Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers

On Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten delivered perhaps the two best catches of the early season. First, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp reached behind his back to grab a pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. during the Huskers' 55-7 win against Florida Atlantic.

Nebraska players and coaches were abuzz after the game. "That was the greatest catch I've ever seen in my life," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.

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Then in Iowa, receiver Tevaun Smith made an amazing one-handed catch for a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Hawkeyes' 31-23 win against Northern Iowa.

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By now, you're probably familiar with the story of 8-year-old Nebraska fan and cancer patient Jack Hoffman, who gave a speech at the 2013 ESPY Awards after winning "Best Moment" in sports for his 69-yard touchdown dash during the Huskers' spring game. Big Red fans and well-wishers all around the country rallied behind the kid, with the #TeamJack Twitter hashtag a particular rallying point on social media.

However, Hoffman was dealt a setback recently as the inoperable brain tumor that was previously in remission began to grow again, forcing Jack to start new treatments that begin Thursday in Boston.

Undoubtedly with a heavy heart, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini and his football team created a video this week with words of inspiration and support for their biggest little fan.

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Big Ten Friday mailbag

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Very soon, college football will occupy your weekends. Until then, here's an extra-large mailbag to help you make it through. Continue to submit questions for our team of reporters.

Mitch Sherman: Joe took issue with my analysis of Minnesota, which included some humor, in our Best case/Worst Case series. We traded a few messages on Twitter. I invited him to submit a question for the mailbag, and he did, with a well-constructed email on the Gophers. Now we're buddies, though he's not convinced me that a best-case scenario for Jerry Kill's team equates to more than nine wins. Joe notes that Minnesota, from its eight-win team a year ago, trades Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana for Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue. I see that as a wash -- 2-1 for 2-1. And though Minnesota may not be more than a slight underdog during a four-game, midseason stretch against Northwestern, Purdue, at Illinois and Iowa, I don't see it as a team with enough talent to run the table against that group. As Joe tells me, the Gophers feature veteran lines and a strong defense overall. Best case, QB Mitch Leidner and the receivers make a big jump to support a solid running game. That's a 10-win team, he says. I'm not so sure. I think the cards fell about as perfectly as possible last year. Minnesota won a pair of games by a field goal in 2013, and each of its losses by came by double digits. TCU is an upgrade in the nonconference. The Gophers have to go to Michigan again and also get Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. Nine wins sounds pretty optimistic. But thanks, Joe, for the conversation.

Mitch Sherman: It's not good. The Wildcats, as expected, are staying optimistic about the loss of arguably their two most potent offensive weapons. Yes, Northwestern can handle this from a personnel standpoint, with capable players set to fill the shoes of Venric Mark and Christian Jones. But this is another blow to the psyche of Pat Fitzgerald's club one year after a season of disappointment followed by a distracting offseason. What happens when more adversity strikes? It threatens to send the Cats more easily into a downward spin. In the end, I think the recent developments could contribute to a season with one or two fewer victories.

Mitch Sherman: In the Big Ten East? Perhaps, though I find it premature to write off Michigan. Despite James Franklin's hot start, the Wolverines will keep up with Penn State and Michigan State in recruiting. And moderate improvement on the field would allow Brady Hoke to beat Ohio State for a fair share of the prospects over which the rival programs go head to head. Penn State needs time to prove that Franklin's early results in recruiting will elevate the program to an elite level. If you're asking about the Big Ten as a whole, the Buckeyes and Spartans stand atop the heap today, but Wisconsin and Nebraska from the West possess the infrastructure to compete long term with any program in the league. Read more from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.

Mitch Sherman: Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst granted a rare interview this week, and while he said nothing of great significance, simple statements from Bo Pelini's boss are enough to make news. I'm not sure stability is the goal of Husker football; if so, things have changed more than I realized. And Nebraska's relevance is debatable. Sure, the Huskers are relevant in Nebraska, as always, and regionally. But on a national level, I don't notice much discussion about the program, unless it involves the coach's cat. Still, it's good for Nebraska when Eichorst offers an occasional comment, if just for the sake of appearance, even if he remains guarded in his opinions.

