Well the annual fall ritual where every heart and throat in Nebraska is tuned to one and only one thing (no, not the Repug primaries) is almost upon us – Nebraska football, the purpose this state exists (other than to fill in the map and put tea baggers in office). So with demon Pelini gone and thus no sideline and press conference entertainment to look forward to (maybe Pelini should join the Repugs and offer a counter to blowhard Trump as his new career) what is going to happen with the new “nice guy” Riley at the helm.
Actually, despite serious losses of experienced players plus lousy recruiting Bo did, Mike has his work cut out. The biggest challenge will be Armstrong. According to rumor mills Riley is going to try to convert Armstrong (the most violent critic of the Pelini firing and no fan of Mike) into a pocket passer. Good luck at that one. Not only is it just that Armstrong is 53% and often throws the ball into an empty part of the field (no, not actually deliberately throwing the ball away, he just can’t read the field), but his instinct is run, run, run, like most Huskers QBs before him.
Riley thinks he can fix this by coaching up Armstrong, but what Mike hasn’t seen is Memorial Stadium on gameday. Nebraska doesn’t just have a QB run game offense because that’s their personnel or game plan; they do it because the fans love it. And when Armstrong sees a bit of empty green and knows 90,000 fans will go crazy cheering for him, he’s still going to be inclined to tuck it and run. And of course he’ll get yards, rarely strategically relevant, and the fans will go wild, reinforcing Armstrong’s already bad instincts. But who knows, maybe Mike can retrain Armstrong (like put ear protection on so he can’t hear the fans) and maybe there will be some offense. Maybe some running back will emerge and so the fans can get their dose of smashmouth without having the QB getting crushed and rattled.
Meanwhile what about defense. The great defensive genus Pelini certainly fell short on this in the past, an amazing shortcoming the fans never seemed to notice. For those of you who’ve never been to Memorial Stadium you should know that only the defense fires up the crowd – when the offense is on the field (their only purpose being to give defense a rest) the crowd heads for the bathroom break. This is a fundamentally defense loving crowd so it will be interesting to see what Mike does with that (Pelini’s defenses got so bad it may be hard for Riley to do any worse).
So with few stars on either side of the ball, a new coach and new offense, what chance do the Huskers really have?
Well not too bad I think. With only one really tough opponent (MSU, who late in the year might be beat up a bunch so there is still a chance against them) and a few medium tough opponents I think 50% is certainly going to be easy. Nine games – a bit tougher. And anything better than that would be a remarkable accomplishment. Unfortunately, for the stats, the usual initial doormats before conference play hold the possibility of more surprises – so look for a loss either to BYU or Miami (where we’ll see if new guy Riley can handle the usual gutter fight that game is). Minnesota and MSU are the only scary conference games, but let’s hope the losing streak to Minnesota gets broken this year and so only one of these get dropped.
So I rate, 90% chance of 7 wins, 80% at 8, 67% at 8, 49% at 10, and maybe 40% chance at western division title, but almost no chance at B1G conference (unless OSU falls apart with their love of running QBs and gets all their guys bashed; or MSU gets in a funk, and Wisconsin as wild card).
But while the fans are likely to be disappointed (unlikely Riley will revert back to pure physical football even if his skill players are weak) but probably they’ll tolerate this transitional season. Riley can go below 9 wins this year, but not next, and he’ll need conference title in three seasons or he’ll get to proceed with his original retirement plans.
But I’m hoping Riley can bring enough Pac-12 style of play that I can enjoy games that aren’t just the usual ground-and-pound B1G boring football.