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South Alabama

Tra Minter is South Alabama's go-to running back.

Location: Mobile, Ala.

Coach: Steve Campbell (3-9, 2nd year at South Alabama; 63-32, 9th season overall).

2018 Record: 3-9, 2-6 Sun Belt.

Rankings: Not ranked.

OFFENSIVE RATING: 2

2018 Offensive averages / national rank

Points

24.2 / 100

Total yards

355.3 / 105

Rushing yards

152.0 / 92

Passing yards

203.3 / 94

DEFENSIVE RATING: 2

2018 Defensive averages / national rank

Points

38.8 / 122

Total yards

448.7 / 107

Rushing yards

203.0 / 101

Passing yards

245.7 / 90

SPECIALISTS RATING: 6

2018 Special-teams averages / national rank

Kickoff returns

22.03 / 41

Punt returns

14.86 / 10

Net punting

35.9 / 96

Why you may need Rolaids

1. It's the first game, man, who knows what is going to happen? Last year's was canceled because of a lightning storm, for Pete's sake. The forecast for this one doesn't look too rosy, either, but at least the teams should get the game in. On paper this should be a cakewalk for Nebraska, and it probably will end up that way. But you never know until you know. After all, Nebraska lost to a Sun Belt Conference team at home last season, too (without Adrian Martinez, but still).

2. The Jaguars are pretty salty in the return game. South Alabama last season finished 10th in the nation in punt returns, averaging nearly 15 yards every time it brought one back. USA was 41st nationally in kickoff returns as well. For a Nebraska special teams unit that was maligned, to say the least, most of last season, that's a dangerous spot. There has been plenty of talk about the Huskers' special teams improvement in the spring and through fall camp. Saturday will be as good a test as any to see how far that group has come.

3. This relates to No. 1, but the what-ifs are always scary. What if Martinez takes a couple of extra seconds to get up after a hard hit from USA's standout defensive tackle Tyree Turner? What if Maurice Washington doesn't play and Dedrick Mills turns an ankle? Nebraska's top-line guys, especially on offense, look pretty good. But ugly little secret (and it really isn't even that much of a secret) is that Nebraska doesn't yet have the depth it desires at most positions. NU needs to get through this game healthy. Putting it to bed by halftime and giving the backups the second half would be a good place to start.

Why you might chill

1. This looks like it could be the biggest mismatch, non-Bethune-Cookman Division, since South Alabama in 2015 (a 48-9 NU win; USA went 5-7) or Florida Atlantic in 2014 (a 55-7 NU win; FAU went 3-9). These Jaguars have some size, including a 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback who probably looks pretty good getting off the bus. But this is still a team that went 3-9 last season with one of the most porous defenses in the country. With the way Nebraska wants to operate offensively, there's a good chance this one gets out of hand before halftime.

2. It shouldn't matter in the first game of the season anyway, but one would think last year's opening week debacle showed the Huskers just how important getting off to a good start can be. Scott Frost certainly has to be a little antsy after seeing last year's opener against Akron canceled, and one can only imagine what NU's returnees will be feeling as they try to begin atoning for a 4-8 season. Not to mention a group of highly touted newcomers eager to make an impression. The rain in the forecast probably drums up some unpleasant memories, but Saturday should be a party to start the year.

3. We could write this every week, but Nebraska has Martinez at quarterback and the other team doesn't. As long as No. 2 is at the controls, Nebraska's offense is going to have a shot against just about anyone. Never mind that the guys behind him, Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffery, have both put together solid fall camps as well. But everything starts with the sophomore star, and as long as he stays upright, the Huskers will have a huge advantage.

By the numbers

30

South Alabama allowed 30 or more points in 10 of its 12 games last season, and gave up 28 in another. 

6

When Cephus Johnson takes his first snap Saturday, he will become USA's sixth starting quarterback in the past six seasons.

92.7

South Alabama ranked 127th of 129 FCS teams last season, allowing opponents to score on 92.7 percent of their trips into the red zone.

Press coverage

Creg Stephenson covers South Alabama athletics for AL.com.

What are your expectations in Year 2 under Steve Campbell?

"I think the team will be better, though it might not show up in their record. They should certainly be better on the offensive line (which was very young last year) and in the defensive front seven (which was riddled by injuries). The schedule is tough, not only with Nebraska, but with bowl teams Memphis and UAB in the nonconference and Appalachian State, Troy and Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt cross-divisional games."

What is the No. 1 thing that has to get better this year for the Jaguars to improve on last season’s record?

"Being better on both lines of scrimmage. The offensive line had one player who had started more than one game heading into last year; this year they have three returning 12-game starters and a fourth guy who started the final six. The defensive line has a lot of seniors that need to take their game to another level. And finally, quarterback play has to be better. Those three guys took a pounding last year."

What gave sophomore Cephus Johnson the edge in the starting quarterback race?

"He’s the best combination of athleticism and intellect among the group. Junior college transfer Tylan Morton is as good or better athletically than Johnson, but Johnson has a better grasp of the offense. Redshirt freshman Desmond Trotter is a very smart guy, but Johnson has a far better arm. Physically, he’s got it all (6-5, 220, very strong arm). He just needs to be better — and quicker — with his decision-making than he showed last year, whether that’s keeping the ball or handing it off on the read option, or finding the correct receiver quickly in the passing game."

How much different will the defense look this season with more speed and the full-time switch to a 3-4 scheme?

"The entire goal of the change was to get more speed on the field. South Alabama was too slow getting to and setting the edge last year, and it showed against teams like Oklahoma State, Troy, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. The defensive line has some size, but the back seven is all smaller, speedy guys. That might not be the best course of action against a power team like Nebraska, but it’s the right scheme to combat the way teams throw it around in the Sun Belt."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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