New head coach Mike Riley has a big task on the table entering his first year with the Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4, 5-3 Big Ten in 2014) : change the culture of a program that was stuck in neutral under Bo Pelini. Riley’s first game will be hosting the BYU Cougars (8-5 in 2014) as five-point favorites, on Saturday, September 5, at the Memorial Stadium, in Lincoln (3:30 PM Eastern).
“I’ve coached in the NFL, and they all want to win the Super Bowl. I’ve coached in the Pac-12, and they all want to win the Pac-12,” Riley told the Associated Press “I understand it. Expectations actually are a positive to me because when I went to Oregon State in 1997, there were none. Twenty-eight straight losing seasons, really bad facilities. It was kind of scary. It’s a better place to be when there are expectations.”
Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be under center again for the Cornhuskers, after he threw for 2695 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions last season. This year could be different under Riley however, as he’ll be tasked with running a pro-style offense. The team also needs to replace RB Ameer Abdullah, who was drafted by the Lions. Tailbacks Imani Cross (75 att, 384 yards, 5 TDs) and Terrell Newby (67 att, 297 yards, 5 TDs) are expected to split the load over the course of the season.
Nebraska was the 13th best offense in College Football during 2014, scoring 37.8 points-per-game; ranking 19th in rushing yards, and 82nd in passing yards. Riley wants to make this unit a passing offense, and Armstrong Jr will have sophomore De’Mornay Pierson-El, junior Jordan Westerkamp and junior Brandon Reilly as his three main options in the receiving corps.
BYU’s defense allowed 27.5 points-per-game last season; 73rd ranked in the nation, but this game will hinge on keeping pace with the Cornhuskers offense. The Cougars scored 37.1 points-per-game last season, ranking 27th in passing yards and 49th in rushing, but 2015 should be even better for the offensive unit under Heisman candidate QB Taysom Hill, who is back after a broken leg suffered against Utah State in 2014.
Taysom Hill was completing over 66-percent of his passes before the injury last season and also ran for 460 yards and eight touchdowns in four starts. If he stays healthy, he has all the tools to be one of the best players in College Football during the 2015 season.
“I think about it all the time,” Hill said to the AP. “I think about those first four games I was playing in last year all the time. I get emotional thinking about that. I love playing football. I love playing for BYU. Thinking about Nebraska, Week 1 gets me very excited. I’m very emotional about it.”
This is the first time these two programs meet, but you should keep in mind Nebraska is 2-3-1 against the spread in its last six games, and 3-6-1 ATS in its last ten games at home. The Cornhuskers are trying to put together a new offensive plan that fits Tommy Armstrong Jr., but that plan is a work in progress and won’t be ready for Week 1. With Hill back, BYU becomes a true menace, so take the points.
Pick: BYU (+5).
(Photo Credit: Kiley (Originally posted to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/])