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Mick Stoltenberg DT 6'5, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8296 9 2.0 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Williams DT 8 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 1
A.J. Natter DE 6'5, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8903
Peyton Newell DT 6'3, 290 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8882
Sedrick King DE 6'4, 250 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8224
Carlos Davis DT 6'2, 295 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8891
Khalil Davis DT 6'2, 290 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8730
DaiShon Neal DE 6'7, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8588
Ben Stille DE 6'5, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8578
Collin Miller DE 6'3, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8496








7. A successful line rebuilds, part 2

NU linemen combined for 35 tackles for loss last year, and those responsible for 19.5 are gone. Adkinmoladun, end Ross Dzuris, and tackle Kevin Maurice are all steady options, but the Huskers will need youngsters to step up quickly, be they sophomores like Mick Stoltenberg and Peyton Newell or redshirt freshmen like DaiShon Neal or the Davis twins, Carlos and Khalil.

Not a single lineman was a four-star recruit per the 247Sports Composite, but only one of the five departees was, and NU still had a solid front four.

The linebacking corps has some former four-stars and quite a few strong run defenders. They took complete advantage of the opportunities the line gave them to make plays, and they did so despite constant shuffling -- of seven LBs with at least four tackles, none played in all 13 games. Basically everybody is back, which should result in good competition on the two-deep. Now if one of them could blitz a little bit...

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Josh Banderas LB 6'3, 240 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9053 9 48.0 7.6% 6.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Dedrick Young LB 6'1, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 12 43.5 6.9% 3.5 0.0 0 3 0 0
Chris Weber LB 6'3, 230 Jr. NR NR 10 34.0 5.4% 3.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Marcus Newby LB 6'1, 235 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8941 10 25.5 4.1% 4.0 1.0 0 4 0 0
Michael Rose-Ivey LB 6'0, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9010 7 19.0 3.0% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Luke Gifford LB 6'3, 230 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460 6 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyrin Ferguson LB 6'2, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8312 10 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brad Simpson LB 6'0, 230 Sr. NR NR 13 3.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Quayshon Alexander LB 6'3, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8716
Greg Simmons LB 6'2, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8525








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nate Gerry S 6'2, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8534 13 64.0 10.2% 2.5 1 4 7 1 0
Joshua Kalu CB 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8429 13 63.0 10.0% 5 1 3 7 0 0
Byerson Cockrell S 12 54.5 8.7% 3 0 0 6 0 0
Jonathan Rose CB 9 36.0 5.7% 1 0 1 7 0 0
Chris Jones CB 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8233 13 23.0 3.7% 2 1 2 5 0 0
Aaron Williams S 5'11, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 13 20.5 3.3% 3 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Davie CB 6 17.5 2.8% 0 0 0 5 0 0
Antonio Reed S 6'2, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 13 9.5 1.5% 0 0 0 0 2 0
Kieron Williams S 6'1, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 13 6.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Boaz Joseph CB 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8422 12 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charles Jackson S 5'11, 180 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9605
Eric Lee Jr. DB 6'0, 190 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9414
Avery Anderson DB 6'0, 185 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8935
Lamar Jackson S 6'3, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9582
Marquel Dismuke DB 6'2, 180 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9064
Tony Butler DB 6'2, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8650
JoJo Domann DB 6'1, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619








8. Depth in the back?

While the lineup changed quite a bit at cornerback, all four of last year's constants -- corners Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones, safeties Nate Gerry and Aaron Williams -- are back. But these constants were only so reliable, and it will be interesting to see how quickly an exciting batch of four-star youngsters (both true and redshirt freshmen) can break into the two-deep. Their development could impact both how much the secondary improves and whether the Huskers have any depth at all. Three of last year's top seven are gone, and again, this unit struggled.

Riley and his staff figured out how to get by at times without a ton of star recruits at Oregon State, but the Beavers were playing at or below their recruiting rankings late in Riley's tenure. If improved recruiting is a requirement for a Riley rebound, it could flash its first glimpses in the secondary. NU has recruited very, very well there over Riley's first two classes.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Sam Foltz 6'2, 205 Sr. 56 44.2 5 9 14 41.1%
Tyson Broekemeier 5 37.0 1 2 2 80.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Drew Brown 5'11, 195 Jr. 79 60.4 32 0 40.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Drew Brown 5'11, 195 Jr. 44-46 8-10 80.0% 13-17 76.5%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Stanley Morgan Jr. KR 6'1, 200 So. 14 23.1 0
Jordan Stevenson KR 6 14.2 0
Jordan Westerkamp PR 6'0, 200 Sr. 6 10.2 0
De'Mornay Pierson-El PR 5'9, 185 Jr. 4 12.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 58
Field Goal Efficiency 24
Punt Return Success Rate 48
Kick Return Success Rate 96
Punt Success Rate 102
Kickoff Success Rate 76

9. Outkicking coverage

Nebraska once again had the legs. Drew Brown missed a couple of PATs but was forgiven because of the massive number of long field goals he was asked to attempt, and usually made. Only 41 percent of his kickoffs were touchbacks, which is a little bit low, but he still proved solid overall. Meanwhile, punter Sam Foltz boomed away with a 44.2-yard average, 21st in the country.

The main special teams problem, however: Foltz's kicks were long but frequently returnable. Only nine of 56 were fair caught, and the Huskers allowed 11.5 yards per return, 105th in the country.

Pierson-El's return will assure NU of a strong punt returner (especially since Jordan Westerkamp is pretty good in his own right), but opponent returns could remain an issue if Foltz can't generate a little bit more hang time.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Fresno State 94 20.0 88%
10-Sep Wyoming 110 26.6 94%
17-Sep Oregon 18 0.1 50%
24-Sep at Northwestern 46 2.9 57%
1-Oct Illinois 76 14.7 80%
15-Oct at Indiana 56 4.2 60%
22-Oct Purdue 88 18.2 85%
29-Oct at Wisconsin 37 -0.2 50%
5-Nov at Ohio State 14 -8.3 32%
12-Nov Minnesota 42 8.0 68%
19-Nov Maryland 62 12.1 76%
25-Nov at Iowa 38 -0.1 50%
Projected wins: 7.9
Five-Year F/+ Rk 20.2% (29)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 29 / 24
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -12 / -0.3
2015 TO Luck/Game -4.5
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 78% (94%, 63%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 6.8 (-0.8)

10. You like tossups, right?

That Nebraska went 3-7 in one-possession games was a huge piece of the Huskers' 2015. But that was mainly because of the seven losses. Lost in this: 10 of 13 Nebraska games were decided by one possession! And an 11th by just 10 points!

In theory, there could be a few more sure results this year. NU opens with bad Fresno State and Wyoming teams and gets Illinois, Purdue, and Maryland at home. (Granted, the Huskers went 0-2 in games against that trio last year.)

But while that will likely assure that NU tops last year's win total, the Huskers' season will still be defined by the tossups -- in five games, Nebraska has between a 50 and 60 percent chance of winning, per S&P+ projection. In three of those, they have exactly a 50 percent chance of winning.

Flip a coin a few times, and NU could end up 11-1. Flip it a few more, and NU could be 7-5. (I would recommend Riley aim for the former.) Regardless, if NU can shore up last year's weaknesses just a bit -- turnovers, big pass plays allowed, drastic ups and downs -- and, as importantly, get a few more bounces, the Huskers could be a significant rebound threat and Big Ten West contender.