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College Football

Top 25 college football team preview: No. 24 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Photo: Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMI

Nebraska will look to pound opponents behind its stable of running backs, led by star senior Ameer Abdullah. The 5’9”, 195-pound jitterbug rushed for a Big Ten-best 1,690 yards with nine touchdowns last season. There’s no fear of wearing him out. Abdullah’s backups, powerful junior Imani Cross and speedy sophomore Terrell Newby, combined for 745 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. There’s also bruising 6’2”, 210-pound redshirt freshman Adam Taylor, who was named scout team offensive MVP while sitting out last fall. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who posted a 7-1 record as a starter last year, is a legitimate running threat, too, but his passing must improve to keep defenses honest. “Tommy doesn’t have to do it by himself,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says. “He needs to let the offense work for him.”

For that to happen, offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s play-calling must be even more dedicated to the run. The Cornhuskers haven’t rushed for 200 yards in a game since a 44-7 win at Purdue on Oct. 12. The rushing attack will also be dependent on an overhauled offensive line with four new starters, a unit Pelini believes is more talented than last year’s group.

If everything comes together, Nebraska could have a dominant ground attack reminiscent of past Big Red glory days. That, plus an improved defense led by All-America-caliber end Randy Gregory, could spell a run in the Big Ten.

Opposing coach's take

Running back Ameer Abdullah is obviously the guy offensively. He’s as good as it gets, a real freak show. They say they have a new quarterback in Tommy Armstrong, but he’s not that new because he got a lot of experience last season when former starter Taylor Martinez missed some games with injuries. Armstrong is a talented kid.

They’re working on rebuilding the offensive line, but it’s Nebraska and they’ve got big Midwestern kids they’re going use to fill in. I’m eager to see how well that line jells. The strength of their defense is their physical, run-stopping line, especially defensive end Randy Gregory. He’s a phenom and plays like it. Their secondary has talent, but sometimes it looks as if they’re not all necessarily on the same page. If they get organized, they can make drastic improvement.

X-factor          

Tight ends remain a critical part of Nebraska’s run-first offense, and sophomore Cethan Carter is the most experienced player the Huskers have at the position. The 6’4”, 240-pounder started six games as a true freshman last season and started to come into his own late, racking up 127 receiving yards in the final four contests. Carter is a throwback that can block as well as he can catch. “He’s the total package,” Pelini says. “He’s going to be a guy who develops into a heck of a weapon for us.”

Schedule analysis

Pelini likes Nebraska’s schedule, and for good reason: The program’s back-to-back matchups at Fresno State and against Miami are good -- but winnable -- early-season tests. A game at Wisconsin in mid-November should decide the Big Ten’s West Division, but like the Huskers’ other difficult road games at Michigan State and Iowa, they have favorable home games before each of those contests.

Nebraska 2014 Schedule
 
date opponent
Aug. 30 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 6 McNeese State
Sept. 13 at Fresno State
Sept. 20 Miami
Sept. 27 Illinois
Oct. 4 at Michigan State
Oct. 18 at Northwestern
Oct. 25 Rutgers
Nov. 1 Purdue
Nov. 15 at Wisconsin
Nov. 22 Minnesota
Nov. 28 at Iowa

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