Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 18, 2016

Mike Riley?s debut didn?t go smoothly. It seemed each week, the Cornhuskers found a confounding way to lose a game. At least the Huskers finished on an up note, going 3-1 in their last four games with a bowl win vs. UCLA in an otherwise vexing 6-7 season.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart's players to replace posts ]

But prospects look good in 2016. The Huskers welcome back lots of talent, including QB Tommy Armstrong, RB Terrell Newby, WR Jordan Westerkamp and WR De?Mornay Pierson-El on offense and CB Josh Kalu, LB Dedrick Young, LB Michael Rose-Ivey and S Nate Gerry on defense. P Sam Foltz and K Drew Brown are back, too. That is a nice nucleus to work with.

Nebraska lost some key players, however, including the standout Vincent Valentine (left early), RB Imani Cross, G Chongo Kondolo and CBs Daniel Davie and Jonathan Rose.

Here are the five most important Huskers to replace from 2015.

S Byerson Cockrell. He excelled in run support for Nebraska, ranking second on the team in tackles with 70 last season. He also broke up six passes and had four TFLs.

DT Maliek Collins. Along with the aforementioned Vincent Valentine, the big fella was a force in the middle who also could get a push as a pass rusher. Alas, he has opted to turn pro. Collins finished 2015 with 29 tackles, seven TFLs and 2.5 sacks to help Nebraska have the second-best rush defense in the Big Ten (109.8 ypg). Collins was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten choice.

FB Andy Janovich. Not many teams use a fullback. But Nebraska does. And Janovich is a sledgehammer who helped fuel a strong rushing game with his lead blocks. He also was effective when asked to tote the rock, running 42 times for 265 yards and three TDs, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

OT Alex Lewis. He manned the key left tackle spot, playing with an aggressive edge. Lewis began his career at Colorado before transferring to NU, helping the Cornhuskers average 180 yards rushing this past season. Lewis was second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and third-team by the media.

C Ryne Reeves. The quarterback of the line, Reeves made all the calls and directed traffic up front for a Nebraska offense that was No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (32.7 ppg) and No. 2 overall (446.9 ypg).