Spring roundup: Checking in on Huskers' nonconference opponents

2013-04-12T23:55:00Z 2013-04-19T19:26:05Z Spring roundup: Checking in on Huskers' nonconference opponents JournalStar.com

Nebraska’s preseason football schedule includes a winless team from 2012 (Southern Mississippi), a Football Championship Subdivision team (South Dakota State), a team it has beaten five straight times (Wyoming) and a revenge opportunity against UCLA. In addition, all four preseason games are in the comfy confines of Memorial Stadium.

A walk in the park, eh?

You'd like to think so, wouldn't you, Husker fans?

Here's a look at the four teams and some spring football tidbits.

WYOMING

Last season: 4-8 overall, 3-5 in Mountain West Conference

Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)

One big thing to watch: Junior quarterback Brett Smith was No. 11 in passing efficiency last season (157.70), No. 16 in total offense (308.5 yards per game) and No. 21 in passing yards (283.7). So the young Nebraska defense will face a pretty stiff test through the air in the opener.

Worries: Although the Cowboys’ entire starting secondary returns, the defense allowed 559 yards passing and five touchdowns in the first scrimmage of spring. The defense didn’t force a single turnover (sounds familiar, right?).

“Our problem last year was we didn’t get off the field on third down, and we had a lot of that happen to us today,” junior safety Chad Reese told wyosports.com. “We reverted back to our old ways. I was letting the guys know that we have to be more enthusiastic, and we have to care more. I feel like the guys didn’t care, and this was just another practice.”

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI

Last season: 0-12 overall, 0-8 in Conference USA 

Returning starters: 7 (4 offense, 3 defense)

One big thing to watch: Todd Monken takes over for Ellis Johnson, who managed to take a program coming off a 12-2 season and turn it into a winless, last-place team in one disastrous year.

“I’m telling you -- and I mean this sincerely -- we’re getting everything (we can) out of our guys,” Monken told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American during spring practice. “Are we there mentally yet? No, but from an emotional standpoint and wanting to be better, we’re getting that. I couldn’t be happier of our guys and the way they’ve approached every day.”

Worries: Hmm, where to start? Obviously, confidence will need to be boosted, so the Golden Eagles open with Texas State at home. But Nebraska, on the road? Gulp. Monken has installed a pass-heavy offense, but the Golden Eagles’ best option at quarterback, Anthony Alford, transferred to Ole Miss and another candidate, Arsenio Favors, left for Alabama State.

UCLA

Last season: 9-5 overall, 6-3 Pac-12

Returning starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)

One big thing to watch: After a strong freshman season, Brett Hundley returns at quarterback for the Bruins. He tormented Nebraska in UCLA’s 36-30 win last season, passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

Coach Jim Mora told ESPN.com: "The first time he picks up the ball at our first spring practice, without having taken a snap from center in a competitive situation between the bowl game and now, he will be a much, much better football player because he's been able to absorb all of the lessons from last year."

Worries: Well, assistant coach Eric Yarber tore a tendon in his right leg while demonstrating a technique in spring practice. That’s not good. But the Bruins will be athletic and talented, just like last year, and easily the toughest task for Nebraska in the nonconference season.

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Missouri Valley 

Returning starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

One big thing to watch: Obviously, this is a paycheck game for the Jackrabbits. But SDSU was in the top 10 in the country in FCS scoring defense (16.4 points per game) and total defense (305.3 yards per game), so won’t just be a blocking dummy. Coach John Stiegelmeier put an emphasis on speed during winter conditioning and 37 of the 47 returning players have set personal bests in the 40-yard dash.

“Your bench press should go up every year, but in the 40, to improve by two-hundredths of a second -- that’s hard to do,” Stiegelmeier told the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader. “We had a mess of that. I was really happy.”

Worries: South Dakota State lost at Kansas 31-17 last season, but when the Jackrabbits play in front of 93,000 Husker faithful at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 21, they’ll realize they aren’t in Kansas anymore. It will obviously be a huge challenge for SDSU to make the game competitive.

-- Darnell Dickson

Reach Sports Editor Darnell Dickson at ddickson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7320.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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