Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska Cornhuskers’

weber_mike_vsOklahoma_090917 (5) TOP UNITS

Ohio State running back Mike Weber

Each year Phil Steele releases his unit rankings in his College Football Preview and given that I write the Big Ten team previews, I thought what better time to share a little insight on the reason why the units are ranked where they are.

14. Illinois Fighting Illini – Mike Epstein was Illinois leading rusher when a leg injury ended his season after five games last year. Ra’Von Bonner is the power back, while Reggie Corbin is the slasher. Epstein is a combination of the two. All three must prove they can remain healthy in the physical Big Ten.

13. Iowa Hawkeyes – Iowa has to replace two 1,000 yard rushers this year and every tailback on the roster is an underclassmen. Toren Young started one game and has power at 220 pounds. Ivory Kelly-Martin saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman and is a good change-of-pace for Young. This is a vastly inexperienced unit.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights – Jon Hilliman was added as a grad transfer after starting 29 games for Boston College. Despite being 225 pounds, Hilliman has good speed. Raheem Blackshear averaged 6.1 yards per carry as a true freshman last year and is quick and explosive.

11. Indiana Hoosiers – Morgan Ellison broke his left leg as a Sophomore and his right leg as a Junior in high school, which hurt his recruitment. He led the Hoosiers as true freshman last year with 704 yards and is naturally strong. Cole Gest provides the change of pace with great burst and explosion, while Mike Majette is a combination of the two.

10. Northwestern Wildcats – Northwestern is replacing their all-time leading rusher in 2018. Jeremy Larkin averaged 6.0 yards per carry last year and John Moten averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2016. Jesse Brown is similar in size to Larkin and provides track speed.

9. Purdue Boilermakers – Tario Fuller started the first three games in 2017 and averaged 6.1 yards per carry before an ankle injury ended his season. Markell Jones has rushed for over 500 yards in each of his three seasons and has excellent hands out of the backfield. DJ Knox returned from an ACL injury in 2016 to average 6.2 yards per carry in 2017.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers – If this list only pertained to the starting running back, then Minnesota would be ranked higher. Rodney Smith followed up his 1,000 yard season in 2016 with 977 yards last year, battling thru a couple of concussions. With Shannon Brooks sitting this season out due to injury, Mohamed Ibrahim, Dominik London, and Jonathan Femi-Cole provide quality depth.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers – Just how deep is the Nebraska running back unit? So deep that Devine Ozigbo, who has led the Huskers in rushing each of the last two seasons, will likely have three others in front of him for 2018! Greg Bell is the newcomer that was a two-time Juco All-American, Tre Bryant began last year as the starter before a knee injury ended his season after two games, and Mikale Wilbon is a multiple back that is also a receiving option.

6. Maryland Terrapins – After rushing for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman, Ty Johnson was the focal point for many defenses in 2017 as Maryland was devastated at the QB position. Lorenzo Harrison is elusive and powerful, while Anthony McFarland is fully healed from a high school injury that resulted in him taking a redshirt last year and has sprinter speed.

5. Michigan State Spartans – LJ Scott would’ve likely been an NFL draft pick in 2018, but opted to return to East Lansing for his Senior season. He’s a 230 pound bruiser. Connor Heyward is the son of the late “Iron Head” Heyward and has tremendous explosiveness and great hands. Weston Bridges brings a change of pace and has great vision, but can also run through would be tacklers.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions – Miles Sanders will have the difficult task of replacing Saquan Barkley as the feature running back, but is similarly built and is also a great receiving threat. True freshman Ricky Slade was ranked as the No. 3 running back in the 2018 recruiting class and has elite acceleration. Mark Allen is the veteran of the unit and will be the change of pace running back.

3. Michigan Wolverines – Michigan still ranks this high even after the recent news that Kareem Walker has decided to transfer to Juco. Karan Higdon earned Third Team Big Ten honors last year that can run inside or bounce outside. Chris Evans averaged over five yards per carry in 2017 and is the fastest of the running backs. O’Maury Samuels has great stop-start ability, and Berkely Edwards was added as a grad transfer that has excellent quickness.

