Season Review: It was a weird season in Lincoln

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Season Review: It was a weird season in Lincoln

Weird. No other word better describes this season. The campaign dawned amid great promise, as Nebraska was coming off a Legends Division title. Much of that same talent was back, fueling hopes for the program’s first league title since 1999. Alas, the defense often looked a lot like it did in 2012, getting gashed for big yards/points after the staff made myriad vows to “fix things.”

And the offense struggled to find a rhythm with quarterback Taylor Martinez succumbing to injury that limited him to four games. Sprinkle in plenty of drama surrounding Bo Pelini—the highlight being the mysterious release after a brutal September home loss to UCLA of a salacious 2011 audio recording of a profane Pelini ripping fans–and you have the makings of a classic soap opera.

Despite the theatrics, the Huskers still were in position late in the season to win the Legends. Amazing.

[ MORE: Final B1G standings | Nebraska’s 2013 results | 2013 stats ]

Record: 8-4 overall; 5-3 Big Ten

Bowl: Gator Bowl vs. Georgia

High point: Nebraska brought a 6-2 overall record and a 3-1 Big Ten mark to Ann Arbor for a big game vs. Michigan on Nov. 9. This was a Legends Division elimination bout, with the winner staying alive and the loser falling to the wayside. Nebraska came up with a gutsy effort and took a hard-fought 17-13 decision to snap Michigan’s 20-game home winning streak under Brady Hoke. The Huskers trailed, 13-10, in the fourth. But Tommy Armstrong Jr., threw a five-yard left-handed shovel pass to Ameer Abdullah with 2:03 left to give Nebraska a lead it wouldn’t lose. The win set up a showdown the next week in Lincoln vs. Michigan State in a de facto Legends Division title game. More on that below.

[ MORE: See all of Dienhart’s 2013 Big Ten season reviews ]

Low point: Out of contention for the Legends Division title after a home loss to Michigan State but with an Outback Bowl bid on the line, Nebraska imploded in a regular-season-ending home loss to Iowa, 38-17. The boorish behavior of Bo Pelini was even worse than the Cornhuskers’ on-field effort that saw them commit three turnovers and have just 288 yards. Pelini incurred an unsportsmanlike penalty for protesting an official’s call. He also criticized officials afterward, drawing a public reprimand from the Big Ten and a $10,000 fine for the school. It all added fuel to a fire of speculation about Pelini’s future. He seemed unmoved by the scrutiny, grunting in the postgame rubble: “It they want to fire me, go ahead.” Days later, A.D. Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini.

Offensive MVP: RB Ameer Abdullah. The junior mighty mite was a dynamo all season for an offense that struggled for consistency with Taylor Martinez’s season ruined by injury that limited him to four games and just one after Sept. 14. Abdullah soldiered on, running 254 times for a Big Ten-high 1,568 yards with eight touchdowns. He ran for over 100 yards in 10 of 12 games. The two games he missed reaching 100 yards, he amassed 98 (vs. UCLA) and 85 yards (vs. Iowa).

Defensive MVP: DE Randy Gregory. The Nebraska defense had its issues at times—once again—but the sophomore was a stalwart all season. He arrived amid much hype from a junior college and delivered, developing into the most feared pass rusher in the Big Ten. A lithe athlete off the edge, Gregory paced the Big Ten with 9.5 sacks and was second in tackles for loss with 15.5.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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