Chandler quarterback Dylan Raiola throws during a scrimmage against Williams Field High in Gilbert.

Five-star QB Dylan Raiola flips from Georgia to Nebraska

Quarterback Dylan Raiola, one of the highest-rated prospects in the Class of 2024, flipped his commitment from Georgia to Nebraska on Monday.

The five-star recruit was the No. 6 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings. He committed to Ohio State in 2022, decommitted before the end of the year and chose Georgia last May over Nebraska and Southern California.

Raiola will become the highest-rated recruit in Nebraska program history when he signs his national letter of intent.

Raiola is the son of Dominic Raiola, who played center at Nebraska and spent 14 years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.

“I firmly believe that Nebraska is in my blood,” Dylan Raiola told ESPN. “It’s a great opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself. Nebraska is a special place.”

Georgia got better quarterback news Monday when Carson Beck announced he was returning to the program instead of entering the 2024 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

Oct 21, 2023; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Heinrich Haarberg (10) and tight end Luke Lindenmeyer (44) celebrate after a touchdown by Haarberg against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Heinrich Haarberg lifts Nebraska past Northwestern

Heinrich Haarberg shook off a slow start to throw a touchdown pass and run for another as Nebraska beat Northwestern 17-9 in a Big Ten Conference game on Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Neb.

The Cornhuskers (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) picked up their second straight win and fourth in five games despite being outgained and turning it over on two of their first three drives.

Haarberg was intercepted on two of his first four passes and was just 8 of 17 overall for 85 yards but threw a 44-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to break the game open. He also ran for 72 yards, including a 3-yard score with 11 seconds left in the first half, giving Nebraska a 10-6 lead going into the break.

Northwestern (3-4, 1-3) managed just three field goals from Jack Olsen despite starting in Nebraska territory on its first three drives. The Wildcats allowed eight sacks of Brendan Sullivan, who was 12 of 23 for 176 yards with an interception.

Nebraska made it a two-score game early in the fourth when Haarberg hit Malachi Coleman for a 44-yard TD pass and a 17-6 lead.

Northwestern got within 17-9 with 11:09 left on a 25-yard field goal by Olsen, who made first-half kicks from 45 and 37 yards but was just short on a 54-yard attempt in the third.

After Haarberg’s second interception led to a Northwestern field goal, the Cornhuskers tied it on a 47-yard field goal from Tristan Alvano late in the first, with Olsen hitting a 37-yarder with 5:48 left before halftime to give the Wildcats back the lead.

Nebraska ran for 163 yards, with Emmett Johnson gaining 73 yards on 12 carries. Northwestern’s Anthony Tyus III had 63 yards on six carries, including a 39-yard run.

Northwestern returns home to face Maryland next Saturday, while Nebraska hosts Purdue.

–Field Level Media

Oct 6, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Heinrich Haarberg (10) hands the ball to running back Anthony Grant (23) during the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Cornhuskers go wire-to-wire, stifle Illinois’ rush attack

Nebraska used its defense and special teams to beat Illinois 20-7 in a Big Ten Conference game Friday night in Champaign, Ill.

The Cornhuskers (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) forced a fumble, intercepted a pass, made two fourth-down stops — including one on the goal line — recovered a muffed kickoff and blocked a punt to beat the Illini for the first time since 2019. They also held Illinois (2-4, 0-3) to 21 rushing yards, the Illini’s lowest total in nearly four years.

Nebraska led 17-7 at the half, then extended the lead to 20-7 on a 32-yard Tristan Alvano field goal midway through the third. The score was set up by a fumble forced by Phalen Sanford and recovered by Griffin Moore in Illinois territory.

A blocked punt on the ensuing drive set the Cornhuskers up with great field position, but Alvano’s 36-yard field-goal attempt was wide. Nebraska then turned it over on three consecutive drives in the fourth quarter to keep the margin from being greater.

After stuffing Illinois on fourth-and-goal at the 1 on the game’s opening possession, Nebraska drove 86 yards and went up 3-0 on a 31-yard Alvano field goal late in the first quarter.

Another long drive ended in a touchdown for the Cornhuskers midway through the second, with Anthony Grant scoring on a 1-yard run. Two plays later it was 17-0 Nebraska following a muffed kickoff into a stiff wind and a 25-yard Heinrich Haarberg TD run.

