A big year for Nebraska as they finished 10-4 but they suffered two straight losses to end in the year in the Big Ten title game and against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Three of the four losses came against ranked teams and Nebraska enjoyed big home wins against the likes of Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan.
It’s hard to believe this will be the 6th year for Bo Pelini at the helm and with a 49-20 record he has slowly won the fans over. Nebraska changed it’s whole offensive identity with Bill Callahan going to a West Coast passing based attack and no with Pelini it’s back to being more ground based with plenty of pro sets and quick passes sprinkled in. You would be hard pressed finding a coach at the college level that layers seem to like more than the Nebraska players like playing for Pelini.
Taylor Martinez is back in his fourth year as a starter although when watching Nebraska it feels like he has been there longer. Martinez had 3,890 yards in total offense (2,871 passing and 1,109 rushing) with 33 total touchdowns (23 passing and 10 rushing). Those numbers are very impressive but Martinez also had 20 turnovers (12 interceptions and 8 fumbles). Nebraska had 35 total turnovers on the year, the highest number for any ranked team. Martinez is on the small side and his inability to protect the football is one of the reasons why I feel he is not a legitimate prospect for the next level. Martinez is tailor made to go to the CFL where his style of play will fit perfectly and he could wind up being a huge contributor or even a star. Ameer Abdullah took over the starting job with Rex Burkhead banged up for most of the year and he responded with over 1,100 yards rushing. Abdullah has tremendous upper body for his small stature and I have him ranked as a 7th round prospect. Reserve Imani Cross had less than 400 yards on the ground but his 7 touchdowns was only 1 below the total of Abdullah. Couple Cross with another contributor in fullback C.J. Zimmerer (what would Nebraska be without a power fullback) and the obvious running talents of Martinez and one could see Nebraska leading the conference in rushing. The big key though is keeping that running game going to sell the play action pass, an area where Martinez shows no hesitation and can be deadly.
Best Draft Prospect: Ameer Abdullah 7th Round 2015.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The top three receivers return for Nebraska in Kenny Bell, Quincy Enuwa and Jamal Turner and with them they bring back 50, 42 and 32 receptions respectively. Bell had nearly double the yardage of his teammates and 8 touchdowns of the 12 the trio combined for. Bell is a 3rd/4th round pick for 2015 and he may decide to leave this season with Martinez on the way out rather than coming back as a senior with a new quarterback. Alonzo Moore is a young freshman wide receiver that Nebraska seems to be very excited about and he could emerge as a starter next year with Quincy Enunwa on the way out and Bell on the fence regarding his senior season. Nebraska has long been known for featuring the tight end in its offensive schemes but this season the cupboard is a bit bare with junior Jake Long back in the fold. Unlkike many of his Nebraska comrades previously enrolled before him, Long is a not a big passing threat .
Best Draft Prospect: Kenny Bell WR 3rd/4thRound 2015(possible early entrant for 2014).
Not surprising that the top prospect on this football team for the upcoming year is a big offensive lineman that excels at run blocking. It used to be that year in and year out all you got from Nebraska was the big run blockers and you usually got multiple every campaign. Long is a second round prospect who has a small shot at being a first rounder if he can move to the top of the guard class. Cyril Richardson of Baylor is currently #1 but passing him is something not out of reach, we saw it with Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack last year as they switched in the weeks leading up to the draft. The tackles on this team both return in the form of seniors Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale. Both are serviceable and in that 7 round/UFA range for 2014. Left guard and center will be manned by newcomers to the starting lineup Jake Cotton and Cole Pensick. This is a strong line and probably the most consistent area the Huskers have on offense. The line is mobile and a little smaller than what we normally see from Nebraska lines. Capable backups Mark Pelini, Mike Moudy and Matt Finnin among others wait in the wings ensuring Nebraska has the firepower needed up front if someone is lost to injury.
Best Draft Prospect: Spencer Long OG 2nd Round 2014.
Nebraska ranked in the middle of the pack last season on defense although many of the defensive coaches were brand new including coordinator John Papuchis. What ultimately hurt Nebraska was the short field the defense was given on multiple occasions with the 35 turnovers the offense gave to opposing teams. Nebraska finished with a turnover margin of -12 which was #105 in the nation and last in the Big Ten. Jason Ankrah will be the top playmaker returning along the line, in fact he is the only starter returning along the line. Ankrah had 6.5 tackles for loss last season which was second on the team. As important as Ankrah is to the team (I have him rated as a 7th round prospect), Nebraska will need the first year starters to step up to ensure Ankrah isn’t double teamed all day long. Thad Randle has extensive experience at defensive tackle but he is coming off a season where he battled injuries and was ineffective and hardly on the field. Freshman Avery Moss will be the opposite defensive end and will be shouldering a big load for the defense. This unit has talent but is untested at a few key positions.
Best Draft Prospect: Jason Ankrah DE 7th Round 2014.
Nebraska is another team that plays with five defensive backs in their primary formation as they employ a pair of outside linebackers and a nickel back that will slide between a linebacker and a safety role. I have David Santos listed as a 5th round prospect for 2016 as he showed during his freshman season enough promise to warrant draft consideration. Santos only made one start but did have 24 tackles, with two coming for a loss and played well on special teams. Zaire Anderson will start at the other linebacker spot while behind them both on the depth chart are three freshman, including big time recruit Courtney Love (throw in your rock/drug and/or Kurt Cobain jokes here) out of Youngstown Ohio. Anderson is coming off knee surgery but has a clean bill of health. While game experience is a question mark speed is not. Those close to the program have stated this is the fastest linebacking corp they have ever seen at Memorial Stadium.
Best Draft Prospect: David Santos 5th Round 2016.
This is a very experienced group with only one of the five starters that is not a senior or junior. The top four corners on the depth chart all have starting experience with the group being led by Ciante Evans, a player who likes to blitz from anywhere, not all out attacks on the quarterback from the secondary but shooting the gaps on run blitzes. Andrew Green and Josh Mitchell posted close to 80 tackles between them and Stanley Jean-Baptiste led the team in passes defensed a season ago. I like the mixture at corner and the fact that the players are interchangeable and can line up virtually anywhere will help them disguise coverage packages because Nebraska will need as many edges as they can get on defense. Corey Cooper only made three starts a season ago and had 17 tackles but I like his play recognition and range, so much so that I feel he is the player with the best pro prospects in the secondary. Cooper projects as a 7th rounder for 2015 while fellow starter Charles Jackson has the least experience as a sophomore. Nebraska has many pieces in place for a team that led the Big Ten in pass defense and was 4th in the nation in 2012.
Best Draft Prospect: Corey Cooper S 7th Round 2016.
Nebraska has had some solid kickers over the years and they hope they do again as sophomore Mauro Bondi handles the kicking duties while freshman Sam Foltz will be he punter. Ameer Abdullah will remain as the kick returner but if Nebraska wants to limit his touches look for freshman WR Jordan Westerkamp to handle the duties.
Best Draft Prospect: Ameer Abdullah RB 7th Round 2015.
Nebraska won’t play a road game until October 12th. Nebraska may benefit more from the schedule than any other Big Ten team as they avoid Wisconsin and Ohio State on the schedule altogether. The early season rematch with UCLA on September 14th will be huge as Nebraska tries to avoid a 36-30 loss.
Not as many prospects this year as we have seen in seasons past and there were no first rounders last year after Ndamukong Suh went 1st round in 2010 and Prince Amukamara in 2011. Nebraska will always have national recognition being near the top of the Big Ten and they will have at least 3 draft prospects like they consistently do every year.