Way-Too-Early 2017 Husker Football Predictions

Photo courtesy of Athlon Sports.

 

As the weather gets warmer and we draw closer to spring practice, the itch for any kind of college football is going to be fervent in a month’s time.

Nebraska’s spring game is scheduled for April 15, a little less than five months away from their home opener in September. Yes, it is going to be a long wait, but it is never too early to make some predictions, right?

vs. Arkansas State

The Huskers will open their season on September 2 against the Red Wolves of Arkansas State; a team coming off a strong end to their 2016 season, beating Scott Frost’s UCF 31-13 and capping off an 8-5 record.

It won’t be a walk through of any kind, but is a game that the Huskers should win and win comfortably. Nothing beats that opening game at Memorial Stadium

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 53-17.

A slow start at the beginning, with Tanner Lee having to accustom himself back into the pace of live football. Early in the game, however, Big Red will begin to catch their strides, establishing a solid run game behind Devine Ozigbo and Tre Bryant, and Lee throwing for three touchdowns before making way for Patrick O’Brian midway through the fourth quarter.

@ Oregon

Oh yes, the rematch of last year’s thriller. After a sub-par season and the new hire of  head coach Willie Taggart, the Ducks will be fired up for their fresh start. After most likely beating Southern Utah in their first game by a large amount, this will be Oregon’s first test, just like it will be for Nebraska.

This game is really a toss up in the respect of the result and what to expect. No one really knows how good this Oregon team will be. After last season’s debacle with players not caring to win and getting smacked by opponents they were expected to compete with, any team could show up to play next season. However, the smart bet would be to believe they will be much for like the Oregon of old than the Oregon of 2016.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 38-34

Under Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 system, there will be some kinks early but ultimately the Blackshirts will be able to stop the fast paced attack, similarly to the game last year. Tanner Lee will find some struggles early as well, but like many other teams in the Mike Riley-era, the Huskers will make improvements to pull out this 4-quarter dog fight.

In his third year, expectations will be high for running back, Devine Ozigbo. Photo courtesy of Lincoln Journal Star.

 

vs. Northern Illinois

Much like the Arkansas State game, this will be the final tune-up before conference play starts. This isn’t an NIU team like the past, but a potential sleeper nonetheless. That being said, they should be a tune-up game, and hoping that everything is starting to click this week after a tough win in Eugene would not be ludicrous. Tanner Lee will solidify himself in a comfortable offense, but don’t be surprised if Diaco’s 3-4 still has some wrinkles.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 48-20

vs. Rutgers

Conference play opens up with an opponent the Huskers will feel confident against. It’s a safe bet to say that Rutgers will likely be 2-1 with an opening-season loss to CFP semi-finalists, Washington. This will be the opportunity for Nebraska to claim their identity and the young receiving core to live up to the hype. It would not be surprising if the Big Red begin to pick up some injuries as Big Ten play starts.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 38-17

at Illinois

This is where Big Ten play gets interesting. Friday night lights in Champagne should be quite the spectacle, and perfect stage for Nebraska. A stage virtually for set for a Husker team striving to prove their worth. If this game gets the ESPN nod, the Huskers should have their mouths watering on primetime.

All that considered, those factors go the same way with the Fighting Illini. They will be coming off a vital bye week after going 3-0 to some average competition. Plus, this will be their second Friday night game.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 27-15

Considering the prediction from earlier that Nebraska will have some injuries, this could be the time for some young guys (such as Avery Roberts, Brenden Jaimes, and Elijah Blades) to step up and establish themselves. It will be an interesting test that won’t be as tight as the Oregon game, but will still last the full four quarters. Huskers will eventually pull it out with impressive defensive play.

vs. Wisconsin

Here it is. Our newest rival that we love to hate. Pray to the heavens that this is an evening game because this matchup always deserves to be played under the lights.

Wisconsin will be led by quarterback Alex Hornibrook, a solid candidate who will have settled in well with games against Utah State, FAU, BYU and Northwestern. Good competition, yes, and probably to the same level of Nebraska’s early schedule.

We can probably expect two Wisconsin’s coming into this game. One being the red hot, high-scoring, undefeated Badger side; or a recently unsettled and somewhat discombobulated one.

If Wisconsin are not careful, they could find themselves dropping their September 16 game at LaVell Edwards stadium to an always solid BYU team. Even with a win there, a stumble wouldn’t be out of the question when they play Northwestern at home after a bye week.

