Nebraska spring preview: Our early look at the Huskers in 2015

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska spring preview: Our early look at the Huskers in 2015

Mike Riley takes over a program in search of its first conference championship since Frank Solich guided Nebraska to the Big 12 title in 1999—back when Bill Clinton was president. Can Riley get the Huskers over the hump?

Bo Pelini won at least nine games in each of his seven seasons, but he flopped in big games and never delivered on big expectations—or got over that dreaded hump. Riley—a fine coach and person–needs to push this team from good to great. And he’ll have a lot of talent to work with.

Here are three key areas that must be addressed this spring. Looking for the other teams we’ve previewed so far? We’ve got more over here.

1. Adapt to the new staff. After seven seasons, surly Bo Pelini and his angry angst are out in Lincoln. Nebraska raised some eyebrows by tabbing Oregon State’s Mike Riley to take over. Riley enjoyed modest success in Corvallis, Ore., working within a program that lacked the requisite bells and whistles to win consistently on a high level. His new gig has all of that—and then some. Riley brings a staff familiar with his style, which should help smooth the transition. But the players will have a learning curve, adapting to new demands, personalities and schemes. Everyone needs to get up to speed quickly.

2. Sift through the running backs. Ameer Abdullah and his wondrous talents are gone. He put together his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season in 2014, a first in the history of the Nebraska program. He finished his career with 4,588 career rushing yards, trailing only Mike Rozier’s school record of 4,780 career rushing yards. But the staff has some nice options in Imani Cross, Terrell Newby, Adam Taylor and Mikale Wilbon.

3. Torque the offensive line. The unit lost three starters on the interior in guards Mike Moudy and Jake Cotton and center Mark Pelini. The new staff can build around stud left tackle Alex Lewis, along with towering (6-8) right tackle Zach Sterup. The development here is especially critical when you consider the Huskers are looking for a feature back with Ameer Abdullah gone and No. 1 wideout with Kenny Bell departed.

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NEBRASKA SPRING INFO
Record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten (lost to USC in Holiday Bowl)
Spring ball starts: March 7
Spring game: April 11
Key players lost: RB Ameer Abdullah; LB Zaire Anderson; WR Kenny Bell; S Corey Cooper; G Jake Cotton; DE Randy Gregory; CB Josh Mitchell; G Mike Moudy; C Mark Pelini; LB Trevor Roach
Key players returning: QB Tommy Armstrong; LB Josh Banderas; K Drew Brown; TE Cethan Carter; DB Byerson Cockrell; DT Maliek Collins; CB Daniel Davie; P Sam Foltz; DE Jack Gangwish; S Nathan Gerry; OT Alex Lewis; DE Greg McMullen; WR Alonzo Moore; WR De’Mornay Pierson-El; LB Michael Rose; LB David Santos; OT Zach Sterup; DT Vincent Valentine; WR Jordan Westerkamp

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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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