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Oregon Ducks vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Sat. Sept. 17, 2016; 3:30pm ET
Where: Lincoln, Neb.; Memorial Stadium (86,047)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 5-1
Last Meeting: Nebraska won, 48-14 (Sept. 26, 1986)
Line: Nebraska -3

Another year and another week and this may be one of the biggest games on the docket in college football. Instead, this one is overshadowed by Oklahoma-Ohio State and Michigan State-Notre Dame matchups to name a few.

Don’t let that fool you though, there may not be a game on the college football slate that is more telling than the Ducks vs. Huskers in Lincoln, Neb. on Saturday afternoon. Both teams are coming off disappointing 2015 seasons and looking to regain some national footing, and both have whooped up on opponents in the first two weeks of the season.

It’s been a resurgence of vintage Oregon and Nebraska offenses that has gotten them here, so in this style clash someone is about to stake their claim as being “back” and someone may be discounted ahead of conference play for either team. No big deal or anything…

 

1 BURNING QUESTION: Who is For Real? 

This game is straight up a litmus test for two teams that have taken on some pretty bad competition to open up the season. It isn’t shocking to see both come in 2-0 after wins against mighty programs like Fresno State, UC-Davis, Virginia and Wyoming over the last two weeks.

Nebraska’s offense has looked good running the ball one week and passing it the next but haven’t faced a team that can throw what Oregon can at them on defense. Oregon has gotten back to its flying ways on offense, but have played two really bad defenses and Nebraska has shown its defense is much improved from a season ago.

This is also a game in which Mike Riley is 100 percent familiar with what to expect, having coached at rival Oregon State before his gig at Nebraska. Will that matter? Will the horrific track record of Pac-12 teams coming to Big Ten country matter?

What will be important coming out of this game is learning which one of these teams may be better in 2016 than any pundit thought. A win for the Huskers and they may be turning some heads outside of Big Ten circles.

 

2 KEY STATS:

— 48.1. That is the offensive S&P+ rating for the Oregon Ducks, 2nd in the nation. Many people were wondering if the era of the Ducks high-flying offense was over, but early on in the season this team has put up the old-school track meet numbers it has been known to do before last season. That is shown not just in the raw stats (1,154 yards of total offense, 48.5 points per game), but in the fact that this team is being extremely efficient with its possessions against some really bad competition. Can that continue against a real team with a real defense?

— +7. That is Nebraska’s turnover margin for the 2016 season. One way to counter Oregon’s efficient offense? Create turnovers. It just so happens that the Huskers are really proficient at that early on this season and its +7 turnover margin is tied for the lead nationally after the first two weeks. It’s a huge turnaround for a team that -12 in the turnover margin department by the end of last season. If it wants to win this game, causing a turnover or two certainly would help.

3 Key Players:

Tommy Armstrong, QB Nebraska: No two ways about it, the Huskers chances in this game go as he does. Either he is on fire in the run game and causing havoc on Oregon’s defense or he has to be efficient with the football through the air. He can’t be stuffed in the run game and have to win this game with his arm alone according to conventional wisdom. If Armstrong can build off a great passing performance last week, the Huskers offense may be just as dangerous as Oregon’s.

Troy Dye, LB Oregon: Attempting to stop the power run game that Nebraska features could pose a big threat to the Ducks defense, but one person who seems up to the task is SAM linebacker Troy Dye, who leads the team with 17 total tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He has to be a tone-setter against Armstrong, Ozigbo and Co. Otherwise this may be a long Saturday afternoon for the Ducks.

Dedrick Young, LB Nebraska: One way to slow down the Oregon offense is to never let the ground game get going. That’s a tough ask against a back like Royce Freeman, but one Huskers player seems wholly up to the task — WILL linebacker Dedrick Young. He is second on the team with 10 total tackles and has two quarterback hurries, but may need to be more active in getting behind the line of scrimmage on run plays. Either way, Young holds the keys to how this game may or may not go for the Huskers defense in his hands. No pressure….none at all.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Oregon Will Win Time of Possession Battle…and not for the usual reasons. Oregon’s offense is known to be faced paced and not so much worried about grinding games out, but I have a feeling a few funky things are going to happen in this one and that will include the Ducks actually winning the time of possession battle. How? Well, I think the Huskers will pull off a few more big plays and turn the Ducks over enough to score some easy points on quick possessions. It all adds up to a Ducks team getting more possessions and more time with the ball.

— Nebraska’s Passing Game Wins It. A lot has been made of the Huskers return to a more old-school ground and pound attack, and it has bene a revelation for most to see. Just don’t sleep on the Huskers passing attack either, as Armstrong has a plethora of options that are just as dangerous as anything it has in the run game. Jordan Westerkamp has been ridiculous early on this season and Alonzo Moore has turned just six receptions in to a ridiculous 201 yards and two touchdowns to start the year. Big plays can come from the Huskers too folks.

— There Will be a Special Teams Touchdown. Both teams possess some serious weapons in the kick and punt return games, while the coverage units have shown a crack or two early on. It adds up to someone breaking loose for a special teams touchdown at some point in what could be a very wild game in Lincoln.

— De’Mornay Pierson-El Breaks Out: This one coincides with the fact that I see some big plays coming out of the Huskers passing game. Two weeks in and there hasn’t been a lot of need for Pierson-El to get going in his comeback attempt. However, the kid gloves come off and he becomes the weapon needed to stifle the Ducks defensive game plan. His speed is dangerous and I fully expect more than just one reception from him in this contest.

*just don’t hold me to any of these (unless I’m right)

5 STAFF PREDICTIONS:

Andy: Nebraska 38-28
Dave: Nebraska 38-34
Phil H.: Oregon 48-42
Philip R.: Oregon 38-35
Zach: Nebraska 45-38

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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