Knowing teams led under Paul Chryst, that second scenario is somewhat unlikely. I would expect Wisconsin to be undefeated, though not unbeatable. They will have shown some weaknesses in the BYU and Northwestern game, but will be carrying that Badger swagger they do every time they play Nebraska.

It also wouldn’t be crazy to expect this to be a top-20 match up with Nebraska around the 19 spot and Wisconsin floating around 10.

What this game will come down to is Nebraska’s defense. If the 3-4 is finally implemented- specifically on the front line against an always impressive Wisconsin front seven- then Nebraska will have reason to be confident.

However, if there are still leaks in the system, this Wisconsin offense could run wild.

As what will likely happen every season, the Wisconsin game will be a pivotal matchup for the Husker’s season. As seen last year, a win in Madison may have changed  the Huskers from a 9 win team, to a one loss team fighting for a bid to the Rose Bowl.

This season will finally be different for the Big Red of Nebraska. The Memorial Stadium crowd will be behind them once again (in a similar fashion to last year’s Oregon game) and will help them stretch out a very narrow victory. Not without sacrifices, though.

Prediciton:

Nebraska wins 21-16

Photo courtesy of Eric Francis, Getty Images.

 

vs Ohio State

Picture this: undefeated Nebraska welcomes undefeated Ohio State to Memorial Stadium, under the lights, primetime on October 14. Fresh off an emotional win against Wisconsin the week before, there’s no room to even move in the Sea of Red. Perfect conditions for an upset… However, it most likely won’t come this game.

The energy in Memorial Stadium will be electric no matter what the records of the teams, nor what happened the week before. It seems every year Nebraska gets the opportunity to reestablish themselves on the national stage every year but lets the moment slip (i.e. at Ohio State last year). If there was anytime to conjure up the late-night heroics of Husker teams from decades past, this would be the game to do it.

There is no doubt this will be the Husker’s toughest game of the season against an opponent with something to prove. The biggest test in this game will be how the Huskers will respond to adversity. Last year’s team proved they were not mature enough to do it with key leadership figures missing. This year, they cannot be afraid and must take the moment full force.

Campus will be buzzing the week leading up and tensions will be at an all-time high at kickoff. This could be a game similar to 2015’s stellar upset of No. 7 Michigan State; only this Ohio State team is far better than that Michigan State team.

We will learn loads about Nebraska’s talent, depth and character from this game no matter what the result will be. In the third year under Riley, excuses will be limited and completion will be expected.

Prediction:

Nebraska loses 35-23

Surprising some, the Huskers will play a close three quarters but won’t ever lead. Nonetheless, they will impress many showing a growth in maturity from last year’s team. However, turnovers and clear talent differences will help Ohio State jump to a 7-0 start and end Memorial Stadium’s 11-game win streak.

@ Purdue

After two tough games at home, it will be nice for Mike Riley’s boys to get a bye week to recover. Coming back on October 28, the Huskers will travel to West Lafayette to take on a struggling Purdue team.

The Boilermakers will likely be under .500 with potentially only one or two wins, coming from non-conference sides. This will definitely be Nebraska’s chance to bounce back assuming they lose to Ohio State (and potentially Wisconsin as well).

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 38-10

Unlike 2015, this Husker team should have no problem playing away at Purdue. It will be expected for Nebraska to have a convincing performance and use this game as a recuperation for the end of the season.

vs Northwestern

It seems that ever since Nebraska joined the Big Ten that Northwestern has been a year-in year-out competitor when they match up. It should not be any different in 2017 when Pat Fitzgerald will likely have another hungry team.

One would expect this Wildcat squad to come in with a record between 5-3 and 7-1 (leaning more to the 7 wins side). As always, the Purple Machine will have pulled out unexpected wins while underperforming in other games.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 29-22

It will be another close one this year between the two sides, but Nebraska’s secondary will prove to be the key down the stretch. Don’t be surprised to see the Huskers’ run game play a factor like it did earlier in the season.

@ Minnesota

This is the most tricky one to predict for this season. Under the new reign of the energetic PJ Fleck, this Minnesota team could be flying high.

With a rather cupcake start to their season, the Golden Gophers could be hosting a one loss Nebraska team with a six-or-seven win record themselves. Depending on how teams play Wisconsin, the race for the Big Ten West could become a four horse race with matchups against the likes of Minnesota becoming must-wins.

