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Nebraska finished with a losing conference (3-5) and overall record (6-7), but there's reason for optimism in Lincoln. The Big Ten West isn't a powerhouse division and the Huskers are coming off a bowl win against UCLA. Not to mention, most of their losses last year came by single digits, their biggest loss coming 55-45 at Purdue. They beat Michigan State, but couldn't pull out wins against the rest.
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Another reason for hope in Mike Riley's second season is quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who will be one of the most experienced leaders in the conference having been Nebraska's starter the last two years. Armstrong was good in 2015, but not great with 29 total touchdowns to go with 16 interceptions. If he can get those turnovers down, that probably could've saved a couple games last year as the Cornhuskers didn't have a great turnover differential. In his second year in the scheme, the coaches may look to use Armstrong's legs a little more in an effort to minimize turnovers.
Also in the running game Nebraska has Terrell Newby (765 yards, 6 TDs) and Devine Ozigbo returning to go with Mikale Wilbon, who posted the best numbers in the spring game. Top receiver Jordan Westerkamp (65 receptions, 918 yards, 7 TDs) returns to go with speedster De'Mornay Pierson-El who may see more time in the offense. The weak spot for the offense is on the line, though, where only two guys with major reps are back. If they can figure things out, this offense should be even better than a year ago when they scored close to 33 points per game.
The defensive side was the main issue for Nebraska last season and led to more than one loss when the offense put points on the board. Much like the offensive line, the defensive line is in bit of a rebuild, which could be a problem as their run defense was a strong suit last year. Nevertheless, other areas of the field should be better with linebackers Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey (if he can stay healthy). The same can be said for the secondary where experienced safety Nate Gerry leads the way with corner Joshua Kalu.
The schedule opens up fairly nicely for Nebraska and it wouldn't be all that surprising if the Cornhuskers took down Oregon in their third game at home. The problem in the schedule comes later on as the Huskers have to travel to Wisconsin and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks and then close the campaign with a trip to Iowa. While that doesn't sound too enticing, all of their home Big Ten games should result in wins so that's four right there. Pull off an upset or two on the road and they'll be fighting at the top of the West.
The Cornhuskers were extremely unlucky a year ago and that resulted in a losing record, but as seen in some of their wins, they have the talent. That starts at quarterback with Armstrong, who will be their main advantage when playing better teams on the schedule like Oregon and Wisconsin.
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2016 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Fresno State
Sept 10 vs. Wyoming
Sept. 17 vs. Oregon
Sept. 24 at Northwestern
Oct. 1 vs. Illinois
Oct. 15 at Indiana
Oct. 22 vs. Purdue
Oct. 29 at Wisconsin
Nov. 5 at Ohio State
Nov. 12 vs. Minnesota
Nov. 19 vs. Maryland
Nov. 25 at Iowa
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