Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers Host Fresno State
All of the excitement and anticipation of the new season will be tempered with tremendous sadness as Husker nation pauses to remember Sam Foltz, Nebraska's senior punter and captain, who was killed in car accident in July.
The team plans to honor Foltz by naming an honorary captain in his name before each game, and head coach Mike Riley says the punting unit will honor Foltz when they take the field for the first time Saturday.
Another captain, Sioux Falls (Washington high school) native Nate Gerry, is entering his senior season in the Cornhuskers defensive backfield, but he will miss the Fresno State game while he serves a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Wide receiver Brandon Reilly will also sit out because of a suspension.
Gerry's absence, coupled with an injury to Antonio Reed, means Nebraska will be playing the game without either of their starting safeties. That's a huge area of concern for a group that ranked 121st in the nation against the pass last season.
The defensive line is inexperienced, but the coaching staff is hoping talented youngsters like Carlos and Khalil Davis, Mick Stoltenberg, and Peyton Newell will have breakthrough seasons.
The linebackers are the most reliable bunch of the blackshirt defense with five veterans (Michael Rose-Ivey, Dedrick Young, Marcus Newby, Chris Weber, and Josh Banderas) competing for the three starting spots.
Offensively, the Huskers attack is once again in the hands of Tommy Armstrong Jr., now a senior. Armstrong proved himself worthy of the role last season, but did struggle with costly turnovers and poor clock management at times. Some are still questioning his teammates confidence in him, as he was noticeably left off the list of player-selected captains for this season.
He'll be handing off to a pair of familiar faces in 2016, running backs Terrell Newby (765, 6 TDs last season) and Devine Ozigbo (209 yards, TD last season). True freshman Tre Bryant is expected to make an immediate impact running the ball and returning kicks in 2016.
Nebraska has a host of veterans returning at wide receiver - seniors Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore, junior De'Mornay Pierson-El, and sophomore Stanley Morgan, hauled in a combined 17 touchdowns in 2015. Pierson-El's health will be watched closely, after a pair of injuries limited him to just five games last season.
On the offensive line, the Huskers will be going with a trio of first-time starters after injuries to Jerald Foster and Corey Whitaker. Nebraska's success in moving the football will greatly depend on that unit's ability to gel quickly.
Fresno State, out of the Mountain West Conference, is in full rebuilding mode after winning just three games last season. The Bulldogs have six new assistant coaches, including new offensive and defensive coordinators.
Offensively, FSU was 121st in the nation last year, gave up 38 points per game on defense, and allowed five kick returns for touchdowns on special teams.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil has talent, but played in just two games last season before going down with a injury. Nebraska is hoping to apply consistent pressure to try and rattle the youngster.
The one area the Bulldogs have depth is at wide receiver. Jamire Jordan led the group with 540 yards and five touchdowns last season.
The leader of the Fresno defense is middle linebacker Jeff Camilli, who had 76 tackles and two interceptions in 2015.
Kickoff in Lincoln is 7:00 PM, Saturday.
You can follow the Huskers live, all season long on ESPN 99.1.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the match-up with the Bulldogs: