Nebraska Football: Five Takeaways from Nebraska’s 2020 COVID-Influenced Schedule

On Wednesday, the B1G released its conference-only schedule. After months of finger-crossing and breath-holding, at least now we have an on-paper schedule for Nebraska football in 2020. Here’s Nebraska’s new 2020 schedule

Sept. 5at Rutgers
Sept. 12Illinois
Sept. 19Wisconsin
Sept. 26at Iowa
Oct. 3Minnesota
Oct. 10at Ohio State
Oct. 17BYE
Oct. 24at Northwestern
Oct. 31Penn State
Nov. 7BYE
Nov. 14at Purdue
Nov. 21Michigan State

Here are five quick takeaways from the schedule’s release

1) OMGOMGOMGASCHEDULE!!!!!11!!1!!

There was quite a little buzz earlier in the week that the B1G was going to opt out of the 2020 football season due to safety concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. So to see a schedule – any schedule – is a glimmer of hope that we will see Nebraska take the field in some way, shape, and form in 2020.

2) THE B1G SCHEDULING OFFICE REALLY HATES NEBRASKA

Since Nebraska’s entry into the B1G, it’s been fair to criticize the number of times Nebraska has drawn heavyweights from the other division. Sure, at some level that’s a testament to Nebraska’s television drawing power, but I think many Nebraska fans in the last few years could have done with a little less Ohio State on the schedule.

Before the pandemic, Nebraska was slated to open the season against Purdue, which would have been a nightmare of an opening game. In a season where Nebraska really needed to put a good foot forward, asking NU to open up against a healthy Rondale Moore and face its old defensive coordinator in Bob Diaco was a banana peel on steroids.

Now, Nebraska gets a trip to Piscataway to face Rutgers. Sure, on paper, Nebraska gets to open against the worst team in the B1G. But Nebraska also has to (1) travel all the way to New Jersey in the midst of a pandemic – literally the longest possible trip for a B1G conference game – and (2) has to play a team that currently is undergoing a massive coronavirus outbreak. Currently, 28 k(!) players plus staff of the Scarlet Knights are COVID-positive – and we are at the time of writing one month from playing a game.

3) MURDERERS’ ROW

Nebraska does ease into the schedule somewhat, with Rutgers (travel and COVID outbreak notwithstanding) and Illinois. But after that – parents, cover the eyes of young children.

Wisconsin. At Iowa. Minnesota. At Ohio State.

That’s … daunting. Sure, I know it’s a conference-only slate, so you’re going to get nothing but B1G teams. But, still, that’s quite a gauntlet to run.

4) THE SCHEDULE IS STILL ASPIRATIONAL

Look, it’s a great thing to see the schedule on paper (or, far more likely, on a screen, except for all you olds who still print things out). And the fact that the B1G has put a schedule out does mean that there is going to be at least an attempt to play the games.

But we’re still in the midst of a pandemic raging through the country, one that doesn’t look likely to recede any time soon. The status of the pandemic was described by epidemiologist Michael Oesterholm in Business Insider like this:

“There’s no evidence there’s going to be a decrease in cases, a trough. It’s just going to keep burning hot, kind of like a forest fire looking for human wood to burn.”

Gulp.

So just brace yourself, Husker Fan. Major League Baseball – which has more centralized power, more resources for testing, has smaller rosters, and doesn’t play a collision sport – has been struggling mightily to avoid outbreaks.

We can hope for the best, and that we get all the football the B1G just announced. But there’s a lot that could go wrong, so be prepared for the possibility that the schedule could be changed, shortened – or curtailed altogether – if its required to keep players, coaches, and staff members safe from the pandemic.

5) THIS IS A BONUS YEAR

There’s been some silly talk about Scott Frost being on the hot seat this year. Even in a normal season, Frost’s backing from the administration would keep him safe but all from the most disastrous of outcomes in 2020.

But it’s also true that Frost has gone 9-15 in his first two years in Lincoln. Recruiting is still strong, which indicates a faith in what Frost is building. But at some point it has to show on the field. Pre-pandemic, 2020 really was a critical year to show some signs that Frost’s system would work in Lincoln.

That’s all changed now. With very limited offseason practice, with the restrictions of the pandemic, and with all the chaos and uncertainty, it’s almost impossible to judge Frost’s progress based on 2020’s results.

