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
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
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
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