Big Ten

Big Ten preview: New coaches bring new offense for Tommy Armstrong, Huskers


Big Ten preview: New coaches bring new offense for Tommy Armstrong, Huskers

Tommy Armstrong has spent the past two seasons learning on his feet how to be a Big Ten quarterback.

And then Nebraska changed coaching staffs.

Armstrong, who started eight games in relief of an injured Taylor Martinez in 2013, started every game for the Huskers a season ago and did a pretty good job. His numbers weren’t up there with the J.T. Barretts and Connor Cooks of the world — but then again, neither were anyone else’s.

Last season, Armstrong completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher behind Ameer Abdullah, gaining 705 yards on the ground and reaching the end zone six times with his legs. He’s a dual-threat quarterback, no doubt about it.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Can Mike Riley do what Bo Pelini couldn't with Huskers?]

And it looked like Armstrong was well on his way to being one of the Big Ten’s best at the position in 2015 before Nebraska fired Bo Pelini and brought in Mike Riley. The new head coach brings a new offense with him, and while Armstrong will surely be able to handle it, you wonder if it will decrease his potential for stardom.

"Last year, we had more of a zone-read type of thing, run or pass selection into all of our plays pretty much. This year, most of it's we're going to run or we're going to pass. And it's either you're going to complete it or it's going to be an incompletion,” Armstrong said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “You can't bail yourself out with your feet. You have to complete passes and be accurate and give your guys a chance to catch the ball. That's what we've been working on in the offseason, just making sure we're more accurate, tallying up all our passes and completions with the quarterbacks and being held in high expectation when it comes to completion rate."

That sounds like Armstrong’s dual-threat ability might be taken off the board, but Riley is glad Armstrong can do it all. It might change the offense Riley’s staff ran for years at Oregon State, but it might prove better for the Huskers in 2015.

"With Tommy, he's able to run the football,” Riley said. “He's had experience running some of the zone-read stuff. His mobility in throwing the football outside the pocket is good. So it's made us in a lot of ways kind of get out of our own box and look at what's good for the players because what you want to do all the time is not necessarily what's going to be best to do for your team. And so discovering it and selecting that, like I said, is a big, big issue in how this is going to look in this season."

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: How will Huskers try to fill Ameer Abdullah's running back void?]

Armstrong has at times looked great. He had little trouble hooking up with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp the past two seasons to produce a passing attack capable of some big-time gains and some highlight-reel plays.

Bell is gone after graduating last season, as is Ameer Abdullah, the safety-valve of a running back who was one of the country’s finest a season ago. Things will get a bit trickier for Armstrong without that reliable running game. Many of the options at running back have little experience.

But Westerkamp is still around, and the Armstrong-to-Westerkamp connection will be relied on heavily, not just because of the losses of Bell and Abdullah but also because of injuries in the receiving corps, including one to De’Mornay Pierson-El that has knocked him out for almost two months.

"He's matured so much, and he had to right away, playing so early. He's a great quarterback, and we're lucky to have him,” Westerkamp said of Armstrong. “He's gotten better in all areas. He works his tail off all the time. He takes teaching. We've got a great new quarterbacks coach in coach (Danny) Langsdorf who's coached great quarterbacks, so he's definitely taking the teaching from all of them. That's what you need out of a guy like that, out of your leader. You need a guy who can take the coaching. He's been doing a great job, and he's improved in all aspects of his game."

So it’s more learning on the fly for Armstrong. Will the new Nebraska offense settle into place in a hurry, or will it take time? That’s a question to be answered once the season begins. Armstrong is a talented quarterback. He’s been a great one for the Huskers in recent seasons. Now it’s time to find out if, with new challenges, he can keep that success going.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?