So, Husker Fan, take what you get this year – whether it’s all ten games or some percentage – as a bonus. It’s somewhat remarkable that we could get any college football to watch, even in empty stadia. Enjoy whatever it is we get this year, and look forward to 2021 where (at least hopefully) we will get an opportunity to fairly judge where Frost’s progress is.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Electronic Arts Proves Fans Are Nebraska’s Most Powerful Asset

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My guess is a good percentage of those reading this blog have played a football videogame at some point. And while we all lament the loss of NCAA College Football, Nebraska fans got a welcome jolt of good news from Electronic Arts.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Madden franchise, recently EA added a “Face of the Franchise” mode where you can play a character working his way up from college to the pros. Last year was the first time since NCAA 14 that licensed college teams and uniforms were in a video game (with fictional players) as your created character competed in the College Football Playoff.

For this year’s version, two new schools were included in your choices of which college your character can attend – and take a look at what one of your options are.

Yep, Husker Fan, your virtual athlete can now sign with Nebraska on Signing Day and wear the N in two years’ worth of College Football Playoff games. You are forgiven in advance for just playing that tiny sliver of Madden 21 over and over (and over and over and over) again.

Ohio State alums Chase Young (the second overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft) and Dwayne Haskins (the Washington NFL team’s starting quarterback) were not pleased with EA’s decision to choose Nebraska and Michigan State over Ohio State.

And they have a point. Ohio State has been one of the dominant powers in college football in the Playoff era. Nebraska has endured three consecutive losing seasons and hasn’t been to a bowl since a 38-24 loss to Tennessee in the 2016 (!) Music City Bowl.

So what’s Nebraska doing on this list of college football luminaries? Why would EA think to put a program that has gone 13-23 in the last three years in such a place of prominence, that include that red N on the list would make its game sell more copies?

Because of you, Husker Fan.

Sure, Nebraska has its history of greatness. But Nebraska hasn’t been great for quite a while now. But it’s you, Husker Fan, and your loyalty and passion that keeps Nebraska’s place as a national program, one that a company like EA would think is a selling point.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst made this point after Nebraska’s loss to Colorado last year.

Even more than other programs, Husker Fan, you are the beating heart of why Nebraska is considered a blue-blood of college football. From a distance, there’s no reason the Nebraska program should be considered alongside the royalty of college football.

Except for you. You’re the ones who painted Folsom Field red, and in doing so you were the spiritual heirs of all those red-clad faithful that boarded the trains and descended on the Rose Bowl in 1941. You’re the ones who have sold out Memorial Stadium since 1962. You’re the ones, ultimately, who provide the platform from which Nebraska has the potential to launch itself back into the college football stratosphere.

You know the tune. You’ve sung the words – probably about a half-count off the beat, because that’s how we Nebraskans roll.

We’ll all stick together, in all kinds of weather, for dear old Nebraska U

Nebraska’s inclusion in Madden 21 is yet another example of how the wildly, crazily devoted fanbase keeps the soil fertile for a rise to national prominence for the Cornhuskers.

So pat yourself on the back, Husker Fan. Buy your copy of Madden 21 and enjoy seeing the scarlet and cream in the College Football Playoff – at least until we can see it for real.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Frost’s Comments Put Pressure Squarely on Martinez

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In the offseason, most of us are used to non-descript, happy-talk, coach-speak interviews talking about how this year’s squad has never practiced so well, never been so together, and all the other cotton candy gobbledygook we usually get.

In other words, college football coaches have taken a page from Crash Davis’ playbook.

“You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends.”

  • Crash Davis, “Bull Durham”

Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost apparently never saw the movie. In an interview with Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Frost was talking about why quarterback Adrian Martinez struggled last season. We knew about his injury issues, and that he had surgery in the offseason. But then Frost told us – or at least confirmed to us – something we didn’t know before.

Year 2, because of the situation, I think he was able to put it in cruise control a little more, and I think that showed up on the field a little bit. That’s not to put everything on him. There’s a lot of things he couldn’t control. But I don’t think he’ll be lax in his preparation ever again.

Stop. Read that paragraph again. Let it sink in.

Frost just told us that last year Martinez was “in cruise control.” That Martinez was “lax in his preparation” last season.

That’s a heck of a thing to say about your junior quarterback, your incumbent starter. That’s putting a heck of a lot of pressure on his shoulders. You know if he struggles next season, both Martinez and Frost will be peppered with questions about Martinez’s preparation and effort level.

