Over the past month, the CN team sat down and gave us their thoughts on the 2015 football season. Some of us revised our thoughts after the Foster Farms Bowl, but what did that mean? Here's what we said:
Our preseason predictions for the Huskers ran the gamut from 7-5 to 9-3 and even 10-2... Well, that didn't happen. Summarize it down: why?
Mike: A combination of some bad luck and bad coaching. There was quite a bit of square peg/round hole as the coaches on both sides of the ball tried to implement their Oregon State systems on Nebraska's personnel. Towards the end of the year, Mark Banker adapted some concepts from Bo Pelini's scheme, and the defense played better towards the end. But on offense, all you need to know is that Tommy Armstrong threw the second-most passes of any Big Ten quarterback in the 2015 regular season.
Joe Canale: The one thing I kept noticing this season was our inability to make that ONE play when we really needed to. The failed roll out pass against Illinois being one that comes to mind. Nearly every game we lost could be traced to one moment where we failed to come up big. Something of a recent trend as I recall Avery Moss failing to get Brett Hundley down before the half a few years ago also being one of those types of plays.
Jill: I worried a fair bit over whether Pelini/Beck-recruited talent and scheme would mesh with Riley/Langsdorf philosophies. That part actually went a little better than I expected (although far from perfect). Defensive depth had me concerned (as did Banker's lackluster track record) but I was completely floored by the complete ineptitude of the pass defense. I did not see that coming at all. The coaches did adjust over time, but it was painful to watch. Boneheaded [offensive] game planning absolutely cost Nebraska the Illinois game and probably the Purdue one as well. Bad luck certainly had a hand in other areas (BYU, Pierson-El). A play or two here and there was huge this season and the trust just was not there yet. We saw a great deal of growth all round by the end of the season, but most goals were off the table by then.
Brian: The thing I can take from this season is that Mike Riley had no issue getting this team ready to go, no matter what happened week in and week out. It would have been really easy to lose this game, ESPECIALLY after the Purdue game. However, no matter what, Nebraska showed up week in and week out to play. You can say things about coaching and such, and you would be right, but on Defense Nebraska seemed to be able to get just that much better to keep themselves into a Football game. Offensively, it was a hit and miss issue through the year. Danny Langsdorf knows what he wants to do, but he has to remember that until he has the parts he wants, he can't simply do it. That may be one player in some spots, a few in others.
Pat Janssen: I think one thing we (and many other people) forgot was that this was shaping up to be a down year regardless of who was coaching. Whether or not it was Pelini or Riley coaching, there was going to be inadequate depth at linebacker, a largely untested secondary, a non-Ameer-Abdullah-named running back and an offensive line that hadn't been dominant in years. I honestly think, no matter who was coaching, this was a seven-to-eight win team at best. Some coaching-change growing pains were inevitable, and maybe we don't lose to Illinois or Purdue with the old coaching staff, but I also don't think we beat Michigan State with them. On the Cobcast a week ago, we talked with Josh Peterson, and he raised a point that I had been kicking around inside my own head for a while. He wondered aloud what the season might have been like if we had held off BYU. That would have been a win in which we came back to beat a quality opponent, something the Huskers haven't done much of in recent years. Does that flip the psychological switch and generate more buy-in from both the players and the fans. Because let's be honest, the general doubt around the program hasn't been a big help either. Much like that BYU game this year, the first couple games of next season will be just as huge. When a guy like Mike Riley enters a program with doubt already surrounding him (fair or unfair), he's got to hit a couple out of the park early on.
Jon: Resentment and change. The resentment of Nebraska having fired a winning coach meant that the team took more time to buy in to what the new coaching staff had to offer. Early successes weren't there, so it took even more time. Add to that the defensive secondary being asked to change what they were doing before and you had what happened this year.
Salt Creek: Depth chart holes I didn't appreciate compounded with a staff change that didn't go as swimmingly as promised, honestly. Eichorst definitely sold Riley a false bill of goods on this squad, not that I would've expected a lawyer to be able to dissect the roster and say "hey this is bad" or for Riley to look into that before taking the job. After all, Bo Pelini was able to secure at least nine wins with rosters like this, why couldn't America's Friendliest Grandpa Coach? Riley's program definitely made mistakes, but some of that started with the roster's inadequacies.
