A Look Into the Past: 2016 Nebraska Football

It’s been six years since Nebraska has been in a bowl game. Six straight seasons of disappointment for the Cornhusker faithful.

After firing former head coach Bo Pelini (2008-2014) after seven seasons of nine wins or better, Nebraska hired former Oregon State Head Coach Mike Riley (2015-2017).

Year one under Mike Riley was an overall disappointing year for Nebraska, finishing the regular season 5-7. 2015 was plagued by close losses for the Huskers, with six of the seven losses by only one score.

Despite this, Nebraska would be selected to play in the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA. The Huskers would go on and get the upset 37-29

After capping off the season with a good win, there was hope of building off of the close losses in the season prior.

That brings us to the last time Nebraska had a winning season.

A Look Into the Past: 2016 Nebraska Football

Top Players on Offense and Defense

The Cornhuskers’ offense would be headlined by senior quarterback Tommie Armstrong Jr. Armstrong is Nebraska’s all-time leader in passing yards with 8,871 yards. His top receiver was senior wide receiver, Jordan Westerkamp.

Joining Armstrong in the backfield were senior running back Terrell Newby and sophomore Devine Ozigbo.

On defense, senior linebacker Josh Banderas led the team in tackles with 93 total including seven being for a loss. Banderas wasn’t alone! Senior safety Nathan Gerry racked up 74 total tackles including seven for a loss as well.

Week 1 and 2

Nebraska faced off against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Huskers’ home opener.

This game would be remembered forever when over 90,000 fans came together to honor the Huskers’ fallen punter Sam Foltz, who died in July of 2016. After Nebraska went three-and-out on the first drive, they lined up in punt formation with only 10 players and no punter.

Nebraska would be charged with a delay-of-game penalty but Fresno State would decline the penalty in remembrance.

Nebraska would go on and blow out Fresno State 43-10 after a slow start. The Huskers would accumulate 292 rushing yards on 51 attempts.

Nebraska would take on the Wyoming Cowboys next. The Cowboys were coached by former Husker Craig Bohl (2014-present). Craig Bohl was a defensive back for Nebraska from 1977-1979 and was an assistant coach from 1995-2002 before taking the head coaching job at North Dakota State.

Nebraska would cruise to a big victory over Wyoming 52-17, riding off on a strong second half. The Huskers’ defense would pick off Wyoming’s freshman quarterback Josh Allen five times. Yes, the same Josh Allen that is the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. 

The first games would help prepare the Huskers as they would get the honor of hosting the 22nd-ranked Oregon Ducks next.


Oregon and Nebraska faced off in a fantastic week three matchup. The game was the 350th consecutive sellout and Coach Riley had a seven-game losing streak against Oregon.

Oregon was only a season off of an appearance in the first College Football Playoff and was looking to get back there.

The Ducks would go up 20-7 with less than three minutes to go in the first half and things weren’t looking good for Nebraska. The Huskers would turn it around with a touchdown right before the half to make it 20-14.

That touchdown would spark a comeback for the Huskers and they would be up 28-20 in the third quarter. Armstrong dealt with cramping all game and went out after a tough hit.

Oregon would score 12 straight to go up 32-28 in the fourth and after a stop, Nebraska would get the ball back for the most important drive of the game.

Despite being hurt, Armstrong put the offense on his back and scored on a 34-yard run to put the Huskers up 35-32. Nebraska would go on and stop the Duck’s offense and come out victorious.

Big Ten Play

20th-ranked Nebraska would start Big Ten play in Evanston to take on Northwestern.

Nebraska had a shaky first half after two turnovers near the goal line but would turn around and take over in the second half winning 24-13.

Nebraska strengthen its position in the AP Poll with their win over Northwestern and would be boosted up to No. 15.

Nebraska would return to Lincoln to take on Illinois.

The Illini wouldn’t make it easy. The 15th-ranked Huskers would be down 16-10 going into the fourth quarter and Illinois was looking for the upset. Senior Terrell Newby had a different idea.

The senior running back would rush for 113 of his 140 yards and score two touchdowns in the final quarter. This would allow the Huskers to avoid the upset and win 31-16 over Illinois. 

Sitting at 5-0 going into the bye was hinting at something Nebraska hadn’t done since 2012. They were challenging for a berth into the Big Ten Championship.

Nebraska was in the top ten for the first time since 2011 and needed to have solid performances against Indiana and Purdue to establish themselves as legit contenders.