2. Wisconsin Badgers – While Wisconsin just may have the Heisman Trophy winner for 2018 in Jonathan Taylor, this list is about the entire unit, not just the starter. Backup Bradrick Shaw is coming off an ACL injury, Taiwan Deal is coming off an ankle injury, and Chris James was limited to nine games last year and injured his ankle during spring practices.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes – No team in the Big Ten has more talent at running back than Ohio State. It can be argued that JK Dobbins and Mike Weber, who each has ran for over 1,000 yards in season, are the best combination in the nation. Add a pair of very highly touted true freshman to the mix along with Demario McCall, who will also play the H-Back position and it’s easy to see why this unit is ranked where it is.

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Stanley Morgan Jr.

First Team All-Big Ten wide receiver Stanley Morgan

The Nebraska Cornhuskers failed to make a Bowl game last year for the first time since 2007 and their four wins were the fewest in a season since 1961. Fortunately for Nebraska fans, they won’t have to wait long to see improvement.

After failing in their attempt to shift to a pass offense for a second time (first was from 2004-2007) Nebraska is moving to a spread option attack under new head coach Scott Frost, who led the ‘Huskers to their last National Championship as the quarterback in 1997. Frost was named the National Coach of the Year after leading the UCF Knights to the only undefeated season in the FBS in 2017.

The change in offensive philosophy perfectly suits quarterback Adrian Martinez, a 6’2” 205 pound true freshman from Fresno, Ca. Martinez threw for over 2,500 yards and ran for nearly 1,500 with 39 total touchdowns as a high school Junior, but missed his Senior season due to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Still, expert college football prognosticator Phil Steele rated Martinez as the No. 17 quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class. Martinez enrolled early and took part in spring practices, showing he’s recovered from the injury.

Helping Martinez transition to the college game will be an elite pair of wide receivers in Senior Stanley Morgan and Sophomore JD Spielman. Nebraska may be changing their offensive scheme, but that doesn’t mean they will be eliminating their passing attack altogether.

Frost’s UCF offense averaged 332 passing yards per game in 2017. Sure, having an All-American quarterback certainly allowed for more passing in the playcalling, but that also shows that Nebraska’s offense should be able to matchup against different defensive formations thrown its way.

Morgan set a ‘Husker record with 986 yards last year while earning First Team Big Ten honors. Spielman’s 830 yards was the most ever by Freshman in Lincoln.

Nebraska enters this season on a four game losing streak and after losing back-to-back non-conference games last year for the first time since 1957, should have little trouble starting 3-0 in 2018 before beginning Big Ten play.

While their conference schedule is brutal with road games at Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Iowa (all bowl teams), Nebraska should be favored at home versus Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois.

After being outscored by an average of 36-26 and outgained by an average of 51 yards per game in 2017, Steele projects Nebraska to get outscored by just three points per game and outgained by five yards per game in 201, despite the tougher schedule.

Nebraska should get back to a bowl game and while six wins certainly won’t appease most ‘Husker fans, it certainly beats staying home for the holidays. The record won’t show a drastic improvement, but the play on the field will and Nebraska is certainly trending in the right direction.

lee

Tanner Lee courtesy of AP

Of the 14 teams in the Big Ten, eight have returning starters at the quarterback position for the 2017 season. While names like JT Barrett, Trace McSorley, and Wilton Speight are well known, there’s another player that has a chance to outshine them all.

Tanner Lee is expected to win the Nebraska job, taking over for four year starter Tommy Armstrong. Huskers head coach Mike Riley favors a pass oriented offense and Lee fits the mold much better than Armstrong did.

Lee transferred to Nebraska last year from Tulane and ran the offense on the scout team. He started 19 games with the Green Wave, and while his numbers weren’t overwhelming (54%, 23-21 ratio) the talent surrounding him now is far superior.

Following his appearance at the Manning Passing Academy in the summer of 2015, Archie Manning gave him the ultimate compliment, saying he “Put (Jared) Goff to shame. No comparison.” Goff would later become the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

Lee worked with famed quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr this past off-season and entered spring practices 15 pounds heavier. He’s now listed at 6’4” 220 pounds. Lee has an NFL level delivery, gets rid of the ball quick, and has a very strong knowledge of Riley’s pro-style offense.

Provided he stays healthy, Lee should put up the most passing yards by a Husker quarterback since at least 2008, when Joe Ganz threw for 3,568 yards. College football expert Phil Steele tabbed Lee as a pre-season 3rd Team Big Ten selection. Nebraska is also a legitimate contender in the Big Ten West Division, thus giving Lee additional exposure and for those that aren’t familiar with his talent level, surely will know about him by seasons end.