So why would Frost say something like that?

Well, first of all, likely because it’s true. Martinez didn’t really have a legitimate challenger for his job last year. Noah Vedral is a great story and a competent athlete, but there’s a reason he’s playing at Rutgers this year. Luke McCaffrey is an electric athlete and certainly would have been a serious contender – if it wasn’t crystal clear that Frost had decided he was not going to burn McCaffrey’s redshirt season by playing him more than four games last season.

(ed. note: an earlier version reflected Vedral transferring to Northern Illinois, and the error has been corrected)

But even if it’s true, Frost didn’t have to say it out loud. So the clearest answer has to be that he’s sending a message to Martinez. The starting quarterback’s job is his to win – but Nebraska has other options if Martinez isn’t able to answer the bell.

This year, McCaffrey will have every ability to challenge for the starting job (although I still think he’s likely to be Nebraska’s version of Taysom Hill). And true freshman Logan Smothers looks every bit the part of a kid who could come in and win a starting quarterback job as a true freshman in Frost’s offense – just like Martinez did in 2018.

We still really don’t know what the 2020 season is going to look like under the specter of the coronavirus pandemic. But Nebraska is coming off three straight losing seasons, and facing a murderous schedule. Frost knows that – while he’s certainly not on the hot seat – the clock is ticking for him to turn Nebraska into a winning program again.

When Martinez is right – physically and mentally – he’s one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the nation. We knew he wasn’t right physically last year, and now we know he wasn’t right mentally either. Clearly Frost must be confident of Martinez being ready physically, or he would not have laid down such a public challenge to him mentally.

We will see in September (hopefully) the fruits of Frost’s decision. Either Martinez will return to the form we saw as a freshman – or we could see a new signal-caller for Nebraska.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Nebraska Fans Should Leave the Chris Doyle Story Alone

Iowa has suspended its strength coach, Chris Doyle, after numerous reports of African-American players were treated poorly because of their race. In announcing the suspension, head coach Kirk Ferentz called it a “defining moment” for Iowa’s football program, and that “[b]lack players have been treated unfairly for far too long.”

Doyle, the highest paid strength coach in college football, has taken to Twitter in his defense.

In a sign that Nebraska fans are truly starting to see Iowa as a rival (as if this wouldn’t seal Iowa’s rival status forever), some Husker fans took glee in twisting the knife about Iowa’s struggles with this story.

It’s understandable, of course. But, Husker Fan, you should know better.

First, and most important, there are some things that are more important than sports, than rivalries. With the aftermath of the national – even global – response to George Floyd’s death at the hands (and knee) of the Minneapolis Police Department, the subject of racial equality should not lowered to grist for the mill of a football rivalry.

There are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed, even in rivalries. Nebraska fans old enough to remember Tom Osborne’s time in the spotlight after his decisions about Lawrence Phillips should know that. And Nebraska fans have gone overboard, as well (Sal is dead, Go Big Red!) and Husker Fan doesn’t need another black eye like that.

In addition, we should keep in mind that this story is still developing. If you follow Rob Howe of HawkeyeNation, you can see that some of the stories being told implicate offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz – and even up to his father the head coach as well.

Husker Fan, you’ve got plenty of ammunition to feed the rivalry fire. The Iowa fanbase’s bizarre infatuation with Nebraska. The empty trophy cabinet. Hanging banners for Liberty Bowl wins and TaxSlayer Bowl appearances. Being satisfied with good instead of great. Ferentz’s massive bonuses for seven-win seasons.

Please, though, keep in perspective that this is about football in the midst of a global pandemic and a world-wide display of righteous anger against racial injustice. Just sit this one out, Husker Fan.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Why Frank Solich was Better at Nebraska than Bo Pelini

It’s May, and we’re in the midst of a global pandemic that have pretty much shut down all live sports and made us all consider how many times we can re-wear a pair of sweatpants before they absolutely, positively have to be washed (spoiler alert: it’s nine, absent an unfortunate incident with the nacho cheese dip).

So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise when Nebraska fans lost their collective minds for a bit when Sports Illustrated posted an article called “Bo Pelini Unfiltered” in which he … said some things about his time in Lincoln.

I’m kinda done litigating Pelini the coach at Nebraska. He had some amazing successes and strong support from many of his players, but also had his glaring failings and unforgivable immaturity.