If Nebraska are not careful, they could end up getting shocked by Minnesota on  a cold November Saturday. A stumble here could really hurt Nebraska’s chances at the Big Ten championship and a bid for a New Year’s day bowl bid.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 24-20

It will be a close one, and one too close for most Husker fans liking. Every year it seems that there are one or two games that the Huskers should win but inevitably end up losing. This won’t be that game, but man will it be close.

Leadership from Tanner Lee will show through as well as the talent from the wide receiving core. Also expect that Blackshirt front three to make some plays when it matters most.

Oct 17, 2015; The Cornhuskers won 48-25 in Minneapolis. Credit: Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

 

@ Penn State

The potentially 9-1, nearly (if not) Top 10 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers will travel to Happy Valley to face James Franklin’s hot, potentially 8-2 Penn State Nittany Lions.

It will be a mouthwatering matchup regardless of their records and will also be an awesome test for a Husker team out to prove itself. Last year’s Big Ten bid to play in the Rose Bowl, Penn State will be a team playing with a chip on its shoulder. Likely only losing to Ohio State and Michigan, hosting Nebraska on November 18 will be seen as an opportunity to boost their resume.

Unfortunately for Nebraska, that will probably be the case and they will find themselves in holes throughout the game. Don’t be surprised to see big plays from both sides in a barnburner that will last four quarters.

Prediction:

Nebraska loses 38-27

It will be a game that Nebraska will likely trail the whole time by a touchdown or two and won’t recover in enough time to win it.

vs Iowa

It’s the matchup that Nebraska seems to struggle with every year. Iowa always shows up for this one, and after a tough Penn State loss, it will be key for Nebraska to show up themselves if they want to go to Indianapolis.

Iowa could show up as a 5-6 or 7-4 team. Either way, Nebraska should match them as the better team, however that has not seemed to matter much in this game from years past. Whether they consider this a rivalry game or not, if the Huskers get off to a slow start the Hawkeyes will pounce quick – just like in 2016.

Sitting at 9-2, it will most likely be another must-win game for Big Red in their search for a Rose Bowl bid. Assuming everything goes to plan elsewhere throughout the Big Ten season, Wisconsin will be sitting on the same record before they play Minnesota the day after the Heroes Game.

Taking this into account, a win and Nebraska’s in Indy, a loss and Wisconsin win: the Badgers go.

Give or take a few games, Minnesota won’t be out of the question this late if they can pull out some results. There’s good reason to believe that the final week of the regular season will be the one to decide the Big Ten West.

In terms of this game, Riley knows better than to let this go under his team’s radar. After the 40-10 spanking the year before in Iowa City, it will be top priority for the Huskers’ head coach to get his men prepared.

Prediction:

Nebraska wins 32-17

Although Iowa keeps it close in the first half, adjustments are made at halftime by Riley and staff to help the offense pull some big plays to pull away for a convincing second half performance. Next step, Indianapolis against the likes of Michigan or Ohio State.

Postseason

The expectations for the 2017 season will be to better 2016’s final result. I would bet that will get done in Riley’s third year. According to the predictions above, Nebraska will go to the Big Ten Championship, but will more than likely lose to their opponent and walk into a New Year’s bowl with a sparkling 10-3 record.

Of course, some will argue that the three loses came in three of the last seven games but it will likely be overshadowed by a conference championship appearance with many convincing performances in those loses. Also according to this prediction, the Huskers will have beaten Oregon, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa (not to mention finishing with an undefeated Big Ten West record).

Whether or not Nebraska wins their bowl game or not will come down to their opponent, preparation and morale. Considering the season went the way as predicted, it would be expected that they face another SEC team but will play in a much more interesting game.

If they win, great. If not, 2017 would still be remembered as a leap year as far as going from average to competitive status. Unfortunately, there is not much reason to believe Nebraska will jump to their elite status yet, but with a 10+ win season, it would be hard not to argue that continued success will follow.

And who knows, as much as Nebraska could finish with 10 or 11 wins, they could just as well finish 8-4. The keys to success this fall will come down to how fast Diaco can implement his 3-4 system, how well Tanner Lee sits into the offense and how much the freshmen can make an impact.

There is plenty of reason to be excited for this fall and this prediction could have gone many different ways. Considering the changes we’ve seen in attitude and performance since Mike Riley has come to Lincoln, there’s even more reason to believe the Huskers can show out in 2017.

Just a little less than 6 months until the first kick against Arkansas State.

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