Nebraska concludes its season against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Here are some storylines and predictions for the Cornhuskers ahead of that contest.
There was a point when Nebraska became a regular in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings. It’s quite obvious the committee – and most everyone else – got a bit ahead of themselves.
Yet despite dropping three of their last five games – including blowouts at the hands of Ohio State and Iowa – the Cornhuskers finished 9-3 and bounced back nicely from a 6-7 campaign in coach Mike Riley’s first season.
The Music City Bowl isn’t exactly the CFP, but it marks Nebraska’s ninth consecutive trip to a bowl game. It’ll be facing another team that once was considered a contender for a major bowl game in Tennessee, which fell off following a 5-0 start.
Here are five storylines and predictions for the Huskers ahead of the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
Tommy Armstrong will play
The senior quarterback has dealt with his share of injuries this season. He was taken off the field in an ambulance following a hard hit against Ohio State, then sat out a win over Maryland on Nov. 19 because of a hamstring issue. After backup Ryker Fyfe broke his wrist while filling in, Armstrong struggled in a 40-10 loss to Iowa that ended Nebraska’s regular season unceremoniously, and he’s yet to participate in bowl-game practices because of the same hamstring injury.
But there’s still time for Armstrong to heal, and it wouldn’t be like Armstrong to sit out his final collegiate game because of a lingering injury. Armstrong won’t be kept off the field, and he’ll at least give it a go.
Mike Riley could really use this win
It’s no secret that Nebraska fans weren’t exactly doing back flips when Riley arrived in Lincoln. The hire seemed bland and a bit of a reach given that Riley won 10 games only once in 12 seasons at Oregon State. How could that be good enough when Bo Pelini was fired despite winning at least nine games in each of his seven seasons with the Huskers?
Riley’s 5-7 team got a bid to the Foster Farms Bowl last year because of a great APR rating and wound up upsetting UCLA, but a victory over Tennessee this season would go even further in convincing the Husker faithful that he’s the right man for the job.
Terrell Newby needs to have a big game
No matter how you look at, Armstrong is going to be hurting. Hamstring injuries nag for quite some time, and he’s not going to be fully healthy. That means Nebraska will need to be successful in the running game despite Tennessee keying in on the backfield. Newby had 98 yards and three touchdowns against Maryland before being held to 39 yards on 10 carries against Iowa. He’ll need a performance like he had against the Terps if the Huskers want to have any chance of beating the Vols.
Nathan Gerry’s ineligibility will hurt
Gerry has NFL talent, and the Music City Bowl would’ve been another opportunity to impress scouts. Now, he won’t get another chance until the Senior Bowl. Gerry and teammate Boaz Joseph have been declared academically ineligible against Tennessee, and that will be a huge loss for the Huskers’ secondary. Gerry picked off four passes this season and is solid coming up from the safety spot against the run. A standout effort in Nashville could’ve helped him move up some teams’ draft boards.
Quantity, not quality
Good on Nebraska for winning nine games, but the fact of the matter is that beating an 8-4, underachieving Tennessee team would be the Huskers’ best victory of the season. Sure, Oregon was ranked No. 22 when it lost in Lincoln, but it went on to finish 4-8 before coach Mark Helfrich got fired. As of now, Nebraska’s best win is a home victory over Wyoming.