But in all the hullabaloo, I was scrolling through Twitter (which, I know, is bad for your health) and saw a Nebraska skeptic admonishing the fanbase to appreciate Pelini as the best Nebraska coach not named Osborne or Devaney. My immediate reaction (because it’s Twitter, duh) was “Frank Solich on line 2 for you.”

That got me to thinking, though. Is that a defensible position? Was Solich’s time at Nebraska’s better than Pelini’s? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

SolichPelini
Years in charge67 (plus one game in 2003)
Record58-1958-23
Win percentage.753.716
Bowl appearances57
Bowl record2-34-3
Conference titles10
Nat’l Championship appearances10

I thought it was amazing that when you added in the one extra game Pelini coached as an interim, both Pelini and Solich won the same number of games – Solich in six years, Pelini in seven plus a game.

In the one stat that really matters, then, wins-and-losses, Solich was fairly significantly better than Pelini. But, Pelini defenders will argue (after they finish swearing at you) the program was in a much different place when Pelini took over than when Solich did.

And at some level, that’s fair. Solich was handed the keys to a national championship program and finished his last two seasons with a 16-10 record. Pelini took over a program scarred by the tenure of Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan, and inherited a fanbase still bitterly divided over Solich’s firing.

Having said that, though, it’s not like Solich didn’t have his own problems. Imagine trying to take over from a legend like Tom Osborne. That’s an impossible task for almost anyone to achieve – which makes Osborne’s success that much more remarkable after succeeding Bob Devaney.

And it’s not like the cupboards were bare when Pelini took over. Callahan had his flaws as a head coach, but he was the best pure recruiter Nebraska’s ever had (although Scott Frost might give him a run for his money if things turn around for him on the field). While Pelini’s tenure was marked by a maddening stability in the win and the loss column (which might be the only time you’ll see the phrase “Pelini’s tenure” and “stability” in the same sentence), Nebraska’s talent level dropped as Callahan’s recruits graduated and Pelini’s recruits took over.

So both Solich and Pelini had their challenges and had their advantages when taking over in Lincoln. And the hard, cold numbers show that Solich did better with his time in charge than Pelini did. Solich had a better win percentage than Pelini. Solich, not Pelini, is responsible for Nebraska’s last conference title. Solich, not Pelini, got Nebraska to a national title game. Sure, the Miami national title game was ugly for Nebraska, but Pelini’s appearance in a conference title game was oh god Melvin Gordon just scored again.

Then, we come to the final act for both Solich and Pelini at Nebraska. When Solich was fired, much of the Nebraska fanbase was irate and outraged. Solich had a perfect opportunity to play the martyr and get back at an athletic department that I am sure he felt did him wrong. Instead, he chose to respond with grace and dignity, not rubbing salt in the wounds of his alma mater.

Pelini? Not so much. Really, not so much.

 (I really hate linking to what is now Zombie Deadspin, but this article was from 2013 when the site still was something to admire. At least that’s how I’m rationalizing it.)

And I think that counts in judging between the two men. One acted for the good of others and minimized the damage done to the players formerly in his charge. One acted selfishly and childishly, poisoning the well for the coach that would next lead the players formerly in his charge.

That is, at least in part, why Solich has become a stable and respected head coach at Ohio, while Pelini has spent the last thirteen years of his career to end up … right where he was before he took the Nebraska job in 2007.

I’ll lay my cards on the table, I thought it was the right decision to fire both Solich and Pelini at the time. Solich’s team was clearly falling behind in recruiting, and neither the team nor the fanbase could survive Pelini’s toxicity without trophies to show for it.

But in looking back at their tenures in Lincoln, I think it’s pretty clear that Solich’s tenure in Lincoln was better than Pelini’s. Take that, Twitter.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: The impacts of Noah Vedral’s departure

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Junior quarterback Noah Vedral has entered the transfer portal, according to reports from the Omaha World-Herald. Because he is on track to graduate in May, Vedral will have two full seasons of eligibility left. Let’s take a look at how Vedral’s departure will affect the squad going forward.

Vedral likely would have entered the season competing with redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey as the backup to Adrian Martinez. With Vedral’s departure, McCaffrey – as the only quarterback on the roster with any game experience other than Martinez – likely vaults to an undisputed second-string quarterback.

