Do you hear the rattling of your windows? Do you feel the trembling ground beneath your feet? Well, it’s no natural disaster thankfully, but it’s the sound of the Nebraska Hype Train rumbling into Lincoln. And by “into,” I mean the hype is being manufactured a little differently this time around.
If you’ve paid any attention to offseason college football talk, you’d notice that the national scribes are much, much higher on Nebraska football than anyone locally. The Huskers have been picked everywhere from Big Ten West champs to Big Ten Conference champs.
Heck, even Dan Orlovski, a former quarterback and current ESPN personality, said Scott Frost’s team is a darkhorse for the playoffs/national championship. Um, yeah, that’s walking a short plank if you ask me, but, hey, who knows?
Is this hype because they know something us fans don’t? Do they have that much confidence in Frost? Or maybe it’s just because Husker fans have been let down so often over the past decade that it’s better just to keep the expectations in check? Like, really in check. I don’t know, I’m guessing it’s a combination of everything. But, you know what, it’s good to finally be in the conversation again, regardless of what happens this season. Can’t be any worse than back-to-back 4-8 seasons, right? Nebraska WAS football in decades past. Lately, Nebraska has just simply PLAYED football. It’s been awfully tough to watch at times. But the changes that Frost and Co. have implemented in just two years will start to pay dividends in game one of this season. And let’s not forget what the coaches had to start with.
Culture was an issue. Hard work was an issue. Attitude was an issue. Accountability was an issue. Strength and conditioning was an issue. Recruiting was an issue. And if all that wasn’t problematic enough, depth across the roster was downright embarrassing at a lot of positions. Frost has his hands full, and the rebuilding is going to take several years. But with the incredible boost in roster numbers and recruiting already in such a short time, plus having the entire athletic department all on the same page, there’s no doubt Nebraska football is on the upswing. One can joke about the program hitting rock bottom and the only way is up anyway, and, well, that’s true. But there’s been significant progress in every part of the program. Players are bigger, stronger, faster. They crave competition instead of feeling entitled. The coaches are so detailed and believe in their work so strongly that it just oozes confidence. Now, will all of this translate into wins? Yes, no doubt about it. How many? Well, even as good as the changes seem right now, the bar has been set pretty low. Breaking that four-win mark is definitely the first target this team needs to aim for this season.
Let’s get it going!
With the previous roster mismanagement, Frost will have to get creative in building depth. A staggering 77 players at the time of this writing are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That does include walk-ons, but you get the gist. Compare that to only 24 seniors, with a handfull of those who probably won’t see the field. So the future is bright, but it’s going to come with a lot of patience and coaching.
Flipping the roster has been a huge priority since Frost and Co. have gotten here. Anyone could see that Nebraska just didn’t look like Dear Old Nebraska U anymore, and especially didn’t look the part compared to the blue-blood schools in the Big Ten Conference. But as you’ll see, even starting this season, recruiting has taken on a whole new “look.” What Nebraska lacked was athletic players who had size, height and length to spare. Certain body types in particular positions will now be the norm. Take offensive tackle, for instance:
Freshmen Bryce Benhart is 6-9, Jimmy Fritzsche is 6-7, Matthew Anderson is 6-6, and Brant Banks is also 6-7. At defensive lineman, you’ll find guys 6-4, 6-5 and 6-6, as well. You’ll see a “rangy” difference in athlete at the cornerback and outside linebacker spots, too. In just about any sport, length is the greatest equalizer.
WRs and tight ends
“Diverse” is definitely how you could describe Nebraska’s wide receiving corps. Guys like Wan’Dale Robinson, JD Spielman, Mike Williams, Miles Jones and Jaron Woodyard are matchup nightmares. They will be split out wide, in the slot, lined up in the backfield, run jet sweeps, and whatever else you can think of to create mismatches. Now add Kade Warner, Kanawai Noa, Jaevon McQuitty and Darien Chase to the fold, you have a full house. A full house of possession receivers and burners. But, for this offense to really have success, some of the “smaller” receivers need to step up and take the heat off of Spielman — mostly guys like Williams, Jones and Woodyard.
The tight end group was almost an afterthought in last year’s offense. With this offensive scheme, there is a tight end/receiver open every single play, and the tight ends shouldn’t be as underutilized this time around. As quarterback Adrian Martinez continues to master the offense, he’ll target guys like 6-4 Jack Stoll, 6-7 Kurt Rafdal, and 6-8 Austin Allen more and more.
Special teams/field position
Only six teams in the country were worse than NU at field position last season. That’s extremely poor. Winning or losing the field position battle isn’t just about turnovers or penalties. Special teams plays a vital role in the “hidden yardage” needed to win games.
With a more athletic roster, Nebraska hopes to have better kick and punt coverage, and, excitingly, better kick and punt returns. The latter of which hasn’t happened much over the years except with a healthy De’Mornay Pierson-El. The Huskers now have a cabinet full of potential return and coverage teams that can get the job done.
Only twice in the decade have the Huskers been in the top 50 in takeaways. With a tradition as rich as the Blackshirts have, it’s almost inconceivable that could happen. To dovetail off of the field position issue, Nebraska has been so incredibly poor in the turnovers category that even the slightest uptick would bolster the Big Red. Heck, with a few more turnovers, maybe the defense will actually get off the field on third downs. Now there’s an issue that plagued the Blackshirts last year over and over again. In fact, NU’s defense was the 125th worst defense in getting off the field on third down. That’s mind-blowingly bad.