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Minnesota Football: Opponent Preview #11 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last year's win over the Huskers was huge? Can Minnesota do it two years in a row?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

We are getting closer and closer to the start of the 2014 Gopher Football season! We here at The Daily Gopher will continue our quick previews of the Gophers opponents. We have reached the final two games of the season.  The games don't get any easier for the Gophers.  Next up is the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Name: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Conference: Big Ten (West Division)
Notable Alumni: Warren Buffett, Chuck Hagel, Roger Craig, Rulon Gardner, Willa Cather, Johnny Carson,
Bill Connelly Preview Link: Here!

Last Season:

Nebraska had a very up and down season in 2013.  They started off with a crushing loss to UCLA in their third game and appeared to be on a run to the top of the Big Ten as they were 5-1 heading into their game against the Gophers as TCF Bank Stadium.  Then we all know what happened next.  They looked like they were on their way to losing to Northwestern the next week as well...and then this happened:

They would still lose Big Ten games to Michigan State and rival Iowa, but pulled out a win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl to make it now six consecutive seasons where the Huskers have lost four, and only four games.  Their offense ended the season 48th in the nation, and their defense finished 51st.  On the good side of average, but not good enough for Husker fans.

Key Losses:

Nebraska had three quarterbacks that almost all played an equal amount in 2013, and of the three, two will not return.  Taylor Martinez blew up a a freshman starter for the Huskers, but never really lived up to the hype that was assigned to him after that season.  He suffered through an injury plagued season last year and ended up throwing for only 667 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Ron Kellogg III also departs after throwing for 919 yards and six touchdowns.  On the receiving end, the Husker's leading receiver a year ago, Quincy Enunwa is now in the NFL after catching 51 passes for 753 yards in 2013.  The Cornhuskers will also need to deal with the loss of four of their five starting linemen in 2013, along with their second string right guard.  They will be losing 135 career starts between the five, including 41 alone from right tackle Jeremiah Sirles.

Defensively, the Cornhuskers will be missing a majority of their defensive line.  Jason Ankrah, Avery Moss and Thad Randle all have left, leaving just one starter left on the D-line. In the secondary, the Huskers lose both starting corners and a safety.  The biggest loss is corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste who had four interceptions and 12 pass breakups in 2013.  Ciante Evans also had four interceptions a the other cornerback spot for Nebraska. Kicker Pat Smith also departs after just missing two PATs and one field goal a season ago.

Key Returners:

Offensively, Nebraska will still have one quarterback with experience left, but he is only a sophomore.  Tommy Armstrong, Jr threw for 966 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago, but also had eight interceptions and only completed 52% of his passes. He needs to improve his consistency for Nebraska to rely upon him.  Most Husker fans are hoping they won't need to however, as they will want to rely on Ameer Abdulah.  The senior running back will be one of,  if not the Big Ten's best back, and comes off of a great season in 2013 where he rushed for 1690 yards and nine touchdowns.  He also caught 26 passes for 232 yards.  Wide receiver Kenny Bell is also a big returner for Nebraska. He caught  52 passes for 577 yards in 2013.  He also was the Big Ten leading kick returner in 2013, averaging 26.5 yards a return, and had one he took all the way back.  Left guard Jake Cotton is the only starter returning on the offensive line, however the line will still be experienced as four potential starters this season appear to be seniors.

Bill C's Wisdom and Statistical Wizardy

Defensively, the Cornhuskers will be led by Randy Gregory.  The defensive end had 16 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 2013, and is a strong candidate for the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year.  He also is receiving some preseason All-American recognition.  All three starting linebackers were set to return for Nebraska until sophomore middle backer Micheal Rose injured his knee in a non-contact situation and will miss the season. David Santos and Zaire Anderson will be relied upon to lift more of the load now.  Strong safety Corey Cooper is the lone starter back in the secondary, after leading Nebraska in tackles in 2013 with 71.5.

Question Marks??

The first question mark will be if Armstrong Jr. can pick up the slack at quarterback and become a viable consistent Big Ten player.  If not, Abdulah will be seeing a lot of eight man fronts, and the Husker offense may suffer.

Secondly, will Abdulah be able to have the success he had last season with an almost completely new offensive line?  Four new players will make early season adjustments necessary, and the hope is they can figure it out before the Huskers big game against Miami on September 20th.

Thirdly, will this finally be the season that Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers break out of the four loss funk?  Its been six years in a row, and many in the media are prediction Nebraska will take a step forward and win the Big Ten West this season. They will not be able to do that with four losses.  Can they rise above, or will they lose games they should not once again.

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers got a huge win against Nebraska last season, and would love to string two in a row together.  However, the game gets much tougher in Memorial Stadium rather than at TCF.  Nebraska will have some weaknesses that the Gophers can look to exploit.  I only wish this game was earlier in the schedule,because I feel Nebraska will get things figured out by the end of the year, while they may struggle early in trying to get new players to fit into holes left by departing players.  Gregory will be a beast on the pass rush, but if he can be neutralized the Husker defense has some holes up the middle and in the secondary.  The advantage for Nebraska is many holes will be plugged with juniors and seniors who have been around for a while, not freshmen and sophomores.  The Gophers can win, they just need to have a great game.  Unfortunately after last year, I don't think Nebraska will be sleeping on the Gophers.

Final Analysis:

This will hopefully be a good game.  But once again as we get into the late games on the schedule, it is tough to predict.  There are ways Minnesota can win this game, but there are also ways they can lose big.  I would love to give Minnesota this win, but I need to see them win consistently on the road before I can say with confidence they can go into Memorial Stadium and control the game.  It will be close, but until the Gophers can prove they belong with the big boys, I have to give Nebraska the edge.  Huskers win 27-21.