On Saturday, Nebraska and coach Mike Riley will begin a season of redemption.
After a disappointing 6-7 year in 2015, the Huskers are out to prove this season that Riley can right the ship. That the last-second losses and disappointing finishes from a season ago were a mere fluke, and that Nebraska is, in fact, a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
Nebraska will host Fresno State in Lincoln for the second time since 2011, and this time it seems it won’t be as much of a battle as a warmup.
When Nebraska has the ball
Fresno State comes in as 28.5-point underdogs and most of that has to do with the firepower of Nebraska’s offense. It’s been debated all fall camp how exactly the Huskers will drive down the field. How will they use quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s arm? Or his legs? Or who will get more carries, Terrell Newby or Devine Ozigbo? How Nebraska will use De’Mornay Pierson-El?
But the fact of the matter is, in a game like this it kind of doesn’t matter. Because any of it will work against the Bulldogs.
In the 2014 matchup between these two teams, Nebraska put up 55 points. In 2011, the Huskers scored 42.
In this game, don’t be shocked if the score is somewhere around there again. Or if the second team offense is playing midway through the fourth quarter.
When Fresno State has the ball
Fresno State’s starting QB is a redshirt freshman who, in three games last season, was 31-of-56 for 298 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Not staggering numbers, but also not really anything the Bulldogs can really count on. Fresno State is also trying to recover from losing one of their all-team leading rushers, Marteze Waller.
Despite a few questions still looming around the cohesiveness of Nebraska’s defensive line, and the suspension of senior safety Nate Gerry and an injury to sophomore safety Antonio Reed, Nebraska should be just fine.
All week I’ve said the same thing: Manage your expectations for return-man De’Mornay Pierson-El.
After coming off a year of injuries in 2015, the junior will be back returning punts. He seems full speed, but Nebraska fans can’t expect too much of the junior as he gets stronger.
But at the same time, it’s hard not to think Pierson-El could return a punt for a score. After all, his first return touchdown in 2014, the year he was a second-team All American, was against Fresno State.
With a win, Riley will become the 10th active head coach in college football with 100 wins in his career.
More than anything, Riley will worry about keeping his starters from getting hurt, and keeping track of underclassmen who could make a difference in the future. There are no secret schemes for this game other than to win and get out of there before last year’s ghosts try to haunt this season.
If you’re going to be in Memorial Stadium, enjoy the experience because the game could be a snoozer by mid-third quarter. If you’re watching at home, the USC vs. Alabama game kicks off around the same time. I’d suggest keeping an eye on that one.
This is going to be a blowout.
Prediction: Nebraska 47, Fresno State 17
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He’s on Twitter @heady_chris.