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Interviews with the Enemy: A Q&A with Corn Nation

The staff of SB Nation's Corn Nation stops by to talk about the Cornhuskers.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Welcome to Lincoln, Mike Riley! Are the Cornhuskers going to go 9/10-4 this year again?

Brian Towle: Well, good lord willing, we hope so. It's not so much that 9-4 is a bad thing, as most people would bronze your statue if you did that in places like, say, Lawrence or West Lafayette. The thing is, when you're 8-1 heading into your final 3 games that you're either even or favored in, and you need a miracle comeback against Iowa to stave off the 0-fer, that's the problem.

Nebraska's best victory last year was a tossup: either Miami or Rutgers. It should be better under Mike Riley, especially when you don't have to worry about a hot microphone.

Jon Johnston: Hell no! We're going 11-2 and breaking the four losses a year curse!

Ranchbabe: I want to agree with Jon. Riley has hit all the right notes so far. However, we still do not have enough linebackers. We do not have accurate passing. We have to replace Ameer Abdullah in a year when the run game needs to cover up deficiencies in the newfangled "forward pass" thing (oh wait, that is every year - nevermind). I just have to assume that there will be a couple bumps in the road somewhere and we end up in that 3-4 loss purgatory to which we have grown accustomed. (Ed Note: How does one reach this purgatory? TELL US NOW!!)

Andy: They very well could, but I personally think anything worse than 11-2 will be a disappointment. How's that for pressure, new staff?

This is not a belief that Riley & Co. will suddenly work miracles. Rather it's our schedule. To put it kindly, it's dog poo. Boise St. level. Turd Ferguson. It's honestly the kind of schedule that allows you to trot Tommy Armstrong out at QB for another year and talk about going 11-2.

To put it simply (via Phil Steele's rankings), Mich St. is #7, Wisconsin is #23 and that's it for Top 25 regular season opponents. The next toughest challenge comes from Miami at #40 and just rolls farther down the garbage chute from there. So, yeah, if the Huskers upset no one and win the games they should, then 10-2. Northern Iowa might play a tougher slate.

Husker Mike: I'm going on record with 7-5. BYU is potentially a really bad matchup for the Huskers, depending on who's not suspended for BYU and the health of Taysom Hill. That could start the season on the wrong foot.

2. What kind of different looks does Riley give Wisconsin as West favorites compared to Bo Pelini?

BT: The first thing we're looking for is an adjustment to the same 2-3 plays that gave Melvin Gordon almost a quarter mile in rushing before the 4th quarter starts, that's a good start there.

Outside that, Riley has a jist of both sides of the ball, especially what he wants at QB. His OC Danny Langsdorf improved Eli Manning last season, and is now the QB coach. It's feast or famine this year for Armstrong, who has done well enough to win but needs to take the next step to help this team take the next step. It was a common theme for the QB to hold back Nebraska on Offense during Bo's tenure, and now it's going to be something where if Armstrong can't get it done, there will be a change.

Jon: Gone will be the angry glares and screaming at players on the sideline. The new look on the field will be one of "look, there's a linebacker and safety in position to make a tackle" instead of trying to figure out what read they were supposed to make as a guy with the ball runs right by them.

Ranchbabe: By "look" do you mean the team actually knows what play they are running more than 2.3 seconds before the play clock expires instead of "looking" at the sideline? No more defensive timeouts with the MLB "looking" at the defensive coordinator?

Supposedly, Banker's defense is nearly the polar opposite of Pelini's in terms of complexity and ball flow. Pelini tried to channel the ball toward the middle of the field and if he had the players who could make the right read, then it was game over (see, 2009 and 2010 Blackshirts). Without NFL-level talent (high-round talent)....well....results may vary.

Banker (from reports of more knowledgeable people than me) tries to cut off the middle of the field and make the ball move toward the sideline. Personally, I am nervous about the reports out of Corvallis from those unhappy with his defenses. At this point, "different" is still "better" and I am content to see what this change in defensive philosophy holds. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

Andy: It'll probably take Coach Riley at least 5 years before a hot mike catches him telling the fans to go f**k them selves. Take the over.

Husker Mike: One look that Riley will try is three linebackers.  Pelini architected his defense to defend the spread with nickel and dime looks, and it required perfection to stop a team like Wisconsin.  And it was anything but the last two times.  Problem is, because Pelini didn't use linebackers as much, he didn't have as many on his roster, and that's not something that Riley and new defensive coordinator Mark Banker can fix quickly.

3. The Nebraska game last season is where it all started to come undone for both teams last season, especially with key injuries to Ameer Abdullah and Danny Anthrop. With Abdullah gone and Anthrop back, is this a dangerous game for Nebraska?

BT: It can be for sure, but I think the one thing that helps Nebraska with Anthrop is that the Defensive Line is the big time strength for the D. Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are the anchors on the inside, and Greg McMullen is the man that got better as everyone thought about Randy Gregory last year. The Linebacking crew, however, is beyond the weakest part of the team. David Santos left the program, leaving Josh Banderas with the most experience in the group. There's young talent for sure, and it should get better as the year goes on. However, early on there will be some growing pains.

Jon: NO.

I've been to the last two games at Madison to watch my team get their asses kicked. I plan on attending this year's game at Purdue. I expect an ass-kicking again this time, but my team will win. I will it so.

Ranchbabe: Purdue really showed signs of being a competent football team at times last year. If "that" team shows up, they can make any game dangerous. A major Achilles heel for Nebraska the past few years has been getting out-coached (or more accurately, out-adjusted). Riley and his staff have given every indication that they understand how to adjust and adapt. I don't think Riley will overlook a team like Purdue - which tended to be a problem with the Pelini staff. So yes, it could be a dangerous game but you'll probably be facing a better-prepared Husker team than in the past (oh please, let that be the case!)