While Bo Pelini had stocked talent at RB (whether they fit the scheme is irrelevant - they're all 4*s except Cross) and WR, his defensive line recruiting should be a cautionary story for any ADs looking at Bo Pelini for a head coaching position. (I'd comment on LB recruiting but well um yeah. Ross Els is a DC in the Big Ten now, which I believe makes him our honorary Kevin Cosgrove derision target of 2016. Secondary wasn't bad though!) The QBs on staff were not prototypes for a typical pro-style offense favored by the offensive staff. The OL development was spotty at best, almost criminal considering Nebraska's history. This left the new staff in a bit of a pickle as far as what they could do scheme-wise. Not only were they having to acclimate to a new roster, they were going to transition the program from a spread offense/two-gap 4-3 to the Air Coryell pro style offense/quarters 4-3 playbook prefered by Riley's staff. I'd say there were a lot of growing pains in that transition.
The defense appears to have gone whole hog into Baker's playbook. Considering the LB depth, this proved to be a huge transition. I'd argue Nebraska's season goes a lot, lot worse if not for Bray's incredible coaching acumen. Nebraska needs to lock that guy down for the foreseeable future. He definitely made Hank Hughes' defensive line look better than it probably is at this point. The improved LB corps and the movement of the safeties into run support served to shore up Nebraska's rush defense in 2015, but it left our corners on islands they weren't prepared to defend, resulting in a the pass defense issues we saw early in the season. I was certain Nebraska should move on from Brian Stewart, but the last few weeks give me pause. I'd say there was enough improvement to allow Nebraska to keep its Defense Against the Dark Arts coach for another season, the first time in probably five or six seasons - I've lost track.
SPEAKING OF THE DARK ARTS, Nebraska passed the ball more than anyone would've liked. I'm honestly not sure what else to say about this other than to point out that most of the passing was done in "NEED TO SCORE" situations. Armstrong's admission to freelancing also puts some of those bone-headed plays into a different context. The Foster Farms bowl game gives me hope that Nebraska won't be as stupid on offense going forward. We could definitely see Cav's coaching is working considering the efforts of some of the #2s called into play.
We just need consistent QB play to work with our talented WRs. And figure out who our RB is. 2016 could be fun!
AND GIVE THE BALL TO THE FULLBACK MORE!
FINAL NOTE: Mark Phillipp? WIZARD. That was a very, very physical Nebraska team in the bowl game. Give him three years with our linemen and oh the humanity...Remember when we all wanted to fire him after the knee sprain outbreak?
The Huskers played well in the bowl game; was this a sign of the future, or was this just a one-game thing?
Brian: I think it set up a mindset of a positive role through the offseason. Granted, the stank of 7 losses will make people remember this season more than others, but winning a bowl game that you were getting slammed for taking over a team that owned you a few years ago in a home and home sweep sure helps. Yes, they ran the ball and made Tommy Armstrong a complimentary part of the game instead of the reason to win, but Nebraska will have to be better in both passing & running to be a better team. Again, that falls down to getting the parts you want into the system.
Pat Janssen: I'll repeat part of my previous answer. I honestly think winning one (or both) of those one-possession games against BYU or Miami would have changed the trajectory of this season. As nice as this UCLA win was, the beginning part of next season (Oregon, anyone?) will be just as crucial. I don't think Mike Riley will be stoned to death if he loses, but he will bring a level of belief if the Huskers win. The UCLA win was kind of a miniature version of that. No one expected Nebraska to win, but it at least pushed the wolf-heavy perimeter back a few feet.
Jon: It's a sign that by the end of the season they got it together and played a pretty complete game as a team. That goes for the coaching staff as well as the players.
Jill: I like to think it was a sign of the future, but it is really hard to read much into bowl games. The way that Riley game planned for the bowl does give me some hope that he can adjust to life in the Big Ten. No, I don't think Nebraska needs to run the ball 75% of the time like they did vs UCLA. But the fact that the coaching staff worked to take advantage of the opponent's weakness was a positive development.
Salt Creek: I think the team can use this as a springboard. We're finally seeing the transitions of Dobson to Phillipp and Cotton/Garrison to Cavanaugh pay off. And if the offensive line delivers the run game, I fully expect a stronger commitment to the run game in 2016. That said, we're still going to pass the ball. I really, really recommend everyone go and get that phobia out of your system.
Mike: Riley's comments about wanting to be a top three rushing team in the Big Ten indicate to me that, upon further review, Mike Riley and his staff realized that his offensive plans for 2015 were a mismatch for the players he had. Now, is that just more idle talk like we heard over the past year? Was this simply a recognition that UCLA was undersized on defense and had been run over by teams like Stanford earlier this season, and not any sign of a change in philosophy? That's the question.
Maliek Collins declared for the NFL draft right after the bowl game. Do you see anybody else leaving Nebraska early, either declaring for the NFL draft or transferring?
Mike: I suspect that we'll hear of at least 6 to 10 players not returning to the team. I think Vincent Valentine will join Collins and head to the NFL, and will both be drafted. I also suspect Mikale Wilbon and Adam Taylor will both look elsewhere for an opportunity.
Joe: As of this writing Jonathan Rose was dismissed from the team. Also Chad Mcshay put Malik Collins in his first round mock draft. Career is too short to play an extra year for free. I would also guess that there will be a few transfers of guys who didn't mesh with the new regime.
Jill: It is always hard to predict these things. Collins leaving was a no-brainer and I cannot come up with good reasons for Valentine to stay if he gets a fairly good evaluation. I would love to have him back, but I could not blame him if he goes. I am sure there will be other players who head to greener-playing-time pastures, but I do not have any idea who those will be.
Brian: You're going to see a few more kids leave, just a matter of who and why. If the Huskers could purge a few non contributors and sign 33 kids, that would be the most ideal. However, thanks to Jim Delany's rules, it's 28 this year. How they fill that, I am trying to figure that out as we speak.
Pat Janssen: The NFL draft isn't the same animal that it was when Suh stayed. There was top-flight money to be made at the top of the draft at that time. Now, a player can no longer become the highest paid at their position before playing a snap, and the money is a lot more even across the draft board. So if you believe you can be drafted by the middle rounds and make an NFL roster, it makes sense to leave. And since Collins' draft status doesn't seem to be dropping, I get it. I also could understand it if Vincent Valentine gets a halfway decent grade. He's a big guy who's already fought off injuries. He has also has a child and a degree. There aren't all that many reasons for him to stay. And though I'd LOVE to have him back in scarlet and cream next season, if his mind is on the draft, he should probably just declare. I think he's every bit the NFL prospect Collins is, and I'd hate to have a guy on the roster who's not all in a la Jadaveon Clowney in his final season at South Carolina. Plus, the DL is our one position with oodles of depth. As for the rest of the roster, I suspect a few highly-recruited third and fourth stringers will be departing soon. Which ones? No clue. But that's just part of the college game.
Salt Creek: I have no clue. If any young guy other than Collins leaves, it's a transfer, not to the NFL. You may see one or two head to Ohio's Friendliest Confines, but other than that, I'm not enough of an insider to know where the curmudgeons are. I suspect you'll see some QB transfers though - with POB coming in plus possibly a grad transfer and 2017 likely bringing in another one or two QBs, there's simply very little playing time available. Maybe a RB transfer out as well, with the way things went this year.
Will there be any changes on the coaching staff this season?
Mike: Hard to say. I suspect that Brian Stewart is a candidate to move on; he's been looking for a head coaching gig, and his hiring at Nebraska seemed to be more of a matter of convenience than real fit.
Joe: I have no clue. I can be of no help in this matter and I should have just skipped answering instead of wasting your time with this sentence. Even a shorter sentence would have been better, let alone writing this second one.
Brian: First off, they can give Bruce Read the job of Jeff Jamrog while keeping the salary. Doing that would allow Tavita Thompson on the staff, and he would be able to recruit and coach in a bigger role. I'm fine with Brian Stewart for now due to not only his Secondary getting a little better, but the fact that the Huskers have had shit for continuity in that part of the team.