Mitch Sherman: I sense irritation from Nate and fans of many Big Ten programs over the hype that surrounds Jabrill Peppers, Michigan's freshman defensive back. Hey, Peppers is good, and he's starting to prove it in practice. But no one in an important position at Michigan is set to award him with anything until he does it consistently on Saturdays. Peppers will get his shot first at nickelback in Greg Mattison's system, though the Wolverines are likely to try the talented rookie in many roles. 
The dog days of August are here, with two-a-day practices underway at Nebraska.

The Huskers have endured several doses of bad news with injuries and suspensions in the headlines over the past several days. So seniors Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell, apparently, want to divert a bit of attention by staging a fun little feud (or so we think) on Twitter.

Abdullah, the star running back, started it on Monday morning by tweeting a photo of Bell’s worn-out cleats in the locker room. Bell, the wideout known for his giant afro hair style, responded quickly.

Bell then upped the ante with a shot of a car on the streets of Lincoln that he said belonged to Abdullah.

We’ll keep an eye on Abdullah and Bell this week at practice to see if their war of words extends to the practice field.
The loss of junior defensive back Charles Jackson in the opening week of practice at Nebraska represents a major setback for the Huskers.

[+] EnlargeCharles Jackson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCharles Jackson was expected to boost Nebraska's secondary before his season-ending knee injury.
Coach Bo Pelini announced Thursday night that Jackson would require season-ending surgery to repair a knee injury. After a breakout spring, Jackson started camp well Monday with several head-turning plays from the nickel position.

His progress ended abruptly.

One of Nebraska's top athletes, Jackson factored heavily on special teams in 2012 and 2013 but failed to earn significant time in the secondary as he struggled with defensive concepts. He turned a corner in March and April.

The nickel spot in Pelini's scheme has long served as a key spot to earn mismatches and create big plays. Ciante Evans performed well in the spot last year.

Jackson, because of his athleticism, promised to add an important spark to a secondary faced with the loss of cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and safety Andrew Green in addition to Evans.

The Huskers must now incorporate another newcomer. Junior-college transfer Byerson Cockrell, who played nickel and cornerback in the spring after joining the Huskers in January, is the favorite to fill Jackson's role.

"I love Byerson Cockrell," Pelini said Thursday. "He is a really good player. He is a very smart and very intelligent player."

Cockrell likely must focus full time on nickel, leaving the cornerback spot opposite returning starter Josh Mitchell to junior Jonathan Rose, redshirt freshman Boaz Joseph or junior Daniel Davie. None have notable experience.

True freshman Joshua Kalu will also get a look this month at nickel, Pelini said.

Kalu starred at Houston's Alief Taylor High School, a Texas 5A power. Regardless, the thought of a starting nickel with no experience at the FBS level may lead to a restless month for first-year secondary coach Charlton Warren.

For Jackson, the excruciating wait continues. He hasn't played a full game since his senior year of high school at Spring (Texas) Klein Collins in 2010.

This was supposed to the year. It came to a cruel end in the first week of practice. And the most inexperienced area of the Nebraska defense just grew a little more green.
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The final 20 is out in the ESPN.com’s weeklong #CFBrank project that charts the top 100 players in college football, based on expected contributions for 2014.

The Big Ten earned a respectable four entries among the top 20:

No. 20: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
No. 5 (tie): Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
No. 5 (tie): Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
No. 4: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

Let’s start at the top here. Calhoun is a great player, no doubt. But a clear difference of opinion exists between our national group of writers and editors and the five of us who cover the Big Ten. In the Big Ten-specific ratings, we slotted Calhoun at No. 6.

Calhoun made a huge splash to open his sophomore season a year ago by scoring three touchdowns in the Spartans' two opening games against Western Michigan and South Florida. From there, he was good -- dominant at times -- but surely, Calhoun benefited from the lock-down ability of cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes. A Big Ten coordinator told us last season that his team schemed to run at Calhoun and feared Marcus Rush more than fellow end Calhoun.

No argument with Miller or Gordon among the top five nationally. Miller finished atop the Big Ten survey after winning the league's offensive player of the year award each of the past two seasons. Gordon led the nation in per-carry rushing average last season and in 2012.