Haarberg finished with 236 yards of total offense, throwing for 154 and rushing for 82.

Illinois got on the board with 1:31 left in the first half on a 46-yard TD pass from Luke Altmyer to Pat Bryant. Altmyer was 29 of 47 for 289 yards, completing passes to nine different targets, but had no support from a run game averaging more than 140 yards entering the night. He was picked off once.

Nebraska is off until hosting Northwestern on Oct. 21, while Illinois visits Maryland on Oct. 14.

–Field Level Media

Sep 30, 2023; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Heinrich Haarberg (10) runs against the Michigan Wolverines during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska, Illinois seek change from similar slow starts

Nebraska and host Illinois, each coming off blowout losses in Big Ten Conference play, face off on a short week on Friday night in Champaign, Ill.

Illinois (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) fell 44-19 at Purdue, while Nebraska (2-3, 0-2) was crushed 45-7 at home by No. 2 Michigan. Each is trying to avoid a 0-3 start in the conference for the first time since 2020 (for Illinois) and 2018 (for Nebraska), respectively.

“Nebraska is very similar to our situation,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “But I think this week is a lot about us.”

The Fighting Illini allowed a season-low 406 yards to Purdue but gave up 31 points on five red-zone possessions. For the season Illinois has yielded 23 scores on 26 trips inside its 20-yard line, compared to 23 on 31 all of 2022.

Nebraska came up scoreless in its two red-zone possessions against Michigan and has been inside the opposing 20 on only 12 occasions this season.

The Cornhuskers will continue to go with sophomore Heinrich Haarberg at quarterback, even with Jeff Sims getting closer to 100 percent following a high ankle sprain. Haarberg is Nebraska’s leading rusher (270 yards), but had minus-2 against Michigan, so there could be a splitting of snaps.

“I feel very confident with Heinrich being the starting quarterback,” Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said. “That being said, I also have a lot of confidence in Jeff. I’m getting them both ready. I have full confidence in Heinrich. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Illinois may again be without leading rusher Reggie Love III (44 carries, 248 yards), who sat out the last game with an ankle injury.

The Illini have won the last three meetings, including a 26-9 victory at Nebraska last October, but the Cornhuskers hold a 13-6-1 lead in the series. Nebraska’s last win in Champaign came in 2019.

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Jeff Sims (7) fumbles a snap against the Colorado Buffaloes in the first quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska QB Jeff Sims (ankle) remains uncertain for NIU game

Nebraska coach Matt Rhule did not commit to quarterback Jeff Sims starting for the 0-2 Cornhuskers against Northern Illinois on Saturday due to a lingering left ankle injury.

“I’m not sure what Jeff’s status will be for the game,” Rhule told reporters Thursday. “He’s progressing. … I know he feels like he’s getting better, he’s moving around so we’ll how it goes.”

Earlier in the week, Rhule declared Sims was the program’s starting quarterback despite Sims throwing four interceptions and losing two fumbles in two losses to open the 2023 season.

Sims, a Georgia Tech transfer, has completed 20 of 34 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown in the two games. He has been solid on the ground, rushing for 158 yards, including a 57-yard score against Colorado.

Nebraska’s backup options if Sims can’t take the field are Heinrich Haarberg and Chubba Purdy. Rhule said that Purdy, the younger brother of NFL quarterback Brock Purdy, has been bothered by a groin injury and isn’t 100 percent.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders runs on the field before the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

‘Just ball out’: No. 22 Buffs, Deion Sanders eye encore vs. Nebraska

It took just one game for new coach Deion Sanders to match Colorado’s 2022 victory total.

The Buffaloes (1-0) also made quite a splash in the debut of “Coach Prime” and are the No. 22-ranked team in the nation entering Saturday’s contest against Nebraska (0-1) in Boulder, Colo.

The overwhelming preseason storyline was that Colorado was in for a long season as it had just 10 returning scholarship players in the program due to Sanders’ roster overhaul that brought in 84 new players.

But last week’s epic 45-42 road victory over TCU — a team that played in last season’s national title game — has prompted a quick change of perception. Suddenly, praise is overflowing and quarterback Shedeur Sanders and two-way standout Travis Hunter are being mentioned as Heisman Trophy candidates.

