COLLEGE FOOTBALL LOOK AHEAD

Lindy’s Top 25 Countdown: No. 21 Nebraska

Lindyssports.com Staff

August 05, 2014 at 10:24 am.

Tommy Armstrong (4) and Ameer Abdullah pace a potentially potent Nebraska offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

LOCATION: Lincoln, Neb.

COACH: Bo Pelini — At Nebraska and overall: 58-24, 6 years

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tim Beck

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: John Papuchis

LAST LEAGUE TITLE: 1999

LAST TIME DIDN’T GO BOWLING: 2007

RETURNING STARTERS: 13; 5 offense, 7 defense, punter

PLAYERS TO WATCH: IB Ameer Abdullah, WR Kenny Bell, OG Jake Cotton, DE Randy Gregory, DT Maliek Collins, LB Michael Rose, CB Josh Mitchell, S Corey Cooper

PRIMARY STENGTHS: Abdullah and Gregory are two of the Big Ten’s best players. The experience QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. gained last season should serve him well heading into his sophomore season. Seven returning starters should help the D develop into one of Big Ten’s best units.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: The Huskers lose five seniors off an offensive line that accounted for 120 career starts. The losses on the defensive side of the ball aren’t as dramatic, but Nebraska needs to get improved play from a group of experienced linebackers and shore up some secondary holes to turn this into a championship-caliber unit.

OFFENSE

Ameer Abdullah was 6 years old the last time Nebraska won a championship in 1999.

Bringing an end to that title drought is one of the priorities the I-back carries into the 2014 season. He has the talent to make a di­fference. Abdullah is coming into­ a season in which he rushed for 1,690 yards, averaging 6.0 per carry, and scored nine touchdowns.

His backups are talented and versatile, too.

Those running backs are a comfort to quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who stepped in because of injury to Taylor Martinez to start eight games last season. He’ll be more prepared for the role this time around, having worked hard this spring on knowing where to go with the ball.

He was intercepted eight times in 131 pass attempts last season. Turnovers have plagued Bo Pelini’s teams in the past, so cleaning up that deficiency is a high priority.

Armstrong can throw to Kenny Bell, one of the best receivers in the league. Bell has greater skill than last season’s numbers indicate — 52 catches for 577 yards and four touchdowns.

What is most troubling is the o­ffensive line, which lost five players who combined for 120 career starts. Coaches believe the line’s depth is as good as it’s been since Pelini took over, a notion that will be put to the test as the line builds around guard Jake Cotton.

DEFENSE

The Huskers made progress on defense last season, and the return of seven starters gives hope that this group could develop into a championship-caliber unit.

Defensive end Randy Gregory is one of the best around, coming up with 19 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks, in his first season out of junior college. Tackles Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine and Aaron Curry form an impact trio inside.

The Huskers lost three key performers in the secondary but are counting on cornerback Josh Mitchell and safety Corey Cooper to provide backend stability.

Nebraska returns plenty of experience at linebacker, including up-and-coming sophomore Michael Rose (66 tackles, six for loss). Zaire Anderson, the most consistent linebacker in the spring, can be a force off­ the edge.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Sam Foltz ranked fifth in the league in punting as a freshman with a 41.6-yard average. Junior kicker Mauro Bondi’s inconsistency in the spring opened the door for incoming freshman Drew Brown in fall camp.

Nebraska returns most of the players who handled returns last season, but there’s room for improvement.

OVERVIEW

Each of Bo Pelini’s first six teams have won at least nine games, but Nebraska has come up short of a championship each time, putting pressure on his seventh team to finally win a title.

The Huskers figure to be right in the mix to win the reconfigured West Division, especially with a schedule that does not include crossover games vs. Ohio State and Michigan.

TOP NEWCOMER

K Drew Brown: The younger brother of former Nebraska kicking star Kris Brown will challenge immediately for a starting job after an inconsistent spring by holdover kickers. He converted 35 of 42 field goal attempts in three seasons as a starter at Southlake Carroll High School in the Dallas area.