Interestingly, the Big Ten writers rated Nebraska back Ameer Abdullah ahead of his friend Gordon. Abdullah finished 21st in the national rankings.

No. 20 is a good spot for Gregory. The Nebraska defensive end has much room to grow after his first season at the FBS level. His moments of dominance as a sophomore tease at a season this fall that could earn Gregory a spot higher on a list like this in a few months.
Nebraska will literally be red from head to toe to honor its history.

The Huskers unveiled special uniforms on Friday for their Sept. 27 home date against Illinois, playing up their famous color in just about every way imaginable to pay tribute to 125 years of football at the school.

And yes, we mean every way imaginable. Head coach Bo Pelini -- he of cat-carrying fame -- surprised his amused players by modeling the new look. Watch video of it here:


The complementary color in the one-off look will be black, which shows up on the special helmet, in the lettering on the jersey, as a background for gloves that work together to make the trademark "N" and socks that lead the way down to red cleats.  
CHICAGO -- Pat Fitzgerald wants to be your friend again, Nebraska fans.

Fitzgerald, the Northwestern coach, said Monday at Big Ten media days that he made a "bad joke" this month in describing Nebraska as a "pretty boring state" while speaking to boosters at a Chicago golf outing.

As you might expect, the comments provoked a variety of responses from fans of the Huskers, including some not fit for print.

"I've learned a lot of hashtags on Twitter," Fitzgerald said.

The coach apologized and said he would "own" the mistake, but that he meant no harm by it. Fitzgerald said he was trying to compliment Nebraska fans on how well they travel. The visitors overtook a large portion of Ryan Field in 2012 as the Huskers came from behind to beat the Wildcats 29-28.

Nebraska visits Northwestern on Oct. 18.

"Our fans need to step up," Fitzgerald said.

Last year in Lincoln, Nebraska beat Northwestern 27-24 on a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp as time expired. Asked Monday about how long it took to get over that finish, Fitzgerald quipped: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

The coach said he has spent just two days in the state of Nebraska -- not nearly enough time to form an opinion, though he said his players and staff were treated warmly on trips in 2011 and 2013. Northwestern upset Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in the Huskers' first year of Big Ten play.

Nebraska fans heartily congratulated the Wildcats after their 2011 win, according to Fitzgerald. They did the same last season, said the coach, drawing a laugh.

"It's just a great fan base," Fitzgerald said.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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Nebraska is soliciting applications from students who want to work as a DJ at football practice. Interesting concept. I wonder if this is a gimmick or a sign of things to come. Perhaps students may soon run the scoreboard or move the chains at practice. Just as long as they're not calling plays, we're all safe. On second thought ...

Here's the mailbag for Wednesday. Send more questions here for later this week.



Mitch Sherman: Iowa fans value stability. They've got it in Kirk Ferentz, entering his 16th season. He trails only Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer for longevity among major-conference coaches. Of course, with stability can come complacency. And the Hawkeyes got a dose of it two years ago. Last fall, though, produced positive vibes in Iowa City, with the promise of an even better season to follow.

Ferentz earned just less than $4 million last year, a figure that places him among the nation's elite. Iowa is 27-24 since its 2009 Orange Bowl season, so yes, fans ought to demand more bang for the buck. Thing is, from my view just to the west, I didn't sense more than moderate unrest even after the 2012 debacle.

Iowa fans understand the economics in play here. They like Ferentz as the face of the program. And expectations in Iowa City may never match those in place at Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska. All told, the Hawkeyes know what they have in their coach and generally like it. In this case, stability pays.




 



Mitch Sherman: The answer is multi-faceted. First, consider that Wisconsin is just one year removed from three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. With a tip of the cap to Michigan State, the Badgers maximize talent more efficiently than any Big Ten team.

So look at this group, with a suspect front seven on defense, the underwhelming Joel Stave at quarterback and a questionable group of receivers. You may see a mediocre club. Others see a team set up to make a run at the College Football Playoff. That's the Wisconsin way.