“Hey man, all we have to do is win. You see all the attention that we’re getting? That has registered now,” Deion Sanders said during Tuesday’s news conference. “These young men, they know now that if we just ball out, we’re going to get the love that we desire. And that’s all they want. They want attention, focus, a little love and light. Ain’t nothing wrong with that as long as they use it in the right way.”

Shedeur Sanders set a school record with 510 passing yards while throwing four touchdown passes, running back Dylan Edwards scored four touchdowns (one rushing, three receiving) in his college debut and Hunter caught 11 passes for 119 yards on offense and intercepted a pass near the goal line on defense.

Hunter, who followed Deion Sanders from Jackson State to Colorado, played a stunning 129 snaps in his Buffaloes debut.

“It’s fun. It’s all in your body, but that’s what you got treatment for,” Hunter said. “I liked it. I like going out there. I didn’t get a touchdown but I got an interception, so that’s just gonna help my stats. That’s gonna help my team.”

Like Deion Sanders, Nebraska’s Matt Rhule also is in his first season at a new school. He coached at Temple and Baylor in the college ranks and spent 2 1/2 seasons with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers before being fired last October.

Rhule said Monday that Colorado’s opening performance wasn’t a stunner to him.

“Coach Sanders is a football guy,” Rhule said. “While you can watch all their practices and stuff on TV, at the end of the day when has he ever not been serious about football? He’s been a head coach now. They’ve got elite players and elite players up and down the front. Every time you have a great quarterback you have a chance to win. I wasn’t surprised at all.”

Rhule’s debut with the Cornhuskers was not a happy one. Nebraska blew a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead as Minnesota scored 10 points in the final 2:32 to post a 13-10 victory.

Dragan Kesich kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired for the Golden Gophers.

Quarterback Jeff Sims was intercepted three times in his Nebraska debut. The former Georgia Tech starter completed 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for a team-high 91 yards on 19 rushes.

“He’s not the first quarterback that’s ever thrown three interceptions,” Rhule said. “The great ones bounce back from it even better. I think you find out about people when they go through a little bit of adversity.”

Cornhuskers receiver Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda suffered a season-ending ACL tear against Minnesota.

Nebraska leads the all-time series 49-20-2 but Colorado has won the lone two meetings since the Cornhuskers departed the Big 12 for the Big Ten following the 2010 season. The Buffaloes prevailed 34-31 in overtime on Sept. 7, 2019 in Boulder in the most recent meeting.

–Field Level Media

Jul 27, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA;  Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule speaks to the media during the Big 10 football media day at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Rhule era at Nebraska begins with test at Minnesota

The latest Nebraska reboot begins Thursday night when the Cornhuskers visit Minnesota to open the 2023 season in a Big Ten Conference game in Minneapolis.

Matt Rhule is the program’s fourth full-time head coach in the past decade, taking over for Scott Frost, who was fired midway through the 2022 campaign after going 16-31 in four-plus seasons. Rhule returned to college after two-plus years coaching the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, but he has experience in rebuilding collegiate programs with successful turnarounds at Temple and Baylor.

Nebraska is coming off a 4-8 season in 2022, one in which it lost five games by one score.

“We won’t know truly who we are until we play a game, and probably a couple games,” Rhule said. “I talk a little bit about getting to that first game and there being a messy front end. There’s also a messy front end to each season and a messy front end to a new coach.”

Minnesota went 9-4 last year and won five of its final six games, including a victory over Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Golden Gophers have made bowl games in four of six seasons under P.J. Fleck, who is 44-27 with the school, and his three nine-win seasons are tied for second most in school history.

“We’ve gotten the most out of every football team we’ve been able to coach,” Fleck said.

Like many teams, Nebraska is overloaded with newcomers. The roster features 63 players who weren’t in Lincoln a year ago, including quarterback Jeff Sims, a transfer from Georgia Tech who is expected to start. Sims had more than 5,600 yards of total offense in three seasons with the Yellow Jackets, while Virginia transfer Billy Kemp IV’s 192 career receptions ranks sixth among active FBS receivers.

Minnesota’s changes are more subtle, and mostly within. Greg Harbaugh Jr., the tight ends coach, is now coaching quarterbacks and will be co-offensive coordinator, and his No. 1 will be redshirt sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis, who takes over for Tanner Morgan.

