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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 22. Nebraska Huskers

Ameer Abdullah
22. Nebraska Huskers 
Coach: Bo Pelini (7th year)

2013-2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)
August 30th vs. Florida Atlantic
September 6th vs. McNeese State
September 13th @ Fresno State
September 20th vs. Miami
September 27th vs. Illinois
October 4th @ Michigan State
October 18th @ Northwestern
October 25th vs. Rutgers
November 1st vs. Purdue
November 15th @ Wisconsin
November 22nd vs. Minnesota
November 28th @ Iowa

Even with injuries and a rotating quarterback carousel, Nebraska managed to win 9 games and stay right in the mix for a Big Ten Championship. Coach Bo Pelini enters his seventh year in Lincoln hoping to push his team over the edge and win a Big Ten title (the Huskers haven't won a conference title since 1999). With explosive back Ameer Abdullah and a defense that really showed improvement in 2013, Nebraska could definitely be a major contender in the Big Ten.

Backfield: Taylor Martinez exhausted his eligibility with Nebraska, meaning for the fist time since 2010, the Huskers will have someone else behind center. Sophomore Tommy Armstrong stepped in for Martinez for eight games last year and was fantastic. Armstrong is just as dangerous of a runner as Martinez, but his arm is stronger and he has the potential to really grow into a great quarterback. Though, he struggled with turnovers throughout his time as starter, as he was intercepted eight times. That is to be expected from a freshman thrust into a starting role against some great Big Ten defenses,  but that number has to come down. He won't have to throw the ball a ton, as senior back Ameer Abdullah should get a lot of carries. Abdullah ran for 1,690 yards in his junior year and averaged six yards per carry. Abdullah has tremendous speed and great vision, he could be a real Heisman candidate if he manages to stay healthy.
Kenny Bell

Receivers: Senior Kenny Bell, who seems like he has been playing in Lincoln forever, returns as Armstrong's top option in the passing game. Despite not having a consistent QB to get passes from, Bell had 52 catches and four touchdowns. Bell is a sure-handed receiver who can do real damage after he catches the ball, he is also a great blocking receiver. Senior Jamal Turner is also back along with sophomore tight end Cethan Carter, giving Armstrong a plethora of options. Carter is a threat in the red zone, while Turner is speedy quick and can turn into a legitimate deep threat in 2014. Sophomore Jordan Westerkamp, who made the miraculous catch in Nebraska's Hail Mary victory over Northwestern, returns as well, hoping to play a bigger role this season. Four-star receiver Monte Harrison was a pretty nice pickup for Pelini and staff. The talent from Montana has pretty good size at 6'2" and the ability to hurt defenses in a variety of ways. Junior Sam Burtch is also looking to contribute more after a quiet sophomore year with Nebraska.

Offensive Line: For a team that obviously wants to run the ball and has a young quarterback, losing four starters along it's offensive line is very troubling. The lone returner is left guard Jake Cotton, a senior who should be the anchor and leader of the unit. A product from Southeast High in Lincoln, Cotton has been very productive during his time with the Huskers and is one of the conference's top interior linemen. Former walk-on Mark Pelini, the nephew of Coach Pelini, has the opportunity to start at center or anywhere else along the O-Line, he is a versatile blocker. Senior Mike Moudy will compete for time as well, most likely at the right guard slot, opposite of Cotton. Freshman Tanner Farmer will compete for some playing time in his first year with Nebraska, the four-star prospect was a pretty solid find for the Huskers. Perhaps the biggest question mark is at left tackle, where no player has really emerged. Left tackle is a very important position when a team has a young quarterback, and Nebraska really lacks a standout at the position. Another freshman, D.J. Foster, who will see most time at guard, is ready to make an impact right away.

Defensive Line: Having a fantastic pass rusher has never been a major issue for Nebraska, and junior Randy Gregory is certainly the next big pass rusher in Lincoln. In his first year removed from the JUCO ranks, Gregory had 10.5 sacks. He has grown into one of the best pass rushers in both the Big Ten and in the nation at the defensive end spot, and is getting a ton of attention from NFL scouts. The good news for Nebraska and defensive coordinator John Papuchis is that Gregory isn't the only star on the defensive line. Blossoming sophomore Vincent Valentine is a great run stopper on the inside along with another sophomore, Maliek Collins. Junior Aaron Curry is also an interior pass rusher who can make plays, after a solid sophomore campaign, in which he recorded 26 tackles and two sacks. Joe Keels, another JUCO find, was a really dangerous end in his time at Highland Community College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Keels is a three-star commit who may not see a ton of action his first year with the Huskers but expect him to follow in the footsteps of Gregory and develop into a great end.

Linebackers: Nebraska's front seven is great and that continues with this experienced linebacker corps. Senior Zaire Anderson emerged late last season as a consistent performer and could play a huge role on this Nebraska defense in 2014. Likely playing at outside linebacker, Anderson could be a dangerous pass rusher after recording 3 sacks last year. Also returning is sophomore Michael Rose, who recorded 66 tackles in 2013. Along with another returner, junior David Santos, the talent in this linebacker core is very impressive. The Huskers had the 53rd ranked rush defense in the nation in 2013, not terrible but there is room for improvement. With the experience back and the depth in this unit, it should certainly improve.

Secondary: Even though some talent is gone in the defensive backfield, Nebraska's secondary should still be solid. Shutdown senior Josh Mitchell is going to play a big role for this Huskers' defense. He will defend some of the best receivers in the conference but he is ready. He is a great athlete who can pick off passes or make other big plays. The other returner in the secondary is senior Corey Cooper, who will start at strong safety. Cooper has great size and has the hard hitting to bring intensity to this defense. The most likely starting cornerback alongside Mitchell will be junior Jonathan Rose, a stronger player than Mitchell. Also in the mix will be true freshman Trai Mosley and another freshman, safety Josh Kalu. Both are Texas products who can grow into the future of this Blackshirts' secondary.

Special Teams: Sophomore punter Sam Foltz was fantastic last season for the Huskers, averaging a 41.6 yard average every punt. He returns, but the kicker position is in question where junior Mauro Bondi is going to compete with true freshman Drew Brown. Bondi's experience is obviously his strength but he has really struggled with consistency and Brown was very impressive his senior year of high school; he is a three-star recruit.

Pelini might have his most talented team in his time with the Huskers, if they can stay healthy. But, he has had talented teams before that have underachieved and have been unable to get over the hump and win a conference title. Plus, the schedule is slightly worrying, although the Huskers avoid Michigan and Ohio State, many of Nebraska's tough games happen on the road, at Michigan State, at Iowa and at Wisconsin.

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