The only other guy I could see moving on is Hank Hughes. It seemed like the DL, for what we had there, could have been more cohesive as a unit. Plus, Hughes' recruiting has been fairly sketchy. If you want to get better talent, you get better recruiters. Hughes needs to either improve both drastically or pack bags.
Pat Janssen: I have a hard time seeing any changes at Riley's hands. If it happens, it's because someone gets a better job. I'll go ahead and predict no changes, but Mike Riley and I haven't had a good phone chat in ages, so I'm not sure I'm the most reliable person to make that call.
Jill: Riley is widely known for loyalty to his staff. So, despite some areas I think we could make changes (cough*special teams*cough) it probably won't happen. Trent Bray should get a raise. He somehow kept the linebacking corps from dissolving into the disaster of the team despite the few bodies he was given being held together by scotch tape and silly string.
Salt Creek: Bruce Read and Hank Hughes would be on the top of my list. Read didn't really seem to contribute this season and Hughes' line didn't seem to really perform that impressively and his recruiting has been disappointing, at best. I think Brian Stewart has earned his chance to stay - I don't think he's getting any looks at HC and his secondary improved as the season went on.
But I wholeheartedly agree with any sentiment about giving Trent Bray money.
Next year's schedule features Fresno State, Wyoming and Oregon in Lincoln along with East division games at Ohio State and Indiana along with home game against Maryland. What's your way-too-early prediction for 2016?
Mike: Certainly the non-conference schedule sets up easier, as Fresno and Wyoming were a combined 5-19 in 2015. Oregon will be breaking in a new quarterback, so it's not out of line to think that Nebraska could start 3-0. Road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin (with a healthy Corey Clement) look tough. So you'd have to think that 8-4 or 9-3 are certainly doable. Of course, they were doable in 2015.
Joe: I'm going to temper my expectations and put us at 7-5 or 8-4. A losing season would be unacceptable though. I can still seeing us winning the west if things break right.
Brian: 8 wins would be a improvement, wouldn't it? Fresno has a new OC coming in, Wyoming is not good and Oregon has another new QB and OC. Indiana doesn't worry me if the Offense is decent, but Ohio State could be a shitshow. 8 wins, 10 ceiling for sure.
Pat Janssen: I'll put us right on that 9-win line. A lot of the games this year were toss-ups for better or for worse. Next year, there's a lot of obvious win/obvious loss potential. I think we start to win a few more of the games we should, nab a game or two that we shouldn't and still let one or two head-scratching losses sneak their way in.
Jon: Nine wins, duh. Riley got the year as a mulligan, the ability to spend the year blaming the last guys fired. Next year it will be nine wins or THE WHOLE DAMNED STATE WILL BURN INTO THE GROUND.
Jill: I had a bunch of sentences written about our division, but it will still be a mess and very winnable. (You know Iowa is regressing to 4-8, right?) The crossover schedule should (SHOULD) be 1-1 and the non-conference is manageable. l also talked myself into this sunshiny stuff last offseason. It better be more than six wins or I won't be able to live in this state anymore.
Salt Creek: I think Nebraska goes 3-0 in non-conference as I do not trust Oregon's transfer QB to be ready by week 3 (WARNING: A POSITIVE SENTIMENT ABOUT SCOTT FROST COMING) without Scott Frost as their coach . I'd guess Nebraska will find 2-3 losses in their conference slate, but they may end up in Indianapolis as I expect Wisconsin to freefall after losing Arranda and Iowa will revert to post-success Ferentz in 2016. I'm expecting Michigan to win the Big Ten East in 2016, so Nebraska likely ends up at the Citrus bowl as the conference runner up. Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl for the playoff against Stanford, probably.
Has your opinion on Mike Riley changed? What do you see in your crystal ball for Riley and Nebraska?
Mike: If anything, my suspicions were confirmed during the regular season. He had an opportunity to explore different ideas on offense, but instead chose to try to bringing offensive philosophies that weren't working at Oregon State here. Nobody saw 5-7 coming this season...nobody. A year ago, Dave Bartoo thought Mike Riley was worth an extra win or two for Nebraska...but after going -6 instead (even with an upset of Michigan State), Bartoo's CFB Matrix put him as the nation's leader in anti-coach effect.
