Huskers tasted success late in 2015 and are hungry for more
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska is looking to carry over the momentum it built the last month of the 2015 season.
The Cornhuskers won three of their last four to finish 6-7 in coach Mike Riley's first season, including an upset of Michigan State and a bowl victory over UCLA.
''It kind of made them confident in what we do and also anxious to prove we can do that consistently, which we did not last year,'' Riley said. ''I think with the veteran leadership we have coming back, with the fact that I think there was some confidence coming out of that and some excitement about what might be, it's allowed me to say I think this is a hungry team.''
Last season began with a loss to BYU on a Hail Mary and was followed by four other losses by three points or less. Now they get a fresh start with a fourth-year starting quarterback in Tommy Armstrong Jr., one of the Big Ten's best receiving corps and a defense that must rebuild its front four after losing two tackles to the NFL.
''It's kind of Big Ten or bust,'' linebacker Josh Banderas said, referring to the mantra of the seniors. ''We know we have the talent. We know we've got the experience to get there. Just to get there and get the chance. All we need is a chance. That's kind of been our motto throughout my whole career here. Get to Indy and give ourselves a chance.''
Nebraska hasn't won a conference championship since 1999. This will be the Huskers' sixth year in the Big Ten, and they've reached the league title game only once, in 2012.
Things to know as Riley enters his second season in Lincoln:
The Sept. 17 home game against Oregon is the first major test. Back-to-back road games against Wisconsin (Oct. 29) and Ohio State (Nov. 5) will be telling. Nov. 25 at Iowa might decide the Big Ten West.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER
The onus is on Armstrong to become a better decision-maker. Only one other QB at a Power Five conference school threw more interceptions than Armstrong's 16. Look for offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf to find ways to capitalize on Armstrong's strengths, perhaps with a few more designed runs or run-pass option plays.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH
RB Tre Bryant is one of the freshmen most likely to get onto the field. Bryant has turned heads in drills since arriving in June, and Riley said the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder from St. Louis is physically ready. Riley would rather redshirt a newcomer if he can't make a significant contribution, so if Bryant draws work on special teams, he'll also be given an opportunity to challenge for snaps at running back.
The Huskers will wear ''SF27'' helmet decals to honor the memory of Sam Foltz, the All-Big Ten punter who died in a car crash in Wisconsin on July 23. Former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler also died in the accident.
The Huskers are poised to be one of the nation's most improved teams after so many close losses last year. Nebraska is capable of challenging Iowa in the West. The schedule is manageable, and anything less than 9-3 would be a disappointment.
SEASON OPENER: Fresno State, Sept. 3, in Lincoln. The Bulldogs are coming off a 3-9 season in which it went 2-6 in Mountain West play to finish in a tie for fourth in the West Division.