Florida Atlantic (0-0) at (22) Nebraska (0-0)
Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 22nd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers will kick off their 2014 season at home on Saturday afternoon as they welcome the Florida Atlantic Owls to Memorial Stadium.
FAU experienced great improvement last season, especially considering its move from the Sun Belt Conference to the more challenging Conference USA. After winning just three games in 2012, the squad doubled their win output in 2013 with a 6-6 record, including a 4-4 mark in the league. It was especially impressive down the stretch, winning four in a row to close out the campaign.
Taking over as head coach for the Owls this season will be Charlie Patridge, a former Arkansas assistant.
Nebraska continued its incredible consistency in Bo Pelini's sixth season as head coach in 2013, as it finished 9-4 (5-3 in the Big Ten) for its sixth straight campaign with nine or more victories.
As strong as the Cornhuskers' season was, it could have been even better. After losing a home bout with nationally-ranked Michigan State on Nov. 16 (41-28), they dropped their regular-season finale also at home to Iowa (38-17). They were able to turn things around in time for the Gator Bowl with a 24-19 triumph over Georgia.
The teams have met up just once before, with Nebraska staking claim to a 49-3 win to open up the 2009 season.
FAU experienced solid success on offense last season with 26.4 ppg and 384.6 ypg thanks to impressive quarterback play from Jaquez Johnson, and the 2013 C- USA Newcomer of the Year hopes to continue his progression this season.
Johnson's passing numbers were modest at best -- he completed only 58.2 percent of his throws for 1,876 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions -- but he brought a dynamic element to the offense thanks to his rushing ability, as he led the team with 772 yards and 10 scores.
Johnson is expected to be the team's top rushing threat once again, but Jay Warren will get a chance to start at running back after picking up 340 yards and two touchdowns on 71 carries a year ago.
William Dukes returns as a trusty receiving threat. He was second on the team last season in receptions (35) and yards (553) and was often looked to in the red zone with six touchdowns.
The Owls' surprisingly excellent defense lifted them to success late in the season. The unit allowed just 22.2 ppg and ranked 11th in the nation in allowing a mere 327.7 ypg.
Of the six returning starters, linebacker Andrae Kirk (84 tackles, INT) and cornerback D'Joun Smith (seven INTs, 20 passes defended) are once again expected to be among the best at their position in C-USA. Smith's interception total ranked second in the nation.
Brandin Bryant anchors the defensive line and was disruptive last season with 51 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 6.0 sacks.
Nebraska's offensive output in 2013 (31.9 ppg, 412.4 ypg) ranked in the upper half of the Big Ten, and more of the same is expected this time around with the return of one of the nation's most prolific running backs.
Ameer Abdullah was a true workhorse during his junior season, carrying the ball 281 times for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns while also adding 26 receptions for 232 yards and two more scores.
"He worked his tail off like his always does this offseason," Pelini said of his running back. "He's stronger and maybe a little bigger. He's probably more explosive than he was. He's got great balance and great strength, and he competes. I've looked at him in a number of different roles."
Abdullah, a Third-Team All-American and First-Team Big Ten selection, could be a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender, although he'll have to run behind an offensive line that returns just one starter.
Tommy Armstrong, Jr. was forced into action as a freshman under center last season thanks to an injury to Taylor Martinez and experienced an up-and-down campaign (.519 completion percentage, 966 yards, nine TDs, eight INTs), but with a year of seasoning under his belt, an improvement in 2014 seems inevitable.
Although Quincy Enunwa (51 receptions, 753 yards, 12 TDs) has moved on to the NFL, the Cornhuskers retain another quality receiving option in Kenny Bell, who reeled in 52 passes for 577 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Nebraska returns eight starters to a unit that yielded just 24.8 ppg and 370.8 ypg a season ago, including one of the nation's best defensive ends.
Randy Gregory, who's on the Watch List for the Ted Hendricks Award, was a force in 2013 with 66 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 10.5 TFL, 18 QB hurries, a forced fumble and even an interception.
"Randy Gregory is a tremendous talent," Pelini said. "He has great instincts. He has great get-off, a guy who can really rush the passer. I think he's only scratched the surface of what he's going to be down the line."
The entire starting linebacking corps is back -- David Santos (87 tackles, 7.0 TFL), Michael Rose (66 tackles, 6.0 TFL) and Zaire Anderson (52 tackles, 6.0 TFL). Safety Corey Cooper (91 tackles, INT) provides valuable leadership in the secondary.
Nebraska's ability to compete for a Big Ten title hinges greatly on Armstrong, Jr.'s ability to progress at quarterback, but that's a worry for another day, as the Cornhuskers shouldn't have much of an issue dismissing FAU on their home field.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nebraska 34, Florida Atlantic 13
08/29 15:18:32 ET