Andy: If - and this is a big "if" - Coach Hazell keeps things rolling in the direction that they are...well... you could be a .500 team in a year or two. But the fact is that with our best back out and Tommy doing Tommy things for the 2nd straight year, the Huskers still cruised by 21. And that was at your place. Purdue's players certainly are better coached and more fundamentally sound than in years past, but they still lag behind in talent. I don't see the upset happening this year.

Husker Mike: Not unless the Riley's transition brings the Big Red into West Lafayette with a bunch of transmission problems.

4. Who is the next great Nebraska running back with Abdullah gone?

BT: Kinda depends on whom you ask. Most folks would like to hope it's Imani Cross, but the thought is that he's not got the body type to be an every down back. Others hope it's Terrell Newby, the slasher that got on the field last year. Trouble is with Newby is that he's been known to have issues holding onto the ball.

My bet is one of two people. Adam Taylor was a Texas 5A Player of the Year at RB for Katy HS in the Houston area, and ran for 200 plus yards with 8-9 in the box. He's lost last year due to injury, so there's a concern there. However, if he stays on the field, he could be a monster. The other one is Mikale Wilbon, the RB that Nebraska folks get reminded of Ameer the most. He's young but at the same time has that toolbox that Abdullah had with the complete game.

Jon: I doubt we found that out this next season as we go with the "running back by committee" approach. I'm with Brian in that it will be a guy that we haven't seen yet because those are the best players of all time.

Ranchbabe: I agree with Brian's assessment overall. We have a classic "thunder and lightning" combo in Cross and Newby and have similar bodies in the stable should either falter. I am going to go with an unconventional answer and say that sophomore De'Mornay Pierson-El might rack up a decent rushing total. Why? He is perfectly suited for the Riley jet sweep and I still do not trust our QB accuracy. How sweet would it be to have the dreaded jet sweep (hullo Melvin...) become the weapon of choice for the Huskers?

Andy: Maybe Mikale Wilbon? If he gets a chance to show a few flashes like Abdullah did as a freshman, more might be learned, but at this moment there's not really an eye-popper on campus. However, Ameer didn't really start pulling asses out of seats till he'd been here a couple of years and three of these guys - Newby, Taylor and Wilbon - were very highly touted coming out high school so anything's possible and a breakout year from any of them wouldn't shock me.

Husker Mike: This one's really hard for me to answer. I don't believe it'll be Terrell Newby, and really doubt it's Imani Cross.  It could be Adam Taylor, but frankly, I'm worried the "next great Nebraska running back" is still in high school.

5. Has the defense improved and what are the season expectations for the Cornhuskers?

BT: As stated above, the LB crew will be the ones who will determine this team's success. There has been some hand wringing with how DC Mark Banker's groups did in Corvallis when he was with Riley there, and it's justified.

However, one could and should argue that this is not only a better roster than he's had at Oregon State, he's got a good Secondary coach in Brian Stewart, who should be able to help as a former DC in both the college and NFL levels. It should be better as the year goes on, but the beginning of the year will be the big question mark.

Jon: Consider this - in Bo Pelini's seventh season we went into the last three games of last seasons against teams against which we could run a traditional/base 4-3, but we didn't have three linebackers on which we could depend. Here's Pelini, defensive mastermind, and either he couldn't recruit or couldn't coach or his defense was too complex or a combination of all three.

We haven't a clue as to what to expect, really. We have some good players, probably enough for a nine-win team, but as to how they'll perform - who knows? I'm just gonna drink some koolaid and hope for the best (ask me again in October).

I expect Nebraska to challenge for the Big Ten West and get to a quality bowl game in their first year under our new wonderful head coach Mike Riley.

Ranchbabe: Yes and win every game. Those are always the expectations of the Nebraska fan base. Have you not figured that out yet? We have been in this conference of yours for a few years now....

Defensive improvement will hinge on linebackers....either the "proven" guys not getting hurt and picking up the Banker defense quickly. Alternatively we may need a true freshman to make an impact immediately. No biggie. Sigh.

The DL and secondary seem to be solid but there are some depth concerns on the line. The secondary has not been a concern for several years. For his many faults, Pelini knew how to coach DB's. Can this current staff use their plethora of "good, not great" (with the exception of Nate Gerry) defensive backs? Can they keep the D-line healthy? If yes, there will likely be defensive improvement, mostly because the LB play cannot get worse. It can't. Do not tell me otherwise.

Andy: New staff, new philosophy, we'll find out, won't we? OK, my 30 second rundown:

DE - Paper thin, lacking experience and athleticism. Our weakest spot barring a surprise or two.

LB - From loaded to lacking depth in under 2 years but if Rose comes back full speed, he'll be one of the B1G's best

DB's - Should be a strength and Gerry is 1st Team All B1G material

DT - Ohio St. might disagree but Collins and VV might be the best combo in the conference. Our strongest position.

Husker Mike: I think Andy said it best.  Nebraska's secondary will be very good, and the interior defensive line will be great.  But the defensive ends and linebackers will be a concern.

6. Do you have a prediction for this game?

Jon: Nebraska wins 345-3. We're making up the rest of this, why not this one too? WoohoOoO!!!

When you look at the overall experience of Riley's staff versus Pelini's you will be overwhelmed by Riley or underwhelmed by Pelini. If Pelini was capable of winning nine games a season with a bunch of his buddies that were basically learning on the job (and a few of which haven't even found coaching jobs to this date), then Riley should be capable of that and more. Perhaps not in year one, but down the road.

I drink a lot.

Ranchbabe: This seems way too early to predict. I am going with the rainbows and unicorns version of the new coach, new scheme, story. Huskers by 17.