This development has a couple of knock-on effects. First of all, if McCaffrey does become the clear-cut backup, then he will likely get more practice reps at quarterback. This will, in all likelihood, cut down on the amount of time McCaffrey will get working on packages at wide receiver or other gimmick packages. In other words, Vedral’s departure means we are likely to see far less of McCaffrey in the Taysom Hill-like role we saw him last season.

The other significant development from Vedral’s departure has to do with true freshman quarterback Logan Smothers. With both Vedral and McCaffrey in a backup role to Martinez, Smothers was looking at a true redshirt campaign absent a significant run of injuries at quarterback. Now, the relative paucity of depth at quarterback means Smothers could very well see playing time in 2020.

Vedral’s departure is also the end of an era for Frost in Lincoln. Vedral was the last holdover on the Nebraska roster of Frost’s time at UCF. The last ties to Frost’s glory run with the Knights are now officially severed, and now his squad in Lincoln is entirely Nebraska.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU Re-View, White 60, Red 57

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Nebraska wasn’t going to let a little thing like a global pandemic get in the way of putting on a spring game. So rather than on the FieldTurf of Memorial Stadium, Nebraska hosted a virtual spring game using the magic of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14 to simulate a game between two squads of Nebraska legends.

Streaming the game online and having it called by an at-times-bemused team of Gary Sharp and Matt Davison, Nebraska fans got a few blessed hours of something at least resembling a game day. And the game didn’t disappoint. The White Squad erased a 16-point deficit with under two minutes to play to send the game in overtime, then sealed the win with an interception of Tommie Frazier after the Whites had kicked a field goal.

We got at least something resembling a game (not to mention a smart and particularly handsome analyst nailing the winning squad and the margin of victory), so let’s dust off the cobwebs and do a game review!

THE GOOD

What a game! I’m not too proud to admit that I was into the game by the end of it. Yeah, it did feel a little weird locking in on a video game simulation, but by the end I was glued to the edge of my seat. When Eric Crouch was de-cleated at the goal line, I made a disturbingly loud noise (at least if you talk to my wife, she’ll say it was disturbing).

When the Whites tied the score with a two-point conversion, I shouted. When the Reds ran the clock out and played for overtime, I was out-loud criticizing the decision. And when Frazier’s pass was intercepted to seal the game – well, I felt feels I hadn’t felt since sports went away.

Thank you, Nebraska, for that.

All-star rosters. Seriously, how cool was it to see all those Husker greats playing alongside each other? Seeing Bob Brown working to shut down Ndamukong Suh? Watching Mike Rozier truck-stick, well, everyone? Seeing Stanley Morgan catch a touchdown from Crouch? That’s the stuff Husker dreams are made of.

Now, Nebraska, are you going to make those rosters available for the rest of us to use on our old consoles, please?

Nebraska fans show up again. Over 24,000 people were watching the livestream of Nebraska’s virtual Spring Game on Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and on Nebraska’s website. Take a look at this in comparison.

Nebraska’s virtual Spring Game out-drew West Virginia’s actual Spring Game last year. It had more viewers than last year’s Spring Games of Arkansas, Pittsburgh, and Arizona State – combined.

Never change, Husker Fan.

THE BAD

It’s still not football. The virtual Spring Game was a wonderful little blessing, an oasis of normalcy in the sur-reality that has been life with the novel coronavirus. But once the game was over, reality has an unfortunate habit of rearing its ugly head.

We didn’t get to go to Memorial Stadium on a beautiful spring afternoon. And with the response of the federal government to the pandemic being … not the greatest, it’s an open question whether college football will start on time, or with fans, or with a full season.

Of course, that’s not what’s really important. As of the time of writing, 39,015 Americans have died from COVID-19 or complications from it, a number that is still hard to really grasp in scale or scope. So if college football has to wait to prevent that number from going up, then wait it should.

But it doesn’t make its absence any less sad for those of us who spent an afternoon watching a video game.

Six-year-old technology. I was amazed at how well the graphics of NCAA Football 14 held up, even on a big-screen TV. But, come on, the game is six years old. The real NCAA is just now taking baby steps towards moving on athletes being able to use their own name, image, and likeness, which is the lynchpin for the return of a college football game. Hopefully the loss of revenue from cancelled sports (including March Madness) will spur the NCAA to find new sources – like what could be earned from a next-generation college football game.

