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CornNation Football Roundtable: Turning the Page to 2017

NCAA Football: Duke at Tulane Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the CN team has had a few weeks to reflect on the 2016, we thought we’d wrap up our thoughts on last season and also look towards all of the changes Husker fans will see in 2017.

Will you remember 2016 more for the 7-0 start or the 2-4 finish?

Paul: Definitely the 2-4 finish. I think this team was better than that finish, but it was decimated by injuries and simply didn’t have the deep bench to go to that championship teams have. If Tommy Armstrong and our O-line stay healthy I think that 2-4 finish is at least 3-3, if not 4-2 and NU finishes in the top 15.

Mike: Nothing wrong with losing to Wisconsin in overtime, and I don’t think it was reasonable to have expected a win at Ohio State. But the Iowa and Tennessee losses were tough to accept - even if you account for the injuries. I mean, Nebraska only rushed for one more yard than Tennessee Tech did against the Vols.

Jon: Unfortunately the 2-4 finish. Humans tend to remember the negative more than the positive, and this season the team seemed like they might be on the edge of greatness. As I’ve stated before, the season would have been different had they won the game at Wisconsin.

Greg: I’ll always reflect fondly on that 7-0 start. But the 2-4 finish is like a splinter in your finger or an eye irritant. You know the pain will subside, but it annoys you knowing that it could largely have been prevented.

Joe: The finish. Other than Oregon, none of the first 7 games should have been close. When you have 6 games to win 3 and get 10 wins, not getting there hurts.

Andy: Unless the thought of needing the 4th quarter to pull away from teams ranked anywhere from 69th to 179th (thanks for the SOS boost Fresno!) made you all warm & fuzzy inside, then the crap finish, replete with three embarrassments (Tennessee should have put at least 50 on the board. If you don’t believe me, Mark Banker’s available to explain it to you) should be the warning light flashing in your right eye.

Yes, it was gee whiz neat to not find mind-bending ways to lose to awful teams and get back to 9 wins, but forgive me if I refuse to call this “progress” as opposed to “not quite as much regression”. The cake schedules begin falling off as we add Penn St next year, so the pressure to compete with teams that have a pulse will only grow.

Only Trent Bray remains from Mike Riley’s first defensive coaching staff. What’s your thoughts on these changes, and is Riley done revamping his staff?

Paul: Riley has shown a willingness to do something that Pelini would not a friend. To me that is a necessary trait of a leader. Being able to separate the personal from the professional is difficult, but it’s essential because what matters is the performance of the organization. As to whether it’s done...I don’t know. I suspect that Riley will do a full assessment every year to see what changes need to be made.

Mike: I suspect that Bo Pelini encouraged Corey Raymond to look elsewhere, for what it’s worth. That being said, it’s clear to me that Riley now realizes that he can’t do things the same way he did them at Oregon State. Next up is to shore up the offensive coaching staff, and if the NCAA officially allows a tenth assistant coach, look for Tavita Thompson to get a promotion to help Mike Cavanaugh out. If the offensive line doesn’t improve in 2017, Cav has to be the next guy on the hot seat.

Jon: It’s all about “win now”. The defensive coordinator hire looks great, but it’s just as much a crapshoot as anything else. If it works out, Riley will look like a genius. If it doesn’t, Nebraska may look like just another desperate program trying to take shortcuts to championships because of an impatient fan base.

Greg: I don’t think you can say that Riley is dome revamping until the end result is one he likes enough to keep his staff around. I think the recent changes (firing Read and Banker) were probably the toughest choices he’s had to make. Will the firings stop? My only answer to that is “when the trophies start stacking up,” as I think Riley wants very badly to win.

Joe: I have no idea what other moves may be in store, as I’ve been surprised by every move made so far. I do think a Big 10 team sitting in the middle of the country needs to be known for defense, that’s what brings championships.

Andy: I am impressed that Riles is the first Husker HC since 2004 that appears willing to cut dead weight buddies from the staff (Yes, Pap and Cosgrove, I’m looking at you). I’d be a little more impressed if he hadn’t let them cash in on the mini-lottery for a couple years first, but whatever. Banker brought in a track record of mediocrity that he proved could be just as ineffective in the Midwest and Stewart gets to take his next step of career free-fall to Rice. Toodles, boys.

I truly wish he’d have sent “5 guys play every minute of every game” Cavanaugh out with them, but we can’t have it all. There has to be an O-line coach somewhere with a philosophy between that and Barney’s “every lineman learn every assignment at all 5 spots” weirdness. There just does.

What are your biggest concerns about Nebraska football going into 2017?

Paul: Special Teams. Nebraska was just AWFUL on special teams this year. O-line is probably concern 1B though.

Mike: Quarterback. Nebraska has two freshmen and a transfer from Tulane with a career completion percentage under 54% and a 23-21 touchdown/interception ratio. (For comparison, Tommy Armstrong also had a sub 54% completion percentage, but with a 36-24 touchdown/interception ratio his first two seasons.) The quarterback run game appears to be a thing of the past, which means that somebody is going to have to make a huge jump this spring.