There's also Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in per-carry rushing average in each of the past two seasons. He's back to run behind a stout offensive line. Finally, check out the schedule. Yeah, LSU awaits in the opener, but there's no better time to get the young Tigers. The Badgers face Nebraska at Camp Randall and play Rutgers and Maryland from the East Division.




 



Mitch Sherman: Only two coaches qualify as realistic possibilities, Brady Hoke and Bo Pelini. Either could land himself in trouble with a poor season, though isn't that always the case at Michigan and Nebraska?

In his fourth season, Hoke needs to rebound from a difficult six-game finish to last season. It began with a 24-3 drubbing at Michigan State and ended with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State. In between, the Wolverines lost at home to Nebraska and Iowa. Though all the pieces don't appear in place, it's time for Michigan to reverse the trajectory on display the past three years.

For Pelini, the story is different. His record, 58-24 in six years, stands up nationally. But the lack of a conference championship -- it's been since 1999 -- is a burden that has long troubled Nebraska fans. The Hail Mary escape against Northwestern last year may have saved the Huskers and their coach from a disastrous finishing stretch. Good fortune won't always be on their side.
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Maryland and Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten on Tuesday. That prompted celebrations in Piscataway, New Jersey, and College Park, Maryland, but more of a collective shoulder shrug elsewhere. One school's fan base seems particularly unhappy about the latest additions: Nebraska. So today's Take Two topic is this: Does Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

You can sum up the displeasure of Huskers fans by simply pointing to Big Red's conference home schedule in 2014: Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. This is not the Big Ten that Nebraska backers thought they were joining back in 2011. They thought that leaving the Big 12 for Jim Delany's league meant plenty of games against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Instead, they're in a division without any of those teams, and none of those three come to Lincoln before 2017 (when the Buckeyes visit Memorial Stadium). Was it really worth leaving the Big 12 for this?

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsDoes Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?
Of course, as Don Draper might say, "That's what the money is for." Then again, Nebraska doesn't receive a full share of the Big Ten's overflowing coffers until 2017, and the school couldn't have been happy to learn that Maryland would get a front-loaded deal that included much more cash right away for the Terps' strapped athletic department.

The Maryland and Rutgers move was aimed at opening up new territory for the Big Ten, to serve recruiting, future population growth and alumni along the East Coast. But as the westernmost school in the league, Nebraska stands to benefit far less from this expansion than other conference members. The Huskers haven't traditionally recruited a lot of players from the East Coast, and the school's alumni base isn't as large there as it is for other Big Ten teams.

Still, don't forget that the Big 12 was basically crumbling when Nebraska left. The Huskers will become far more financially secure in the Big Ten than they would have in the Big 12, especially when the league's huge new TV deal comes rolling in. Nebraska has been a good fit culturally in the Big Ten.

Yet I don't blame Cornhuskers supporters for being at least a little upset, especially given the scheduling distribution. The Big Ten's future parity scheduling should help a little, and hopefully a robust rivalry with Wisconsin will develop in the West Division, along with a growing interest in the Iowa series. Nebraska should enjoy what looks like a slightly easier path to the Big Ten title game every year (assuming the West Division remains less top heavy than the East), and the occasional Eastern exposure could help expand the school's brand and recruiting reach.

The Huskers actually need to win a Big Ten title in football before deciding the rest of the league is beneath them, after all. And if all else fails, Nebraska fans, remember this: at least you no longer have to mess with Texas.

Take 2: Mitch Sherman

Interesting, Brian, that you mention Texas, which still draws the ire of Nebraskans more than a lackluster slate of Big Ten home games ever could.

And the only thing as frustrating to Husker fans than Texas' hold on Nebraska from 2002 to 2010 -- six wins in six games for burnt orange -- is the Longhorns' 16-11 league record since the Huskers left for the Big Ten. Yes, Nebraska fans salivated over the sight of Texas as it hovered near .500 in Big 12 play in 2011 and 2012; they wanted nothing more than to kick UT while it was down.

In some convoluted way, perhaps, they blame the Big Ten for robbing the Huskers of that chance. Now, the entry of Maryland and Rutgers has taken from Nebraska the chance to kick Michigan while it's down -- something the Huskers, their fan base and their Ohio State-bred coach enjoyed in 2012 and 2013.

