Less than a year ago, a game between No. 22 Nebraska and Florida Atlantic would have featured a pair of brothers on the sideline trying to settle a sibling rivalry. Instead, the Cornhuskers will focus on extending the nation’s longest winning streak in season openers to 29 on Saturday when they host the Owls. Carl Pelini served under Nebraska coach Bo Pelini for four seasons before accepting the Florida Atlantic job in 2012, but resigned Oct. 30 amid allegations of drug abuse.
The Cornhuskers, who haven’t dropped an opener since a 17-13 home loss against Florida State in 1985, enter this season as one of only three schools to win at least nine games each of the past six years. After winning each of their four games under interim coach Brian Wright following the resignation of Carl Pelini, the Owls turned their program over to Charlie Partridge, who will make his coaching debut after serving an assistant under Bret Bielema in Wisconsin and Arkansas since 2008. Florida Atlantic yielded an average of 10 points during its season-ending four-game win streak and finished 11th in total defense overall.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Nebraska -21.
ABOUT FLORIDA ATLANTIC (2013: 6-6): The Owls averaged 37.8 points over their final four games in no small part due to quarterback Jaquez Johnson, who was named Conference USA Newcomer of the Year. Cornerback D’Joun Smith finished tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions and is one of six returning defensive starters – a group that includes defensive lineman Brandin Bryant, who tied for the team lead last season with 9.5 tackles for loss, and linebacker Andrae Kirk, the team’s leading tackler. Bryant is the grandson of the late Cornhusker Hall of Famer Charles Bryant.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (2013: 9-4): Running back Ameer Abdullah decided against entering the NFL Draft and figures to remain the centerpiece of the offense after leading the Big Ten with 1,690 rushing yards – the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. The nation’s top returning rusher figures to make life a little easier for sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who went 7-1 as a starter after quarterback Taylor Martinez was lost to injury early during his final season. Kenny Bell has led the team in receptions in each of his first three seasons and is on track to break several of the school’s career receiving records.
1. Abdullah is the FBS’ active career leader in all-purpose yards (4,914) and needs 23 rushing yards to become the eighth Cornhusker to reach 3,000 in his career.
2. Although he started all but one of the Owls’ 12 contests, half of Johnson’s 12 passing touchdowns last season came in his last two games.
3. Nebraska kicked off the 2009 campaign with a 49-3 rout of Florida Atlantic in the only previous meeting between the schools.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 41, Florida Atlantic 17