Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 25, 2014
For the seventh time in his seven-year Nebraska tenure, Bo Pelini won at least nine games in 2014. But, he was unable to deliver the program?s first conference title since 1999. And, in the end, he was fired after going 67-27 overall and 39-17 in league play.
The Cornhuskers? had one of the Big Ten?s top offenses, ranking third in scoring (37.4 ppg) and No. 4 overall (446.2 ypg). But the defense was little more than average, as an inability to win big games vs. big-time opponents remained an issue for Nebraska. To wit: The Huskers played three games vs. ranked teams in 2014-and they lost all three.
Still, a lot went well for a program that will find itself in transition in 2015 under new coach Mike Riley, who was hired from Oregon State in early December to assume command from Pelini, whose deportment often didn?t endear him to fans or his bosses whom Pelini verbally assailed on the way out the door.
Record: 9-3 overall; 5-3 Big Ten
Bowl: National University Holiday vs. USC
High point: Nebraska welcomed Illinois to Lincoln on Sept. 27-and it was a rude host, taking a 45-14 win to push its record to 5-0. The Cornhuskers had downed Florida Atlantic, McNeese State, Fresno State and Miami (Fla.) prior to drumming the Fighting Illini. The possibilities seemed big for the Cornhuskers, who rose to No. 19 in the coaches? poll the next week as they headed to Michigan State for a huge game vs. the No. 10 Spartans. Nebraska ended up getting dumped in East Lansing, 27-22. So much for seizing a big opportunity.
Low point: The 8-1 Huskers were still in the hunt for the West Division crown as they headed to Wisconsin on Nov. 15 for a big showdown. Alas, Nebraska got whacked, 59-25, by the Badgers. Wisconsin pounded the Cornhuskers for 627 yards with 581 coming on the ground. Badger back Melvin Gordon did most of the damage, running for a then-FBS single-game record 408 yards on just 25 carries, averaging 16.3 yards per carry with four TDs. It was an emasculating experience for Nebraska the likes of which had become commonplace during the Pelini era. To make matters worse, the Cornhuskers lost at home to Minnesota the next week, the second season in a row Nebraska had lost to the Golden Gophers who had not won in Lincoln since 1960.
Offensive MVP: RB Ameer Abdullah was thinking ?Heisman? entering the season. That didn?t materialize, as he dealt with some late injury issues. Still, Abdullah excelled, running 237 times for 1,523 yards and 18 TDs. It was a fitting senior season for a guy who will leave school as Nebraska?s all-time leader in all-purpose yards and is the only Husker to have three 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Best of all: Abdullah is a great person who set a tremendous example in how he did things on and off the field.
Defensive MVP: DE Randy Gregory. The former JC transfer was a force off the edge in his second season on campus en route to earning consensus All-Big Ten honors. The 6-6, 240-pound junior ranked third in the Big Ten in sacks (7.0) and also had 8.5 tackles for loss. Gregory is a true difference-maker.
|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.