It is a 1,289 mile drive from Piscataway, NJ to Lincoln, NE by car. Or, you can take a five-hour and 20 minute flight from JFK to Lincoln Airport. That's the reality of college football in the playoff era, as the new Big Ten spans from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Plains. This matchup shows the meaning of "flyover country". As one of college football's blue bloods, Nebraska is just one of several programs that define tradition. Here's what the Huskers bring to the field in 2014:
Head Coach: Bo Pelini (7th year)
Key returning players: RB Ameer Abdullah, WR Kenny Bell, DE Randy Gregory
2013 Record: 4 losses, and that's all you need to know
There's two ways to look at Bo Pelini's dubious tenure in Lincoln: it's either incredibly frustrating or insanely consistent. Personally, I'm in line with the latter. It's easy to see how frustrating his coaching history has been at Nebraska, but it's a 58-24 overall record and 34-14 conference record over six years is pretty damn impressive. Of course, these are the Cornhuskers we're talking about, and it's fair to say that's not good enough after five national championships (as Husker fans will gladly remind you). Couple that with all of the incidents of abuse to players, fans, and referees, and it's understandable that more than a few fans would want him gone.
Still, Pelini is doing well on the PR front this offseason. There's Faux Pelini's cat at the spring game, Pelini modeling the special uniforms during training camp, and now his participation in the ALS ice-bucket challenge. Will the new Bo be here to stay? That's probably dependent on how the Huskers perform this season.
Fortunately, Nebraska brings back plenty of star power for 2014. Sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong has starting experience and is the unquestioned starter for the first game of the season. He'll have senior WR Kenny Bell as a go-to option, who looks to improve from a somewhat disappointing junior campaign after a breakout sophomore year. And of course, there's Ameer Abdullah. The senior RB and keynote athlete speaker at B1G Media Days is arguably the top running back to return in the conference. Abdullah will absolutely be the rock of the offense.
But Nebraska shares in what seems to be an epidemic across the entire conference: a dearth of certainty at offensive line. The lone returning starter is Jake Cotton, who started 11 games in 2013. Other than that, the line is fairly green, which could be disastrous for a young quarterback who might rely on scrambling a bit too much.
Defensively, the Huskers get future NFL Draft pick Randy Gregory to bolster the pass rush. You may have heard that the Husker defense is, at best, a shell of what the heritage used to be. Still, Nebraska was no worse than average, and only looks to improve after a year of experience to key players.
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Some might say that Rutgers doesn't have a chance against the Huskers. Those who do say that have not yet seen what the Knights are capable of, and four guaranteed losses means that Rutgers has a good chance of being responsible for one of them. Will this be the year the Huskers break through, or can Rutgers spoil the party?