New-look Nebraska is out to atone for awful finish in 2016 | PostIndependent.com
Eric Olson
Associated Press

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New-look Nebraska is out to atone for awful finish in 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. — Unpleasant as it is to look back, Nebraska's Mick Stoltenberg isn't ready to put the second half of the 2016 season in the rearview mirror quite yet.

"Some of the things that happened last season stick with you, and it's important to think about that," the junior defensive lineman said. "We didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish last season. We've got everything in our head from last season. We're going to push it behind us here in the fall, but it's something that's motivating."

Nebraska was ranked as high as No. 7 in late October following a 7-0 start, but losses in four of the last six games left the Huskers tied for second in the Big Ten West, 9-4 overall and out of the final Top 25 for the fourth straight year. Losses of 62-3 at Ohio State and 40-10 at Iowa were especially troubling to Stoltenberg and his teammates, and helped cost defensive coordinator Mark Banker his job.

Former Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco is the new defensive coordinator and, at $825,000 this year, is the highest-paid assistant ever at Nebraska. Diaco dumped the 4-3 base alignment and installed his 3-4. Stoltenberg, who moved from end to nose tackle, is among the players that switched positions.

Tulane transfer Tanner Lee won the quarterback's job in the spring and will take over for four-year starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Huskers return experience at running back and on the offensive line but must replace three of the top four receivers.

"The fact we don't have a quarterback that has played a down for Nebraska yet, I don't know how that narrative sounds in general," coach Mike Riley said. "But that's where we are. I do have a lot of faith and am very interested in what this is going to look like going forward."

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Things to know as Riley enters his third season in Lincoln:

KEY GAMES

Lee's first road test comes in Week 2 against Oregon on Sept. 9. West Division favorite Wisconsin, which has won four straight over the Huskers, visits on Oct. 7. Border rival Iowa, which has won two straight in the series, comes to Lincoln on Nov. 24.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER

Lee is a better fit for the pro-style offense Riley wants to run. Lee had mediocre numbers in two seasons with the Green Wave, but the belief is that the better talent surrounding him at Nebraska will allow him to blossom.

BUDDING STAR

Joshua Kalu, who started at cornerback the last two seasons, moved to safety in the spring and already has received eyebrow-raising praise from Diaco.

"He would be a very, very good corner, maybe even a great corner," Diaco said. "But in my mind there's no doubt: he is and/or will be one of the best safeties in the country, if not the very best safety in the country."

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Freshman wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey, a big playmaker for Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High, will be given an opportunity to play a prominent role. His work in preseason practices has drawn positive reviews.

"He is what we thought he was in terms of talent," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said.

PREDICTION

With a new QB and defensive system, this is a team with lots of question marks. The Huskers probably will be underdogs in four games, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them backslide to 8-4 or 7-5 in the regular season.

SEASON OPENER

Arkansas State, Sept. 2, in Lincoln. The Huskers can't sleep on the Red Wolves. The two-time defending Sun Belt Conference champions beat UCF in the Cure Bowl, and 22 of coach Blake Anderson's 24 wins the last three years have been by double digits.