Jon: Offensive line. I am a stuck record. Nebraska’s offensive line has been mediocre for quite a long time now, which is counter to history as I understand it under this program. Today’s college football requires that you score points more than ever and Nebraska is not going to do that, regardless of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs, without a good offensive line.

Greg: All the popular answers have been taken, so I’m going to say Bob Diaco’s defense, and how current Huskers will fit into that, which you can hear a LOT about on this recent episode of the Big Red Cobcast. Who will thrive in a 3-4, and who did we maybe see on the field a lot last year who may not quite fit this scheme? That’s a concern for me.

Joe: Defensive line, in particular pass rush. We need more Randy Gregory type talent on the edge.

Andy: Um, everything? I was going to have a chuckle about this savior talk surrounding Tanner Lee, but Mike covered that. Outside of maybe Stanley Morgan and DPE (those ACL recoveries do have some historical track record of recovering closer to full speed in that 2nd year), there’s literally no one on offense who brings any goosebumps. OK, Wilbon, but the only way I think I’m going to ever get to see him get more meaningful action in a big game than the occasional screen thrown 5 feet over his head and behind him will be in two years after he transfers.

Defense of course is a huge concern but I’m excited to see what the lone member of this staff with an actual track record of success can do. I’m not expecting miracles in year one, but I am looking for improvement.

What are you most looking forward to seeing from the Huskers in 2017?

Mike: The defense. I don’t know how long it’s going to take Bob Diaco to get his scheme in place, but it’s what I’m most interested in. I suspect it might not be quite ready in September, but it’ll need to be ready when Wisconsin and Ohio State come to town in October.

Jon: A good offensive line, duh. Did I not say that I was a stuck record? Nick Gates returns, as do Tanner Farmer, Jerald Foster and David Knevel. Highly touted redshirts Matt Farniok and John Raridon will get their shot, and perhaps Michael Decker will figure out how to make line calls and do a good job of replacing Dylan Utter. Perhaps someone can resurrect Jalin Barnett.

Talk about firing Mike Cavanaugh all you want - if the offensive line doesn’t perform in 2017, Nebraska will have another average season.

Greg: Honestly, this seems to me to be the first off-season in recent memory without an entrenched incumbent (for lack of a better word) at starting QB. So I’m excited to see some quarterback competition this spring and in the fall. And then, of course, the defense.

Joe: All of it. New QB, new offense, new defense, new special teams. This year should be the blueprint for at least the next few years.

Andy: I’ll be brutally honest: I want to see something showing that actual improvement is being made and I want it to pass the eye test against decent teams. The record can be damned if we start showing some fight when it matters and that’s not in the 4th quarter against frickin’ Indiana. If a third straight year of running in place, mediocrity and planted on all fours with our butts pointed skyward against the likes of Ohio St & #40 Iowa continues, then it’s probably time to ask why there should be a 4th.

With home games against Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern and Iowa mixed with games at Oregon, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State, what’s your “Way-Too-Early” first prediction for 2017?

Paul: Ohio State and Penn State look like certain losses. It’s hard to know about Wisconsin and Iowa. Oregon is a dumpster fire. Let’s say 9-3, with 10-2 best case.

Mike: Willie Taggart looked like a home-run hire initially, but his staff has spent all their time slipping on banana peels. But I’ve got too many questions to go any higher than 8-4 at this point; in fact, I’m tempted to go lower. I think Minnesota and Oregon could be really tough road games, so that makes six games (added to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa) that have to be toss-ups or worse.

Jon: 11-1 with the only regular season loss at Penn State. The offensive line gels, Tanner Lee is the quarterback we’ve been waiting for, and Tre Bryant explodes on the national scene. YEAHHHHAAAAAAAA

Greg: Honestly, I say it’s an 8-4 regular season. I don’t like it anymore than you do, and being the least optimistic of the bunch is not my normal stance on things, but that being said, a new QB, an offensive line with question marks, and a new defense... nothing will be easy (that’s the new Nebraska Way), and the gimme’s will be battles. Losses to Penn state, Ohio state, Wisconsin, and a “WTF JUST HAPPENED” to...okay, I can’t find a fourth loss in there. 9-3 it is! HIP HIP!

Joe: How can you say anything other than 9-3? It’s the Nebraska way!!!

Andy: For the regular season, I can’t go with 9 wins because the schedule keeps tightening up. I’m saying 7-5 with losses at Oregon (we barely held on against a pretty lousy Ducks squad at home and the noise of Autzen will get in the heads of a very young Husker group), Wisconsin, Ohio St., Penn St. and Iowa.

There’s a couple of those that could go our way, but the same could be said of Minnesota and Northwestern, so I’m going with the mid-case scenario.