Bartoo now calls Riley "dead man walking" - and frankly, I can't disagree, based on how he approached 2015. Mike Riley needs to win - and win now. Frank Solich and Bo Pelini went to the conference championship game in year two; Bill Callahan managed to do it in year three at Nebraska. At the bare minimum, Riley has to get Nebraska to Indianapolis by 2017, and arguably in 2016. (Hard to argue with a straight face that matching Bill Callahan's record of success is any sort of sign that Nebraska is on the right track.) My prediction: Unless Mike Riley truly adapts to the evolution in college football and the players he inherited, by 2018, Mike Riley will be back home in Corvallis.
Joe: He's just so damn likeable, but I'm afraid Mike is right. At Oregon St. Riley would score the occasional big upset and he's put some good offensive players in the NFL, but Nebraska shouldn't be a school that is scoring big upsets. If Iowa can do what they did this year, we should be able to at least match that with regularity. We have the facilities and the tradition. I'm willing to give Riley next year and the one after (So he can at least put in his QB recruit). Failure at that point would lead to a quick exit. Frankly my greater disappointment is in Banker. A lot of those game changing plays we failed to make were on defense. It seemed like every time we had a team backed up against the wall they pulled off something improbable against our defense. Banker gets next year to correct that. No more.
Brian: If you think that Mike Riley realized what would help him from the Foster Farms Bowl and such BUT don't think he's long for Lincoln, then what is your point? I think he gets FINALLY how much that he's not in Corvallis anymore, but then again, we thought he had that to begin with.
Does he get that Tommy can't win a game by himself as a game plan? Does he realize his back 4 on Defense will be the issue? I hope he does. He does not have 10 years to do this, and he's got to be able to leave something to build on in as little as 2 years now. This was an acclimation point with Mike Riley, whether you liked the results or not. However, I think he, Shawn Eichorst and Hank Bounds realizes that it has to get better next year, whether that's wins or program perception or what have you. It's a bottom line business, and the bottom line has to be better.
Pat Janssen: I think this is a staff that regroups and improves tremendously next year. My opinion is still that he's an overachiever. I just hope all the rumblings around him don't affect recruiting to the point that he HAS TO overachieve.
Jon: I have to be an optimist. I have to be a homer. I have to believe that Mike Riley will eventually win us a Big Ten Championship. If I don't believe those things, I can't do this anymore because it isn't worth the time and effort. I am lying to myself? Yes, partially, because I'm skeptical, but I was skeptical of Bo Pelini too.
Jill: I want this staff to succeed, but unless there is a conference trophy (at least a division trophy and a non-embarrassing CCG appearance) in the hardware case in the next two years, I do not see a long career for Riley at Nebraska. However, his reputation for talent evaluation and willingness to go toe-to-toe with anyone for a recruit leaves me hopeful. If he does not succeed, he should at least leave the cupboard well-stocked for the next staff.
Salt Creek: I'm still giving him four years to show something. It's too early to separate inherent program problems and those presented by Riley's program. There are definitely concerns about the meshing of Riley/Langsdorf's offensive playing style with the Big Ten, but I want to see what happens when they have a QB they can trust behind an OL they trust. Whether I ever get that is a whole other ball of wax. With a new chancellor this spring/summer, Eichorst could be gone by next fall, leaving Riley in a do-or-die situation.
If nothing else, Riley has set the floor for this program. It's up to him to show its ceiling.
For all of our sakes, I hope that ceiling isn't Indianapolis once in a blue moon.
Ross Els is a defensive coordinator at Purdue.
Minnesota's staff is in flux with Tracy Claeys in his first season as a head coach ever.
Iowa's staff tries every once in awhile and they expended that effort this year.
Wisconsin just lost their only good coach.
Northwestern is still Northwestern.
Illinois is in turmoil (still no permanent AD and a lame duck interim head coach hire).
Quite frankly, if Riley can't win the West in 2016, it's time to start looking worried.
(If we lose to Indiana I will contribute to the "Fire Riley" GoFundMe. It'll take decades to take back the lead in that series.)
So what do you think?
Tell us in the comments below.