Disturbing accuracy. During the virtual Spring Game, Nebraska was consistently unable to manufacture an effective screen game. The first touchdown of the game was set up by an interception of a swing pass out to the flat. And yet again, Nebraska did not score a touchdown in overtime – even though it was Nebraska on both sides of the ball.

Say what you will about the last-gen graphics, but the game got Nebraska pretty spot on.

AND THE RESTORATION OF COMMUNITY

So, why did that work? Why did just about everyone who watched the virtual Spring Game come away with positive feelings?

Well, the most obvious answer is because we’re all starved for sports, and we’ll take what we can get.

But I think it’s more than that. As the game was going on, and I was live-tweeting and interacting with others, it really struck me how much this community of fans is a large reason why sports are so important. People of different ages, different backgrounds, different political persuasions, are all able to set aside whatever differences they may have and enjoy a collective experience watching a game.

Where else in 2020 America does that happen? Even before the term “social distancing” became ubiquitous, the defining characteristic of life in America as been how people retreat to their own bubbles, never interacting with those outside of a very specific circle.

Sports dissolve all of that. Bernie Bros and MAGA enthusiasts have common ground in complaining about how Nebraska’s 3-4 scheme struggles against a power rushing attack. Avocado-toast-eating millennials and OK Boomers can talk for hours about the merits of Luke McCaffrey making a position switch if Adrian Martinez is able to find his freshman form.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that one of the great joys in my life is, on game day, to sit with 90,000 of my best friends from all walks of life and enjoy the shared roller-coaster of emotions that is the big, dumb, loud, stupid, and wonderful game of college football.

I’ve missed y’all. I hope we can get together again soon.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Virtual Spring Game Rosters, Breakdown, and Predictions

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This Saturday was supposed to be Nebraska’s Spring Game, the opportunity for fans to get inside Memorial Stadium and get just a taste of the excitement that awaits them in the autumn. The Spring Game is enough to whet the appetite, get a glimpse of this year’s squad, and fill the mind with dreams of glories to come.

Of course, thanks to the coronavirus, there will be no Spring Game this year. But Nebraska has come up with a clever way to at least keep the fan base engaged, by hosting a virtual Spring Game (through the magic of video games) to be streamed online. The Red and White squads are populated by Husker greats, giving us at least a little bit of a chance to answer some great bar-room debates. Details about the game can be found here, and you can stream the game Saturday at 1:00 p.m. through Facebook, Twitter, or Twitch. I’ll also be live-tweeting the game (along with the rest of Husker Twitter, natch) here.

So let’s take a look, by each position group, and see how the squads match up. And keep in mind – these are teams of All-Stars, so any distinctions between the teams are the nittiest of picks. Just assume “no disrespect intended” is said after each group’s analysis.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Red Team White Team
OT: Zach Wiegert, Marvin Crenshaw

OG: Aaron Taylor, Bob Brown

C: Dominic Raiola

OT: Daryl White, Kevin Clark

OG: Will Shields, Dean Steinkuhler

C: Dave Rimington

I’ll take the squad that goes Shields-Rimington-Steinkuhler up the middle.

Advantage: White

BACKS

Red Team White Team
QB: Tommie Frazier

RB: Mike Rozier, Ameer Abdullah

FB: Joel Makovika

QB: Eric Crouch

RB: Ahman Green, Jeff Kinney

FB: Corey Schlesinger

Just imagine either Frazier or Crouch running a Frost-style offense. But a backfield of Frazier and Rozier is just too mouthwatering to pass up.

Advantage: Red

RECEIVERS

Red Team White Team
WR: Irving Fryar, Kenny Bell

TE: Junior Miller

All-Purpose: Rex Burkhead

WR: Johnny Rodgers, Stanley Morgan Jr.

TE: Matt Herian

All-Purpose: Nate Swift

Without question, a how-can-you-go-wrong menu of options. And while it’s tempting to go with the best overall player in Rodgers, the depth on the Red squad is just too much to pass up.

Advantage: Red

DEFENSIVE LINE

Red Team White Team
DE: Grant Wistrom

DT: Larry Jacobson, Jason Peter

DE/OLB: Trev Alberts

DE: Willie Harper

DT: Rick Glover, Ndamukong Suh

DE/OLB: Broderick Thomas

Talk about balance. But as terrified as I am to say it, having Suh coming up through the middle tips the balance ever-so-slightly in the White’s favor.