It's not that simple, though. If Ohio State or Iowa want to get nostalgic and hold a grudge against the Big Ten newbies for disrupting their fall festival, go for it. But Nebraska has no room to groan.

The Huskers landed in this league, way back in 2011, as an agent of change. The Big Ten secured Nebraska's financial future. Three years later, you might say the Huskers sold their soul to Delany. Sure, they're making lots of money and poised to make even more.

The football team continues to win nine games annually, but when is an October meeting with Rutgers or Maryland going to feel natural?

Look at a map. It's Nebraska, not the newcomers, that is most geographically isolated in the Big Ten. Delany planned all along that the addition of Nebraska marked only the start to his new era of change.

Did he sell the Huskers and their fans false hope, with the promise of every-other-season trips to the Big House and the renewal of a once-bitter rivalry with Penn State? Not anymore than Rutgers or Maryland wrecked it all.

This is an age of change in college athletics. More is coming, even if conference expansion has halted. Programs and their fan bases can't cling to the past. They can't cling to the present, either.

The opportunity exists to play Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State more often than the schedule dictates. Just win the West. One of them is likely to often await in the Big Ten championship game.

Maryland and Rutgers don't figure to soon disrupt any of those plans.
The brother of former Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is leaving the Huskers after one year.

Drake Martinez, a freshman safety who likely would have contributed in 2014 as a backup, plans to transfer this offseason, his father, Casey Martinez, confirmed on Saturday.

The elder Martinez said by text message that his son “lost quite a bit of weight and strength” recently after battling health issues that caused him to miss part of spring practice.

Drake Martinez has recovered, according to Casey Martinez, though “he was pretty adamant about getting a fresh start in a new school."

“Not much a parent can do at that point,” Casey Martinez wrote.

Drake Martinez, listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds by Nebraska, starred at Laguna Beach (Calif.) High School, earning MVP honors of the Orange Coast League as a senior in 2012.

He possessed speed similar to his brother, Taylor, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback from 2010 to 2013.

A foot injury limited Taylor Martinez to five starts in his senior year. Lingering problems caused him to fail a physical last month with the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed Martinez to a free-agent contract after the NFL draft.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- In 6 years at Nebraska, Bo Pelini has run a tight ship.

He holds his football players to a high standard. They perform well academically. The Huskers represent their program admirably in the community, creating more headlines for their acts of goodwill and outreach than for encounters with law enforcement.

[+] EnlargeJosh Banderas
John S. Peterson/Icon SMIJosh Banderas made a mistake, but is it one worth being outcast of the Nebraska program?
Most in this state can agree that Nebraska football, of late, has stayed largely above the fray that too often engulfs programs rife with distraction.

Nebraska football is a source of pride that extends beyond Memorial Stadium to the streets of Lincoln and Omaha and the rural communities that send their high school stars to play for Pelini and his coaches, with a scholarship or not.

The culture creates tremendous expectations and, as we’ve seen this week, an occasional lack of tolerance for mistakes -- more so off the field than on it.

Josh Banderas, the 19-year-old linebacker who started four games as a true freshman and the lone Nebraskan in the Huskers’ 2013 recruiting class, was stopped by Lincoln Police on Monday and charged Tuesday with felony theft for stealing seven bicycles from a rack on campus.

Banderas and Nebraska distance runner Lucas Keifer, a former high school classmate who drove the getaway truck, face preliminary court dates next month.

A reduction in charges -- even entry into a diversion program -- appears possible.

None of that erases the stupidity of their alleged actions. According to police, Banderas and Keifer, in broad daylight, used bolt cutters to remove the bikes. They were apprehended minutes after the crime occurred.

Since the news broke Tuesday, it’s been a hot topic around town. Generally, disbelief has trumped outrage.

Banderas told police, according to an affidavit, that he and Keifer planned to sell the bikes. Banderas told an officer that they took the bikes after noticing signs posted on the racks that the university would soon confiscate the property as abandoned.

He knew better. More than most in the football program, Banderas should understand the significance of his actions. He grew up in the shadow of Nebraska football; Banderas’ father, Tom, lettered as a tight end at the school from 1985 to 1987.

The Huskers, seeking a return to the football elite, have been riding an offseason hot streak in part because to Pelini’s public personality makeover.

Observers wondered if this incident might derail that momentum.

By my gauge, the temperature in the state is astonishing on the Banderas situation. While Pelini and the Nebraska administration have stayed quiet, fans and media are speaking out, many in in knee-jerk fashion. Some are ready for the Huskers to cut ties with Banderas for a full season, if not for good.

In January, defensive end Avery Moss was banned from campus for one year, stemming from a 2012 public-indecency charge. Offensive tackle Alex Lewis is set to serve a 45-day jail sentence this summer for a 2013 assault committed before he enrolled at Nebraska.

Lewis was not allowed to work out with the team last fall after his transfer from Colorado but has faced no additional discipline since joining the program in January.

Banderas’ actions, which pale in comparison, have more significantly raised the ire of Nebraskans. This is a slippery slope. Let’s remember that he is 19 and a productive citizen by all previous accounts.

Pelini has time to make a decision, time to monitor Banderas’ reaction, time to determine appropriate discipline.

The image of Nebraska football is important, perhaps more so now than ever. But Banderas, still with a promising future, ought not to be sacrificed for it.
We’re into the final four of the Big Ten postseason player countdown, which measures only performance during the 2013 season. Next on the list is a player who produced a monster season at one of the Big Ten’s historically significant positions.

No. 4: Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska

Previous ranking: No. 13

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Nati HarnikWe dare you to find a Big Ten running back more important to his team than Ameer Abdullah was to Nebraska. Go ahead ... we'll wait.
Making the case for Abdullah: He was the most important running back to his team in the Big Ten.

Go ahead, try to make another argument for someone else. It won’t stand up to Abdullah’s value last season in Lincoln.

The Huskers played all but one conference game without quarterback Taylor Martinez and offensive guard Spencer Long, Nos. 3 and 12, respectively, in the Big Ten preseason player rankings.

Abdullah was the constant. He topped 100 yards in 11 games, missing by two yards in a loss to UCLA and 15 yards in Iowa’s victory over Nebraska.

See what happened when he didn’t produce big?

Usually, though, he came through for the Huskers. Abdullah churned for 123 against Michigan State’s top-rated defense -- the first back since to go over 100 yards on the Spartans since he and Martinez did it in 2012. Abdullah gained 122 in the Gator Bowl against Georgia, 165 against Minnesota, 225 against Illinois and 147 in a win at Penn State.

Often, he wasn’t just the Huskers’ best offensive option; Abdullah was their only option.

His signature play came not on a run but a reception, as he gained 16 yards -- most of it after the catch, with defenders all around -- on a fourth-and-15 toss from Ron Kellogg III to extend Nebraska’s last-minute, game-winning drive against Northwestern.

His 1,690 yards led the Big Ten and ranked fourth all time on the single-season charts Nebraska, the best year by a runner in Lincoln since 1997. And back then, Ahman Green posted big numbers behind a national-title caliber offensive line.

Abdullah operated behind a makeshift group after the loss of Long on Oct. 12. Still, the 5-foot-9 junior averaged better than six yards per carry and remained durable, rushing 19 times or more in each of Nebraska’s final nine games.

He’s coming back for his senior year in 2014, so Big Ten defensive players get a final crack at the Alabama native. Wish them luck.

The countdown
The loss of Avery Moss for the 2014 football season -- and possibly for good -- rates as a significant setback for Nebraska.

Moss has been banned from Nebraska campus for one year, he confirmed to the Omaha World-Herald, as a result of a 2012 incident in which he was charged with exposing himself to a campus convenience store worker. He pleaded no contest on Monday to one count of public indecency.

According to the newspaper report, Moss could appeal in December. If denied, he would face a four-year campus ban, which would eliminate his opportunity to play again at Nebraska.

As it stands, the chances appear less likely that he’ll continue his career in Lincoln. Moss would have to not only win the December appeal but also spend a year in limbo, delaying his football progress during a time in which he could spend in practice with another FBS program or play at a lower level.

