2016 season review: Year 2 was a success under Mike Riley

2016 season review: Year 2 was a success under Mike Riley

Year 1 of the Mike Riley era was bumpy, as the Cornhuskers went 6-7. But Year 2 was a success, as Nebraska has rebounded to go 9-3 and tie for second in the Big Ten West.

The Huskers were in the hunt to win the division as the season headed for the home stretch, as Nebraska opened 7-0. But the Cornhuskers skidded down the stretch, going 2-3 in their last five games to derail any title hopes. So, Nebraska still hasn’t won a conference title since 1999. But you get the sense the program is inching closer to a breakthrough under Riley.

Before 2017 dawns, though, Nebraska wants to put an exclamation point on this season with a bowl win. For most of this season, this team has played well on both sides of the ball with QB Tommy Armstrong, RB Terrell Newby, T Nick Gates, TE Cethan Carter and WR Jordan Westerkamp leading the charge on offense. The defense has been paced by S Nathan Gerry, LB Josh Banderas, E Ross Dzuris, T Kevin Maurice and CB Chris Jones.

Things are looking good in Lincoln.

***

Record: 9-3 overall; 6-3 Big Ten/T2nd West.
Bowl: Music City vs. Tennessee

High point: Nebraska opened 7-0 and was as high as No. 7 in the AP poll, and the fast start was sparked by an exciting 35-32 win vs. No. 22 Oregon, which visited Lincoln on Sept. 17. Nebraska won it on a 34-yard TD run by Tommy Armstrong with 2:29 left. True, the Ducks would turn out to be a bad team, going 4-8 and seeing coach Mark Helfrich get fired. Still, at the time, this was a big victory and a confidence builder for the Huskers and helped them surge to a fast start.

Low point: Back-to-back losses on the road to No. 11 Wisconsin (23-17 in OT) on Oct. 29 and No. 6 Ohio State (62-3) on Nov. 5 were a cold bucket of reality for Nebraska. These are the programs NU is measured against. And the Huskers came up short. But the lowest point came in the finale on Nov. 25 on Black Friday at Iowa, when the unranked Hawkeyes blasted the No. 16 Cornhuskers, 40-10, with a possible trip to the Big Ten title game on the line for NU. But even with those juicy stakes, Nebraska was outclassed in every facet of the game in a bitterly disappointing regular-season finale that saw Iowa outgain Nebraska, 408-217. Afterward, Mike Riley said: “I’m really disappointed all the way around in all of us.”

Offensive MVP: QB Tommy Armstrong. He battled through injury, including a frightening hit that knocked him out of the game at Ohio State, to enjoy a strong season and earn consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. The 6-1, 220-pound senior is No. 4 in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 244.7 yards. He hits 51 percent of his passes for 2,180 yards with 14 TDs and eight picks and has 512 yards rushing. When Armstrong excels, Nebraska usually wins.

Defensive MVP: S Nathan Gerry. He was a force from the back of the defense, notching four interceptions and defending 12 passes. The 6-2, 220-pound senior also has 74 tackles, showing he is equally adept at playing the run as he is the pass. A second-team All-Big Ten pick by the media, Gerry is just the fifth Nebraska DB with over 200 career tackles.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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