With Shawn Eichorst finally pulling the plug on what seemed to be a brutal relationship between himself and Bo Pelini, a new era was going to be had for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2015. That era was surprisingly led by Oregon State stalwart Mike Riley, and with the surprise hire came much scrutiny.
How did the first season of the Mike Riley era play out?
As if there would be any doubt about this one…(ok, there could be some real debate). For me, watching Nebraska take apart UCLA in the Foster Farms bowl was about as surprising a bowl game result as there was in all of college football in 2015.
UCLA came in a heavy favorite (-6.5) and rightfully so, having actually earned a bowl berth the old-fashioned way — finishing at or above .500. However, one wouldn’t have known the Huskers were the team who got in on a technicality based on what took place in the game.
With the Bruins up 21-7 in the second quarter, the Huskers put things in high gear and ripped of 30 unanswered points by early on in the fourth quarter. Most impressively, it was all done on the ground for the Huskers.
Nebraska poured on 326 yards of rushing offense on 62 attempts, with Tommy Armstrong going for 250 total yards and two total touchdowns to no interceptions.
It was as old-school Huskers as many have seen in over a decade…and most importantly…it worked.
After nine-win seasons became the norm under Bo Pelini, the transition season to the Mike Riley era was rough. So rough that the Huskers finished the regular season with a losing record (5-7) overall and in conference play (3-5).
That’s not exactly how Eichorst and those who wanted Pelini out believed things were going to go in Lincoln. Alas, that’s exactly how things went and plenty in the fanbase were already polarized over Riley’s hire as head coach.
How is this just the bad and not the ugly of the 2015 season? A win over eventual Big Ten champion Michigan State certainly helped, and winning the bowl game they had no business playing in gave an added boost to a bad season by any standard at Nebraska.
This is more about where this team actually stood versus anything that really happened on the field in 2015. Perhaps the ugliest part of the season for many fans was having to face the reality that a once stocked program was having major roster issues.
Pelini may have won nine games every season he was in place, but given all the roster losses and the off-field issues that led to further losses the Riley era was put in an awkward position from the get-go.
Offensive line depth was brutal, running back was young and not good, the defensive line had all sorts of issues and wide receiver had plenty of depth concerns without the loss of De’Mornay Pierson-El to a season-ending knee injury in spring.
These were all things that were going to happen regardless of whom was heading up the ship in 2015, and it was a harsh reality check as to exactly where the program was in 2015. The days of simply reloading were over, and last season proved that in very ugly fashion.
What It All Means for 2016
If there was a ray of hope for a program and fanbase that had to face up to some harsh realities in 2015, it was what took place in prep for the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA. That’s because Mike Riley finally figured out what worked best for his offense and meshed his ideas to his personnel for maximum results.
Heading in to 2016, Riley has a blueprint that can win with senior Tommy Armstrong at quarterback. After seeing all of 2015’s regular season play out, that has to give plenty of hope…that and a very good recruiting effort for his first time out in Lincoln, Neb.
As long as this team learns from the transition and trends itself upwards in 2016, the fans are likely to back off Riley and Eichorst a bit while allowing time for the program to rebuild on the depth chart as well.