Moss, as a redshirt freshman, displayed ability that would eventually make him a nice NFL prospect -- the caliber of talent that’s been in short supply on the Huskers’ defensive line since the 2009 departure of Ndamukong Suh.

Moss collected 36 tackles last season, including eight behind the line of scrimmage with 4.5 sacks.

The pairing of Moss with returning junior Randy Gregory, an All-Big Ten selection in his first year at Nebraska last fall, would have given the Huskers an experienced pair of ends next season on par with any duo at the school in the past decade.

With remade groups on the offensive line and in the secondary and a new full-time starter at quarterback, the front seven on defense must still serve as one of Nebraska’s top position groups.

So where do the Huskers turn without Moss?

Spring practice looms large for inexperienced, young ends Greg McMullen and A.J. Natter. The careers of upperclassmen Donovan Vestal and Walker Ashburn were cut short last year because of injuries. Beyond that, walk-ons dot the roster.

Gregory was a boon last season out of junior college. Maybe Joe Keels, the No. 4 juco defensive end prospect, can make a similar impact. And more than a week remains until signing day for Nebraska to win over another prospect to help at the position.

The Huskers have decent depth at the interior line spots and lots of manpower at linebacker. Might Nebraska tinker in the spring with an alignment similar to the 3-4 look that worked well for Wisconsin last season? If so, it would mark a departure from the norm for coach Bo Pelini.

Regardless, the loss of Moss looms large.

Offseason to-do list: Nebraska

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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In the three weeks since Nebraska beat Georgia to extend its streak of nine-win seasons, the Huskers have replaced secondary coach Terry Joseph with Charlton Warren, who is already making himself known on the recruiting trail, and retained I-back Ameer Abdullah for his senior season. That's not a bad start to the offseason, but there’s more to do.

We continue our Big Ten offseason to-do lists with Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTurnovers have been a big issue for the Huskers under Bo Pelini.
1. Fix the turnovers. Enough is enough, we know. You don’t want to hear how the Huskers must address their issue with turnovers before taking the next step as a program. But it’s that important so we’ll keep talking about it. Nebraska extended an ugly trend under coach Bo Pelini last season, finishing 117th nationally in turnover margin at minus-11. In games after the nonconference season, the Huskers were dead last at minus-15; no other team was worse than minus-12. And those numbers include the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in which Nebraska finished plus-1. Without its two forced turnovers against the Bulldogs, the Huskers would not have won. It’s a good launching point into an offseason in which all of the Huskers -- offensive, defensive and special teams players -- ought to work regularly to make this area a strength next season.

2. Solidify the QB spot. Tommy Armstrong Jr. started eight games as a redshirt freshman. He was brilliant at times against Michigan and Georgia and played well against lesser competition like Illinois and South Dakota State. Inconsistency was a concern, but Armstrong figures to improve in the coming months. After all, he was thrown into the mix with little warning after Taylor Martinez's toe injury forced the senior out in September. Armstrong has plenty of time to prepare the right way for next season. And that’s the point: Give him time. Nebraska can have a nice quarterback competition in the spring with Armstrong and redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton, and even walk-on sophomore Ryker Fyfe and true freshman and early enrollee Zack Darlington. But by mid-April, offensive coordinator Tim Beck would be best served to identify a leader and define his role before August. If it’s Stanton, go with it. But likely, the Huskers' offense will go as far as Armstrong can take it next fall.

3. Plug holes in the secondary. Spring practice will be big for the defensive backs. Not only do they get to work out the kinks with Warren, their new position coach, but those 15 practices in March and April must go a long way toward identifying replacements for departed cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Start with Josh Mitchell, who collected two turnovers in the Gator Bowl. Mitchell will be a senior and part of the Huskers’ core of leadership. Safety Corey Cooper gives them another solid piece in the secondary. Harvey Jackson and LeRoy Alexander showed flashes last season, but the Huskers need more bodies. From a promising group of inexperienced players like Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose, D.J. Singleton and Boaz Joseph, Nebraska will search for key contributors this spring.

More to-do lists:

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