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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Travis on 12/24/2013 @ 2:08pm EST Said:

This is hardly accurate. First, only much of the talen on offense was returning. Almost the entire front seven and safties were different. Second, the stats of the defense were similar, but how they came to be were entirely differnt. Last year, defenders were slow to the ball, this year they were out of place. Which makes sense given the youth on D. The progression from the defense in conference play supports this.

Its sounds stupid to suggest that you hardly watched Nebraska this year, but given your assessment, it wouldn’t be unfair.

Stephen Johnson on 12/25/2013 @ 6:03pm EST Said:

Sometimes making comments in an article can make it appear that there is a vacuum. To say that the Nebraska offense was hampered by injuries is a dramatic understatement. Virtually the entire offensive line was lost for the year. A key receiver was down for much of the year as well. Taylor Martinez was hurt in the first game and simply never recovered for ANY of the games. Then he was lost for the season. The defense had an almost entirely new line and set of linebackers with most being freshman or red-shirt freshman. It took around 6 games but they finally came together as a team. One needs to ask if Ohio State would have beaten Michigan and others if their first and second string quarterbacks were out for the season. Add a complete loss of the offensive line and they might not have beaten Michigan State….wait, they did not beat Michigan State even with the whole team available to play. The good thing is the development of these very young men on the defense will pay dividends for years to come. New quarterbacks coming in will also help. It is to bad that Taylor did not have another chance at the brass ring. His stats over his four years are all the more amazing given he was still hobbled for over 18 months from the middle of his freshman year through the end of his Soph. year. I for one am glad he made Nebraska his home for a while.

dan on 12/28/2013 @ 4:56pm EST Said:

I would wager in the history of college football, there hasn’t been a fan base and it’s media that has cried more about injuries and turnovers than Nebraska. Good programs overcome those issues…..obviously Nebraska doesn’t fall in that catergory.