Nebraska football fans love strong offensive line play, which is why they should pay particular attention to NU’s opponent Oct. 15: Indiana.
Uh, isn’t that a basketball school?
Mostly, but had you wandered over to the IU football stadium last fall, on display were two first-team All-America road graders.
How many did Nebraska, home of the fabled “Pipeline,” have last season?
How many first-team offensive line All-Americans have the Huskers produced in the past 14 years?
One of those Indiana All-Americans — 6-foot-4, 311-pound guard Dan Feeney — is back and will start his senior season as a strong contender for the Outland Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top interior lineman.
Feeney didn’t know the Outland banquet is held each January in Omaha, but his coach darn sure did.
Kevin Wilson, when he was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, came to town with an Outland winner. He coached Sooner tackle Jammal Brown, the 2004 honoree, and also had a two-time Rimington Trophy finalist as the nation’s top center, Vince Carter, on that line.
Those aren’t Wilson’s only two prized pupils.
While at Oklahoma, where he won the national assistant of the year award, Wilson tutored the current highest-paid right tackle in the NFL (Lane Johnson, Philadelphia) and the second-highest paid left tackle (Trent Williams, Washington).
“Dan Feeney is in the same class as all those guys,” Wilson said. “He has a very high standard of play and is very consistent.
“He’s a smart kid, but not so smart that he overthinks. And he practices as hard as any guy I’ve been around.”
For all of Wilson’s offensive line success, he said current IU assistant Greg Frey “is a better line coach than I am.” And Hoosier tight ends coach James Patton was Bob Stoops’ O-line coach at Oklahoma from 2006-12.
“We’ve got a pretty good lineup for a place not considered a football factory,” Wilson said.
Indiana isn’t a factory, but its offense has become machine-like. Last season, the Hoosiers finished first in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense, and second in rushing.
The last Big Ten offense with rankings that high was Ohio State in 1995, which featured Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George at tailback, future All-Pro wideout Terry Glenn and NFL Hall of Fame tackle Orlando Pace.
At Indiana, Frey has gained a reputation for his no-nonsense style. He was an offensive lineman at Florida State when the Seminoles beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the 1993 national title.
Feeney chuckled nervously when asked about Frey’s demands.
“He pushes us ... uh ... near our breaking point,” Feeney said. “Pushing us that far shows us how tough we are and how good we can be.
“That’s what is good about Coach Frey. He can get the best out of you. Sometimes it’s not always nice, but he gets the job done.”
Feeney is one of four fifth-year seniors expected to start on Indiana’s offensive line. Last season, in 475 called pass plays, he never allowed a sack. He also led the Hoosiers with 102 knockdowns.
Feeney, from the south Chicago suburbs, was an ESPN.com first-team All-American. Tackle Jason Spriggs got his honor from the Football Writers Association of America and was the Green Bay Packers’ second-round draft pick.
“Having accolades like that definitely helps our program get better recruits and build confidence,” Feeney said. “We have guys who can play, so to get acknowledged on a high level like that means a lot.”
That’s never a given at Indiana, which has the most losses (658) in Division I football history and an all-time winning percentage of .419.
“Guys sometimes get attention because of the brand of the jersey,” Wilson said. “But Feeney is one of the best players I’ve coached in the line. He and Spriggs earned their honors.”
If you question Indiana’s offensive outburst based on who the Hoosiers played, don’t. They faced defenses ranked No. 4, 9, 14, 22 and 26 nationally, and averaged 26 points and 392 yards in those games.
No slowdown is expected this season, especially with this good an offensive line.
“Make sure you keep the TV turned on,” Wilson said, “because it’s going to be a lot of fun watching the Hoosiers play.”