Kaliakmanis played in 11 games with five starts a year ago, while Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler steps in as the main ball carrier after school career rushing leader Mohamed Ibrahim graduated.

–Field Level Media

Jan 23, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Neil Smith cheers on the fans at the drum before the start the AFC Divisional playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska lands ATH Keelan Smith, son of legendary pass rusher Neil Smith

While Neil Smith is revving engines as the Kansas Motor Speedway’s NASCAR grand marshal on Sunday, his alma mater pushed the recruitment of three-star athlete Keelan Smith across the finish line.

Keelan Smith, a “hybrid” receiver who can play running back or tight end, committed to Nebraska and coach Matt Rhule on Friday. The Missouri native had 11 touchdowns as a junior last season and is expected to remain in the Class of 2024 rather than reclassify. At 6-3, 209, he’s viewed as a prospect at outside linebacker in addition to the offensive role.

Neil Smith’s college teammate, Danny Noonan, also has a son in the Huskers’ 2024 recruiting class: defensive end Maverick Noonan. Danny Noonan was the No. 12 pick in the 1987 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He was a contract holdout, but overcame injuries to unseat Hall of Famer Randy White at defensive tackle.

Smith had offers from Missouri, Kansas and others but opted to join a Top 25 recruiting class that is even deeper on NFL bloodlines.

Linebacker Willis McGahee IV, son of the two-time Pro Bowl running back, is also in Rhule’s ’24 class.

Neil Smith played defensive tackle at Nebraska and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1988 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. After registering 85.5 sacks in nine seasons with the Chiefs, he joined the division rival Denver Broncos and won back-to-back Super Bowl rings alongside John Elway. Smith retired after the 2000 season with 104.5 career sacks.

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Mickey Joseph watches his team play the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska parts ways with Mickey Joseph, accused of domestic violence

Mickey Joseph, who served as interim coach of Nebraska for nine games this season, is no longer employed by the school after his arrest for felony domestic violence.

The school said Friday that Joseph’s separation date was Dec. 6. Nebraska placed Joseph on administrative leave after his Nov. 30 arrest.

“Coach Joseph is no longer part of the University of Nebraska football program or an employee of the University,” a school spokesman told media outlets via statement.

It is unclear whether Nebraska will honor the remainder of Joseph’s $600,000 assistant coach yearly contract, which would have run through Dec. 31, 2023.

Joseph, 54, was arrested on suspicion of choking and punching his wife and pulling her hair during a dispute on Nov. 30. He was released on bond the following day and ordered not to have contact with his wife.

Joseph’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 30.

The incident occurred just days after Matt Rhule was tabbed as Nebraska’s new coach. Rhule was considering having Joseph on his staff but that is no longer a possibility.

Joseph became interim coach after Scott Frost was fired after a 45-42 home loss to Georgia Southern on Sept. 10 that dropped the team’s record to 1-2.

The Cornhuskers went 3-6 under Joseph to finish the season with a 4-8 record.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule reacts in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Rhule officially named head coach at Nebraska

One day after word of negotiations had leaked, Nebraska officially named former Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule its new head coach on Saturday morning.

The contract will be for eight seasons, and the school plans to introduce Rhule in a press conference in Lincoln on Monday.

“It is a privilege to welcome coach Matt Rhule, his wife Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” Nebraska Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Trev Alberts said in a statement. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

Rhule, who had college success as a head coach at both Temple (28-23 in four seasons) and Baylor (19-20 in three seasons), was fired in October by the Panthers after a 1-4 start. He had an 11-27 record in two-plus seasons with the team.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field.

“My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule, 47, was 47-43 in the college ranks with Temple (2013-16) and Baylor (2017-19). At the latter, he was credited with turning around a program that had been decimated by scandal under former coach Art Briles. In Rhule’s final season there, the Bears were 11-3 and played in the Sugar Bowl.

Nebraska is in another once-proud program in desperate need of a turnaround after firing coach Scott Frost as the Cornhuskers started the season at 1-2. Nebraska has won five national championships but none since 1997, when Frost was the quarterback.

Frost was 16-31 in four-plus seasons with Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers haven’t won a bowl game since 2015 and last won 10 games in 2012. They finished this season with a 4-8 record (3-6 Big Ten) after posting a 24-17 win over Iowa on Friday.

–Field Level Media