The Nebraska Cornhuskers get year 3 of the Mike Riley era underway with a home game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves. The two sides will square off at 8:00 EST on Saturday, September 2 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. The game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
Nebraska is listed as a 16.5-point favorite by oddsmakers, with the over/under set at 47 points. However, much of the action has been in favor of Arkansas State, as the Cornhuskers originally opened as 19-point favorites. Click here for a full list of Week 1 betting odds.
Nebraska vs. Arkansas State Betting Odds & Game Preview
The Cornhuskers took a big step forward in Riley’s second season in Lincoln, improving from 6-7 in 2015 to 9-4 last season. However, the Cornhuskers struggled down the stretch, losing four of their final six games, including their bowl game against Tennessee.
Nebraska would like to take another step forward this season, but it may be difficult. The Cornhuskers were hit hard by graduation and have several new assistant coaches in place, including new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who has changed Nebraska’s defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. Those changes could make it difficult for the Cornhuskers to be contenders in the Big Ten West division.
On the other hand, Arkansas State has found both stability and success under head coach Blake Anderson, who’s entering his fourth season at the helm. The Red Wolves have won at least a share of the Sun Belt championship the past two seasons and gone to a bowl game in six straight seasons.
However, under Anderson, Arkansas State has struggled to win non-conference games, particularly against power-conference schools. The Red Wolves will likely challenge for another Sun Belt title in 2017, but it remains to be seen whether they’re on the same level as a program like Nebraska.
College Football Free Vegas Line Prediction: Arkansas State +16.5
This is a tough matchup to call, but I would lean a little toward Arkansas State. While the Cornhuskers are dealing with some turnover and instability, the Red Wolves are not. Justice Hansen returns as the starting quarterback for Arkansas State, and while he was a little inconsistent last season, having most of his top receivers back and a stable backfield should help him improve.
To be fair, there are huge questions on the offensive line after the Red Wolves lost all five starters from a year ago. However, adding a couple transfers from power-conference schools should give them good size and physicality up front, even if it takes some time for the unit to gel together.
The Nebraska offense, meanwhile, will see a lot more turnover. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee is stepping in as the starting quarterback in place of Tommy Armstrong Jr., whose dual-threat ability will be sorely missed. Lee does bring experience to the position, but he’ll also be working with a largely inexperienced group of receivers and running backs, so he could take time for the Cornhuskers to find some rhythm offensively.
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The thing that could save Nebraska early in the year is the return of four of the offensive linemen who were starters at the end of last season. However, in the season opener, that unit may have its hands full with defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who was Sun Belt Player of the Year last season. The rest of the Arkansas State defense is also in good shape after holding Sun Belt opponents to just 15 points per game last season.
With the Red Wolves bringing back so much experience from a team that won the Sun Belt title last year, this is definitely going to be a tricky game for the Cornhuskers, even at home. With Nebraska unveiling so many new faces on offense and a new scheme on defense, it’s unlikely they will be clicking on all cylinders so early in the season. The Cornhuskers may win the game, but Arkansas State should do enough to keep it close and beat the spread.