Nebraska would hold on against Indiana 27-22 and then rely on a strong second half once again to finish off Purdue 27-14.

After underperforming against two mid-level Big Ten opponents, Nebraska still had to prove itself to the country.

Wisconsin and Ohio State

No. 7 Nebraska was sitting 7-0 and was heading into the most important stretch of the season. Two road games against No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 6 Ohio State. If they were able to get through that, Nebraska could be challenging for a berth into the College Football Playoff.

All of that would slip away.

Nebraska would keep it close with Wisconsin in the second half and tied the game to force it into overtime. Wisconsin scored first but missed the PAT, opening the door for the Huskers to get the win.

Unfortunately, the Badgers’ defense would swat any chances away and Nebraska fell 17-23.

This was only a warmup as they would have to go to the Horseshoe the next week to take on the sixth-ranked Buckeyes.

In the second quarter, Armstrong scrambled out of the pocket and would be hit out of bounds. The hit briefly knocked Armstrong unconscious and several trainers and physicians rushed to his aid. He would be carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital.

Armstrong would return to the sidelines in the second half out of uniform to support his team.

J.T. Barrett and Ohio State’s offense would dominate the Huskers all game, winning 62-3 accumulating 590 total yards on offense.

Final Three Weeks

After a rough two weeks on the road, they would return home to take on Minnesota. Despite the events of the week before, Armstrong would start for the Nebraska offense. 

No. 19 Nebraska was down 10-17 at half once again for the fourth straight week.

Armstrong would put the team on his back and lead the comeback. They would hold the Gophers under 100 total yards and allowed no points in the second half in a victory 24-17

Maryland was the next opponent for the Huskers. Senior quarterback Ryker Fyfe would replace the injured Armstrong and he helped lead the Huskers to a 28-7 win over the Terrapins. 

The final week in the regular season was here and Nebraska took on their annual Black Friday opponent, the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes took the victory in the Hero’s Game the year before in Lincoln and Nebraska looked to take the trophy back to Lincoln.

The complete opposite happened. Armstrong returned not fully 100 percent and the defense wasn’t good either. The Iowa Hawkeyes controlled the entire game, winning 40-14

The loss would unfortunately knock the Huskers out of Big Ten title contention but getting nine wins was a big step forward from the five wins from the season before. 

The Huskers would get the invite to play in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville and take on the 21st-ranked Tennessee Volunteers

Bowl Week

The Volunteers were led by senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, junior running back Alvin Kamara, and junior linebacker Derek Barnett. All three would be selected in the 2017 NFL Draft and weren’t the only future NFL players on the roster. 

The Huskers were without Armstrong in the bowl game and Fyfe would get the start in his final game as a Cornhusker. 

Both teams were held scoreless through the first quarter but Tennessee would strike first going up 14-0 halfway through the second quarter. Nebraska would finally get on the board with less than two minutes to go in the half. Dobbs would run it in for a touchdown for Tennessee in the final seconds of the first half to go up 21-7. 

Once again Nebraska was down at halftime and would have to rely on a strong second half. The Huskers’ defense would only allow a field goal in the third quarter and the Huskers would only be down 14-24 going into the fourth quarter. 

Despite allowing a rushing touchdown by Dobbs early in the fourth quarter, Nebraska would get it within one score with 10 minutes to go. 

The Nebraska defense would then allow a 59-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs to junior receiver Josh Malone. Tennessee was able to hold off Nebraska and get the win 38-24

The Impact

The loss in Nashville was a very disappointing way to end the season. The 2016 season was full of potential, especially starting 7-0 and being ranked in the top ten. 

There was hope of returning to that same glory that Nebraska had in the 1990s and getting back to national prominence. 

Unfortunately, that has yet to happen. Nebraska wasn’t able to build off of a successful 2016 in 2017, finishing 4-8. Coach Riley would be fired after a 56-14 loss to Iowa. 

Former Husker quarterback Scott Frost would be hired to lead the Huskers after a successful head coaching stint at UCF. 

There was hope that Coach Frost would bring Nebraska back to the promised land but after four straight losing seasons and starting 1-2 last season, he would be fired. 

Now with Head Coach Matt Rhule leading the Huskers, there is hope that he can bring Nebraska back to the postseason

If that becomes true, there is no doubt that Coach Rhule can help return the Nebraska Cornhuskers back to national prominence.

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