Nebraska Preview 2016: After a strange season that started out a disaster and finished strong, Mike Riley has to come up with a far better Year Two.
Nebraska got rid of Frank Solich after the 2003 season because of a fear of the program sliding into mediocrity. Solich went 58-19, won two Big 12 North titles, and took the Huskers to a national championship game.
Nebraska went 5-6 in 2004.
Bo Pelini filled in for Solich and won the Alamo Bowl at the end of 2003, and got the head coaching gig in 2008. In his seven years he won nine games or more in all seven campaigns, won four division titles – three in the Big 12 and one in the Big Ten – and managed to finish in the top two in the division in every year but 2011.
That wasn’t good enough, and he was launched after the 2014 campaign.
Mike Riley went 6-7 in his first season at the helm.
Is it possible for Nebraska ever get back to the point it expects to be at, and can Riley be the guy to lead the program back to national championship-level prominence?
It took just about every disastrous way to lose possible for the Huskers to come up with a dud of a season, with a Hail Mary to kick things off and tight loss after tight loss. Yeah, six of the seven losses were by eight points or fewer, the first five losses were by a combined 13 points, and the team didn’t quit when all hope appeared to be loss with a win over Michigan State and a gut-check Foster Farms Bowl win over UCLA.
But a good team doesn’t lose to Purdue 55-45.
Riley’s a likeable guy and a coach who’s easy to root for, but he also came up with one of the worst first nine games in Nebraska history and the team finished with a losing record. Trying hard isn’t good enough for the Huskers, but is the talent there to be in the mix for the Big Ten West title?
The running game has to work. When it did last year, Nebraska was able to do big things and stay in control of games. That might be tough with a bit of a retooled line, but Tommy Armstrong is a solid veteran quarterback and the receiving corps should be terrific. It would be nice if a star back stepped up along the way to work around.
The defense that finished ninth in the nation against the run and was a disaster against the pass, but the line has to replace its best players and has to undergo a total overhaul. If the linebackers aren’t great right away, it could be a rough start to the season. The secondary is experienced, but now it has to be better.
Is the program in a holding pattern until Scott Frost can prove he’s ready for the big-time after his time at UCF? Can Riley really be the one who gets the Huskers to the Big Ten championship? The answers might be yes and yes, but for Riley, anything less than a nine-win season will make the Bo Pelini era look like the good old days.