Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 11, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. — New Nebraska coach Mike Riley gets it. It?s all about the football at Nebraska. Always has been, and it always will be. That?s why he?s here.

[ MORE: Watch replay of Nebraska spring game on BTN2Go ]

He wasn?t going to leave Oregon State to coach at another school like ? Oregon State. He had chances to do that. Nope, Riley was only gonna leave his comfortable cocoon in Corvallis for the big-time.

Welcome to the big time, Mike.

It?s ALWAYS about the football in Nebraska. And that?s what makes this place a college football holy land. The proof was in the 76,881 fans perched in their Saturday house of worship. This is their state. This is their football team. They mark time by what happens between those white lines, for crying out loud. The final score didn't really matter (It was Red 24, White 15, if you need to know.) What did matter: What?s next? They certainly know and love their past.

Glorious names dot the north façade of the end zone: Trev Alberts, Grant Wistrom, Dave Rimington, Bob Brown, Dean Steinkuhler et al.

[ MORE: Check out all of the top Nebraska spring game highlights ]

And then there are the moments that flash on the Jumbotron before the game. The Tommie Frazier run vs. Florida ? the Mike Stuntz-to-Eric Crouch pass vs. Oklahoma ? the Johnny Rodgers punt return vs. OU ? Want more?

340 sellouts in a row.

51 bowls.

3 Heisman winners.

43 conference titles.

5 national championships.

So, ya, football is kind of a big deal.

[ MORE: Nebraska spring game draws 76,881 fans ]

That is why there was no need for Riley to make a circus sideshow of his first spring game. Good ol? fashioned blocking and tackle sufficed on this day. Substance over style.

The state came out wanting a peek at what the Riley era had in store. He was a bit of a curious hire. Some may call it an ?out of the box? hire. Whatever. It?s an intriguing gambit by A.D Shawn Eichorst, who's trying to get this program over the championship hump (no league titles since 1999) and make it a consistently elite team. Nine-win seasons are OK at some places. Even here.

But, at some point, titles must be won. You can only make living off of beating who you are supposed to beat for so long. (Yes, I?m looking at you, Bo Pelini.)

To this point, Riley has been the anti-Pelini in most every respect. Whereas Pelini met the world with a sneer and clinched fist, Riley meets it with the chummy charm of an insurance man-with a warm hand extended.

?How ya doing?

Riley is the neighbor who loans you his leaf blower. He?s the guy who lets you cut in front of him at the local Hyvee because he has more items than you. And you know he?d buy Girl Scout cookies from your daughter.

But winning the personality game is one thing. Can Riley feed this insatiable beast with the big victories and championships it craves?

Questions dogged Riley?s first team throughout the spring. Among the chief concerns have been the offensive line and linebackers. And who was going to replace the pass-rushing push of Randy Gregory?

The line has a sure thing in senior left offensive tackle Alex Lewis. He?s a lynchpin, a cornerstone. And senior Chongo Kondolo is a legit guard. After that? Let?s just say it?s a work in progress.

The linebacking corps lacks numbers at this point. There is some semblance of a foundation with Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey.

[ MORE: Video: This GoPro footage is incredible ]

As for replacing Gregory ? forget it. He can?t be replaced by one person. Junior Greg McMullen? Senior Jack Gangwish? No and no. Redshirt freshman Freedom Akinmoladun looks the part at 6-4, 255. Keep an eye on him. In the meantime, Nebraska could have to rely on blitzing to get pressure.

And then there?s the quarterback spot. Tommy Armstrong is the incumbent. This is his team ? for now. But is the junior a fit in this new ?pro-style? offense? Armstrong has flashed potential, but he needs to improve a completion percentage that never has been over 53. It?s about being efficient, hitting the open receiver, limiting turnovers and taking shots down field. He hit 6-of-12 passes for 77 yards and a TD today.

The problem for the Huskers: If Armstrong isn?t the man, who is? AJ Bush was the headline maker in practices leading up to his game, but the redshirt freshman from Georgia was spotty on this afternoon (12-of-22 with two picks). Johnny Stanton, Ryker Fyfe and Zack Darlington also are in the mix, but a lack of experience gnaws each-like Bush.

None of those pressing queries was answered on this day. No worries. There is plenty of time between now and the season opener on Sept. 5, when BYU comes to Lincoln for one of the most interesting lid-lifters of the season. Until then, this merry honeymoon will continue between Riley-who addressed the crowd today at halftime-and the smitten Husker Nation.

And should things get off to a rough start, don?t expect Riley to change his demeanor or who he is. The 61-year-old is more than comfortable in his own skin. This is a guy who believes in what he?s doing, building a resume that has seen him zig and zag as a head coach from the college ranks, to the CFL, to the WLAF-yes, the World League of American Football–and to the NFL.

Also know this about Riley: He?s not a ?scheme? coach. He doesn?t boast about how he has all the answers in a four-inch thick playbook. Instead, Riley is a coach who fits what his schemes do to the personnel he has on hand.

Even more vital to Riley?s success is his ability to deal with people ? alums, fans, faculty, media, players, parents, assistants. That?s the biggest key to success for anyone in life. It?s not what you know-it?s how you treat people and manage them.

Riley told me earlier this week (read my Q&A) that he wants to build a community of inclusion. The 115th guy on the roster is as valued as the 1st guy. It?s something he learned while playing for Bear Bryant at Alabama. Riley was one of those 115th guys. He never forgot it.

This is everyone?s team, everyone?s program. Riley gets it. And everyone can come along for the ride.

Where will it take Nebraska? It?s gonna be fun to find out.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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