LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The annual rite of spring known as Nebraska's Red-White Game takes place Saturday, and the fans' sense of anticipation is heightened because it will be their first look at the Cornhuskers under new coach Mike Riley.
Riley says he is excited, too, because he has never been at a school where a spring game is so celebrated.
As of late in the week, 65,000 tickets had been sold, and the crowd at Memorial Stadium probably will swell to over 70,000 on what's supposed to be a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the 70s.
That's a stark contrast to Riley's final spring game at Oregon State. According to the report in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, a "smattering of fans" showed up at Reser Stadium last year. An OSU spokesman estimated the turnout at 5,000 to 7,000.
Riley said Nebraska's passionate fan base was one of things that drew him to Nebraska. The school holds an ongoing NCAA record of 340 straight sellouts.
"It'll be my first picture of what the football deal looks like," Riley said. "I've been impressed with that at the baseball games, the basketball games. Every time there's something going on, it's a big deal. I like that. People care, and they love their team. And I think that's just awesome."
As for what happens on the field, Riley plans to keep it simple. Players were split between red and white squads at the start of spring practice, and they will remain with their respective teams Saturday. There will be four 20-minute quarters with the clock stopping only when there's a change of possession. Some things to watch:
LINEBACKER DEPTH: This is the position of greatest concern to Riley. Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey are the most experienced linebackers practicing this spring. David Santos has been out since offseason knee surgery. Dedrick Young, who joined the program in January, and Marcus Newby are the only other scholarship linebackers.
HELP WANTED AT CENTER: This is the most uncertain spot on the offensive line. Ryne Reeves is coming off a knee injury and hasn't done much other than individual work. Paul Thurston took over when Reeves went out during the Iowa game and shared time with Dylan Utter in the Holiday Bowl. Riley said a guard or two probably will audition at center.
OOZING CONFIDENCE: Riley said quarterback Tommy Armstrong's greatest intangible is his confidence. "He's played a lot of football," Riley said. "That really carries over to the feel and the grasp that he has for the whole game, the whole team. There is a lot of respect for that guy, and there should be."
GOING LIVE: Saturday will feature the most live action the Huskers have seen this spring. Full scrimmaging has been limited. "What we try to do when we're not taking people all the way to the ground is still practice fast so you can simulate the speed of the game," Riley said. "But I also want to get this team to the season health-wise."
BRING ON THE CONTACT: Armstrong perked up when told Riley planned to have the quarterbacks eligible for full contact in the spring game. "I'm not opposed to it," he said. "I'm kind of excited about it, actually, because we have a couple zone-read (runs) here and there. It'll be fun."