Nonconference primer: Nebraska

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
10:30
AM ET
The 2013 season will be upon us before you know it -- just nine weeks until our first football weekend, people! With that in mind, we're offering you a primer on each Big Ten team's nonconference opponents.

Let's take a look at Nebraska's non-league schedule:

Wyoming, Aug. 31

Coach: Dave Christensen (22-27), fifth year
2012 record: 4-8, 3-5 Mountain West
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Brett Smith was banged up last year and missed two games, but he threw 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in his final five contests. Now healthy, Smith -- who finished last season ranked 11th in the FBS in quarterback efficiency -- can also be a threat running the ball.
Defensive headliner: Junior cornerback Blair Burns was fourth on the team in tackles (60) last season, returned an interception 99 yards for a score against Colorado State and had 10 pass breakups.
The skinny:
The Cowboys have a chance to score some points this year behind a healthy Smith and with Christensen assuming playcalling duties. But a defense that ranked 117th last year in rushing needs some serious improvement, and that number is pretty scary going against Nebraska.

Southern Miss, Sept. 7

Coach: Todd Monken, first year
2012 record: 0-12, 0-8 Conference USA
Offensive headliner:
No one, really. The Golden Eagles were terrible on offense last year and saw their top two QBs transfer. Receiver Dominique Sullivan (19 receptions for 331 yards in '12) might benefit from Monken's spread offense.
Defensive headliner:
Senior linebacker Alan Howze was second on the team with 66 tackles last year, but Southern Miss will have a hard time replacing Jamie Collins, who had 92 tackles, 10 sacks and 20 TFLs as a senior in 2012.
The skinny:
Southern Miss somehow went from 12-2 in 2011 to the only winless team in the FBS last season, prompting the school to fire Ellis Johnson after just one year as head coach. Monken, the former Oklahoma State coordinator, will try to put the pieces back together. Nebraska beat the Golden Eagles 49-20 in last year's opener.

UCLA, Sept. 14

Coach: Jim Mora (9-5), second year
2012 record: 9-5, 6-3 Pac-12
Offensive headliner: QB Brett Hundley passed for 3,745 yards and 29 touchdowns last year as a freshman. That included a 305-yard, four-touchdown, no-interception performance in the 36-30 win over the Huskers at the Rose Bowl in September.
Defensive headliner:
Anthony Barr had a whopping 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks from his linebacker spot a year ago, putting him in the top 12 nationally in both categories. With him, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt, the Bruins are well stocked at linebacker.
The skinny: The Bruins made a surprising run to the Pac-12 title game last year and still have some firepower. But they return just six starters on both sides of the ball and will have to find a replacement for one of the country's top tailbacks in Johnathan Franklin.

South Dakota State, Sept. 21

Coach: John Stiegelmeier (102-75), 16th year
2012 record: 9-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley (FCS)
Offensive headliner: Junior running back Zach Zenner led all of Division I in rushing last season with 2,044 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. The Minnesota native also had 28 receptions for 197 yards.
Defensive headliner: Senior defensive lineman Doug Peete led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and added six sacks, with six pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
The skinny: The Jackrabbits won their first-ever FCS playoff game last season before being eliminated by eventual champion North Dakota State. Athlon ranks SDSU No. 10 in its preseason FCS poll.

Thoughts:

To oversimplify things, the UCLA game is the key to the first two months of the season for the Huskers. Win that one, and there's a very real possibility that Nebraska will be 7-0 heading into its Nov. 2 game against Northwestern. Of course, the Bruins offense gave Bo Pelini's team all kinds of fits last season, and Pelini's green defense had better make great strides in the first two games to get ready for the challenge. It helps, of course, that the game is in Lincoln. In fact, Nebraska will play all four nonconference games at home, giving its young players some time to get their feet wet. Southern Miss figures to be improved -- the Golden Eagles can't be any worse than a year ago -- but still has a bunch of question marks. Wyoming hasn't competed very well in its own league in recent years and shouldn't pose much of a problem. South Dakota State could be an interesting trap game, coming a week after the UCLA showdown. But Nebraska figures to have too much talent to lose to an FCS squad, even one of the best ones in that division.

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