2014 Recap – It was another nine-win season for the Cornhuskers, but Nebraska fell short of its expectations, which resulted in Bo Pelini’s dismissal as the head coach of the program. Nebraska began the year winning eight of its first nine contests with the only downfall coming against Michigan State. The Huskers proceeded to drop three of their final four games of the season, knocking them out of contention for a Big Ten championship game appearance.
Running back Ameer Abdullah was consistently making highlight reels for Nebraska after putting together a 1,611-yard 19 touchdown season in 2014. He was the leader of a team that averaged nearly 38 points per game on the year.
Turnovers on the offensive end and struggles defensively hindered Nebraska against good teams last season, a major reason why it failed to defeat any of the four ranked opponents it faced. In the four losses, Nebraska turned the ball over 12 times, with nine of those coming against Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Nebraska was able to win its final game of the regular season in dramatic fashion over Iowa, defeating the Hawkeyes 37-34 in overtime. After Pelini’s firing, the Huskers traveled to San Diego for the National University Holiday Bowl, where they fell to USC 45-42.
High Point – Through the first nine games of the year, the Huskers were in really good shape, sporting an 8-1 record with the only loss coming on the road to Michigan State. Nebraska was 4-1 in conference play with its destiny in its hands. It’s not narrowed down to a specific moment, but through the first two months of the season, Big Red Nation was feeling pretty good about its chances at a high bowl bid.
Abdullah was dominant in nearly every game, and the defense had surrendered more than 30 points only once during that stretch, a 41-31 win over the Miami Hurricanes in mid-September. Tommy Armstrong Jr. was playing much more relaxed at the beginning of the year than he did at the end, mainly due to the level of competition. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic start for a program that needed to get back into a more prominent role in the Big Ten.
Low Point – A 25-point loss to Wisconsin followed by a loss to Minnesota put an end to Pelini’s tenure at Nebraska. It also eliminated Nebraska from any chance of reaching the conference championship game or landing a high-profile New Year’s Day Bowl at the end of the season.
The beating taken against Wisconsin was a harsh reality that Nebraska still wasn’t in the upper echelon of Big Ten talent and the loss to the Gophers a week later was salt in the wound.
Pelini’s firing at the end of the year and his reaction to the circumstances was an ugly end to a shaky marriage and gave Nebraska a reason to move forward without him.
Best Player – Big performances and impact plays set Abdullah apart from the rest of his teammates in his final season. He broke the 200-yard mark four times last season with his highest total coming in a win over Rutgers, gaining 225 yards on the ground and scoring three touchdowns in a 42-24 win.
Without Abdullah on the field things could’ve been ugly for Armstrong and company. The issues with turnovers could’ve been much more disastrous, and the Huskers would’ve struggled to win seven games on the year.
He finished the season as one of the most prolific backs in the Big Ten conference, a league with plenty of talent at the position. His absence next year is going to leave Nebraska searching for an answer on the offensive side of the ball.
2015 Outlook – Mike Riley is the new man in town for the Huskers with plenty of work on his plate. Nebraska will have several talented players returning for the 2015 campaign, but losing guys like defensive end Randy Gregory, wide receiver Kenny Bell and Abdullah leaves a lot of gaps on both sides of the football.
Offensively, Armstrong will still be under center with Jordan Westerkamp as his primary target. Armstrong will have some improvements to make in the offseason to keep Nebraska’s offense moving, but he should be one of the conference’s better play-callers returning next season.
The defense will return standouts Nate Gerry in the secondary and Maliek Collins up front which should keep the unit competitive against most teams.
More than likely, Nebraska will have a shot in the Big Ten West as there still appears to be no clear juggernaut in the division, but competing with teams like Ohio State and Michigan State are a totally different story. The Huskers should have another season similar to 2014, winning the games they should and coming up short against the conference’s better talent.
Mike Riley has a nice foundation to begin his new position. We’ll see how the transition starts in 2015.