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Big Ten: Nebraska’s bumpy ride ends with another 9-win season

[ 0 ] January 2, 2014 |

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

From the historic collapse against UCLA and Bo Pelini flare-ups to the Hail Mary win over Northwestern and bowl victory over Georgia, the emotions ran the gamut for Nebraska.

In the end, the Cornhuskers put together another nine-win season and head into 2014 with a positive vibe.

“It’s been a long season,” defensive end Randy Gregory said after Wednesday’s 24-19 win in Jacksonville, Fla. “We’ve fought through a lot of stuff, a lot of adversity with our coach. We came together in the end.”

The Huskers (9-4) joined Oregon and Alabama as the only programs on a streak of at least six straight seasons of nine wins or more. It’s possible, however, that they’ll finish outside the final Top 25 for the first time since 2008.

Nebraska will be glad to hit the re-set button after the wild ride that was 2013.

Record-setting quarterback Taylor Martinez appeared in only four games because of a foot injury. That left redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. to learn on the fly, and he responded with seven wins in eight starts.

Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey hits the arm of Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III as he throws on at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. The Hawkeyes won 38-17. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register)

Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey hits the arm of Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III as he throws on at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. The Hawkeyes won 38-17. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register)

Martinez was still playing when the Huskers experienced the biggest meltdown in the 90-year history of Memorial Stadium, losing 41-21 to UCLA after leading 21-3. Two days later, a 2-year-old, expletive-filled audio of Pelini ripping Nebraska fans and media surfaced on the sports website Deadspin.

Pelini apologized for the tirade picked up by a hot microphone before his postgame radio interview, and there was a month of relative calm. The fans became restless again when an obviously injured Martinez came back to play against Minnesota and the Huskers lost.

Martinez didn’t play again. The next week Nebraska beat Northwestern on third-string QB Ron Kellogg III’s 49-yard Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp, and the good feelings continued when the Huskers won at Michigan.

The Huskers played eventual Rose Bowl champion Michigan State on even terms in Lincoln but committed five turnovers and lost 41-28. An overtime win in the snow against Penn State was followed by a 21-point loss at home to Iowa that looked as if it would do in Pelini.

It wasn’t just the loss to the Hawkeyes. Pelini became unraveled on the sideline after what he thought was a bad call. He took his cap off and punched the air next to the head linesman, nearly hitting the official in the face with the cap’s tightening flap.

After the game Pelini used an expletive to describe the officiating and, in response to a question about his record, Pelini said, “If they want to fire me, go ahead.” The next day athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini. Two days after that, the Big Ten fined Nebraska $10,000 for Pelini’s violation of the conference’s sportsmanship code. The school said Pelini would pay the fine out of his pocket.

The Huskers used a strong defensive performance and a 99-yard pass from Armstrong to Quincy Enunwa to beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl, their first bowl win since the 2009 season and first victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent in five tries.

“I don’t know if it will ever have a carry-over effect,” Pelini said. “I think what it does is serve as an example for your football team.”

Armstrong will go into the spring as the No. 1 quarterback but will get challenged by Johnny Stanton, who redshirted this season. All the top receivers except Enunwa return.

Four of the five offensive linemen who started the Gator Bowl must be replaced, and the Huskers are waiting to find out if star running back Ameer Abdullah will come back or declare for the NFL draft. On defense, five starters are back among the front seven. Safety Corey Cooper is the only full-time starter coming back to a secondary that loses big playmakers in Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

The non-conference schedule includes a trip to Fresno State and a home game against Miami. The Huskers, who will play in the new Big Ten West Division, have home conference games against Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. They play Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa on the road.

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Category: Big Ten

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