LINCOLN — The future can wait. Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he’d like to end 2015 with a win.
The Huskers’ 5-7 season, full of disappointment and heartache, could be punctuated with positivity if NU’s able to knock off UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 26. Riley doesn’t want to waste that chance by looking too far ahead.
“This is a great opportunity to go out on a good note,” Riley said on a teleconference with reporters Monday afternoon. “The message to the team will be, we want to win the game. We want to do everything we can to win the game. We don’t want anything getting in the way of winning the game.”
Nebraska will practice 12 times this month, the first of which is set for Friday. Some of those workouts will include sessions designed to get extra reps for redshirts, scout-teamers and other youngsters who may compete for key roles next year.
But by next week, the Huskers will be game planning again, Riley. He said the same criteria used to set each week’s lineup will also be applied to determine playing time in the bowl game.
Riley said he’s always taken that approach in postseason preparation. He won six of his eight bowls with Oregon State.
Now he’d like to continue that trend with Nebraska — especially since the Huskers’ first five losses were by a combined 13 points.
“I think a win is really important for this team,” Riley said.
“I always think a win in a bowl game is a good kickoff heading into the offseason, and heading into the next season.”
Riley indicated that the players echo his perspective, but admitted that he hasn’t yet met with the group. He’s been on the road recruiting since the most recent contact period opened last week. The Huskers met as a team Monday and will work out together for the rest of the week, Riley said.
But Riley’s certain that the NU players are looking forward to their postseason berth. A few mentioned in media interviews after the 28-20 loss to Iowa on Nov. 27 that they wanted to play another game.
Riley on Monday expressed gratitude just to be included in the selection process.
“We certainly couldn’t count on this — but we’re going to treat it like a tremendous bonus,” Riley said.
Three 5-7 teams (NU, Minnesota and San Jose State) were invited to bowl games because only 77 of the required 80 slots were filled by squads with at least six wins. The NCAA decided to use the Academic Progress Rate to determine which under-.500 teams would make the cut.
Nebraska, with an APR of 985, was first in line.
Riley had no problem with that.
“You’ve got to use some sort of a subject to be able to differentiate between the teams that might be available,” Riley said. “I do think we’re fortunate that it’s the APR. And I don’t think it’s a bad way to do it.”
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» Riley indicated that the Huskers are pretty healthy heading into bowl prep, but said he and his staff will be monitoring two injured contributors.
Junior receiver Alonzo Moore has been bothered all year by shoulder pain, and it isn’t yet clear when he’ll be healthy enough to return, Riley said.
“He’s had numerous tests, and I hope he’s going to be OK to play in the game,” Riley said.
Sophomore linebacker Marcus Newby had an MRI to diagnose the severity of a groin injury, Riley said. Newby should be back to full strength in time for the bowl game.
» Redshirt freshman Tanner Farmer will spend part of the offseason with the Nebraska wrestling team, Riley confirmed. Farmer, a two-time Class 2A state champion as a high school wrestler in Illinois, started practicing with the wrestlers last week.
Riley said he has no problem with Farmer participating in both sports — though they may need to come up with a new plan now that the Huskers are bound for a bowl game. Farmer, a guard, hasn’t played for the football team yet this year, but he remains committed to the program.
“His first priority, he told me, will be football,” Riley said.
» Riley was pleased to see a Big Ten team in the College Football Playoff, especially one that the Huskers defeated.
NU upset Michigan State 39-38 last month, the Spartans’ only loss. That’s an indication of how small the margin for error really is, Riley said.
“It was a real competitive year,” Riley said. “Michigan State won the majority of their close games, except our game. I am glad that we beat them. And I wish them the best from here out.”
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