As we sit back and enjoy this Christmas Day, here is a special edition of the Husker Buzz flashing back on the year that was, and what lies ahead for Nebraska football.
Season/Offensive MVP: RB Ameer Abdullah
Running back Ameer Abdullah was the first tailback at Nebraska to receive AP All-American honors since Ahman Green in 1997. Abdullah's 1,568 yards rushing on 254 carries was also the highest rushing total at NU since Green in 1997 and the fifth-highest total of all-time only behind greats such as Mike Rozier, Lawrence Phillips and Green.
All signs point to Abdullah coming back for his senior season in 2014, but you never know until Jan. 15. A strong bowl game against Georgia could put his draft grade higher and make his decision tougher.
Defensive MVP: DE Randy Gregory
Most people knew defensive end Randy Gregory had a chance to make a major impact this season, but nobody could've projected he'd lead the Big Ten in sacks with 9 ½. It was the most sacks a first-year player has ever recorded in school history. With another year of seasoning and development Gregory looks to be a sure first round draft pick.
Five promising new faces
DB LeRoy Alexander I remember when Nebraska took Alexander late in 2012, and several people scoffed at the offer. Nobody is questioning it now, as Alexander was one of the bigger surprises of NU's defense in 2013.
DE Avery Moss After redshirting the 2012 season, Moss was one of the more impressive freshmen defensive linemen in the Big Ten. His interception return for a touchdown against Northwestern was one of the bigger defensive plays of the season.
DT Vincent Valentine We've only seen the beginning of big Vincent Valentine. When I look at the talented defensive tackle he could easily be similar to Notre Dame's Louis Nix III, who is projected to be a high first round draft pick this season.
LB Michael Rose Early in the season Rose wasn't a factor when Nebraska faced several different spread offenses. However, by the time Big Ten ball came along Rose was arguably the Huskers top linebacker.
WR Jordan Westerkamp Even in an extremely deep wide receiving corps, the redshirt freshman Westerkamp was still able to firmly establish himself in the rotation by the end of the year and even hoped NU win a game with one of the most memorable Husker catches of all time.
Five plays/moments to remember
1 - Jack Hoffman's touchdown run This was arguably the sports moment of the year and one of the more special moments we've seen in Memorial Stadium in quite some time.
2 - Ron Kellogg's Hail Mary touchdown pass to Westerkamp Nobody in a million years could've predicted a third-string walk-on quarterback from Omaha would throw a game winning Hail Mary touchdown pass to a back-up wide receiver. Kellogg is one of the more remarkable walk-on stories we've seen at NU in quite some time.
3 - Pat Smith's game winning field goal at Penn State Here's a kid that gave it all up at Western Illinois to enter graduate school and kick at Nebraska for his senior season as a walk-on. The gamble paid off and Smith was nearly perfect for most of the season and his game winning 42-yard field goal at Penn State in the freezing cold was as clutch of a kick as we've seen at NU since Alex Henery's game winning field goal against Colorado.
4 - Nebraska's defensive performance at Michigan Nebraska held Michigan to 175 yards of total offense, including -21 rushing yards, to snap the Wolverines 19-game home winning streak at Michigan Stadium. It was the type of defensive performance people expect to see from a Bo Pelini team. NU was so dominant that Michigan's own fans booed their offense multiple times.
5 - Kenny Bell's one-handed touchdown catch against Illinois Bell has flair for the dramatic, and his one-handed touchdown catch against Illinois caught everyone by surprise, including the Illini defense who just stood there and watched in amazement.
Five plays/moments to forget
1 - Quarterback Taylor Martinez's foot injury It happened during the final offensive play from scrimmage against Wyoming and it was a moment that changed the entire complexion of the Husker offense. Martinez got his foot stepped on trying to make a run on third down.
2 - Five turnovers against Michigan State Nebraska's solid offensive performance against the nation's best defense was overshadowed by a flurry of five turnovers, four of which were unforced.
3 - Spencer Long's knee injury When senior captain and All-American guard Spencer Long when down with a season-ending knee injury against Purdue, it dealt Nebraska a huge blow to its offensive line. Little did anyone know it would spark a domino effect of injuries to the o-line that would plague the Huskers all year long.
4 - Avery Moss' missed sacked against UCLA on third-and-12 With Nebraska leading UCLA 21-3, defensive end Avery Moss had Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley wrapped up for a sack on third-and-12, but wasn't able to take him down. The missed sack turned into a 13-yard run by Hundley. The Bruins would score right before halftime to make it 21-10 and start a 38-point scoring run en route to a 41-21 victory.
5 - The Iowa game for several reasons From the start of the game where quarterback Ron Kellogg threw two interceptions, to Bo Pelini's antics during and after, Nebraska's 38-17 loss to Iowa was definitely a Black Friday to forget. It was NU's first Black Friday loss since 2007 at Colorado.
Three reasons for optimism in 2014
1 - Nebraska's defensive front seven When you look at what Nebraska returns on the defensive line and at linebacker, along with what they'll add, it's hard not to be excited about the future of the defense.
2 - The veteran group of skill players that return on offense Even though Nebraska loses several key players on the offense, the Huskers return running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receivers Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore among others in 2014. The only big question remains at quarterback, but everything else is potentially in place for NU to be solid on offense.
3 - A favorable Big Ten schedule No Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. When you look at NU's 2014 Big Ten schedule it's very favorable on paper, but trips to Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State definitely won't be easy. Realistically though, there's no reason why NU can't win the Big Ten West Division given what the Huskers return compared to other teams in their division.
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.