Advantage: White

LINEBACKERS

Red Team White Team
Demorrio Williams, Barrett Ruud, Jerry Murtaugh Ed Stewart, LaVonte David, Carlos Polk

This one has to be the toughest call of all the rosters. While you could likely say this about all of the position groups, I promise I’m only going to take the easy way out once.

Advantage: Toss-up

SECONDARY

Red Team White Team
CB: Keyuo Craver, Prince Amukamura

S: Nate Gerry, Josh Bullocks

CB: Ralph Brown, Fabian Washington

S: Mike Minter, Mike Brown

Gimmie the Brown Brothers.

Advantage: White

SPECIAL TEAMS

Red Team White Team
PR/KR: Bobby Newcombe

P: Sam Koch

PK: Kris Brown

PR/KR: Dejuan Groce

P: Sam Foltz

PK: Alex Henery

Woof. Foltz is the sentimental favorite but it’s Henery that tips the scales, even though Newcombe makes it really tempting to go the other way

Advantage: White

FEARLESS FORECAST

Seriously, how cool is this idea? How much fun will it be, at least virtually, to watch these squads of Husker legends line up against each other. It’s almost like having an updated next-gen college football video game would be something of value people would enjoy …

While the game should be a tight, four-quarter affair, look for the speed of Eric Crouch to make a play late and pull out a stunner for the White squad.

White 31, Red 28.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Reviewing the 2020 Recruiting Class (and a Super Six!)

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Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class ended no. 20 nationally, no. 4 in the B1G, and no. 1 in the B1G West, according to 247 Sports. Let’s take a look at how the class breaks down, position-by-position. The “Composite” category is the 247 Composite star ranking. Players in bold are junior-college transfers, and players in italics are early-enrollees.

Quarterback

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Logan Smothers 6’2” 190 .8976 (4 star) DUAL

As long as Scott Frost is in Lincoln, Nebraska will likely be attempting to sign a highly-rated quarterback to fit his offensive system each year. Smothers certainly fits the bill, and looks to be as close to a clone of Adrian Martinez (at least freshman Adrian) that we’ve seen. He’s lightning-quick on the ground and a legitimate threat with his arm.

Running Back

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Sevion Morrison 5’11 ½” 196 .8941 (4 star) RB
Marvin Scott III 5’9” 203 .8647 (3 star) RB

Other than placekicker, perhaps no position suffered more at Nebraska in 2019 than running back, with Maurice Washington’s drama before his departure and Dedrick Mills’ slow start. Add to that Frost’s somewhat baffling use of Rahmir Johnson’s four-game redshirt, and Nebraska’s running back room was pretty thin.

Next year’s depth should be much better, with Mills and Johnson returning along with whatever Ronald Thompkins can offer after a year of recovering from injury. Morrison looks to have the skills of an all-around back, while Scott profiles as a between-the-tackles thumper.

Receivers

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Zavier Betts 6’2” 189 .9506 (4 star) WR
Marcus Fleming 5”9 ½” 160 .9075 (4 star) WR
Omar Manning 6’4” 225 .9053 (4 star) WR
Alante Brown 6’0” 190 .8976 (3 star) WR
William Nixon 5’11” 185 .8647 (3 star) WR

Yeah, I know I just got done talking about how Nebraska’s running back depth was the worst. I kinda forgot about how dreadful the wide receiver room looked. Even if JD Spielman does return to Lincoln for his junior season (which is an open question), Nebraska will still likely be looking to walk-on Kade Warner to fill out a third receiving option in addition to Wan’Dale Robinson.

So it’s no surprise that receiver was such a significant target in this year’s class. If they’re able to make grades, Betts and Manning look to be ready to contribute right away (particularly Manning, given his previous experience at the collegiate level), and Brown’s speed (along with him enrolling early) give him a chance to contribute right away as well.

Offensive Line

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Turner Corcoran 6’6” 280 .9751 (4 star) OT
Alex Conn 6’6” 280 .8647 (3 star) OT

For all the talk of Frost’s offense being gimmicky and finesse, it’s no accident that the highest-rated prospect in 2020 is an offensive lineman. After last year’s recruiting haul, Nebraska definitely had the luxury of choosing quality over quantity in 2020. Offensive line is an area that needs patience to see fruits on the field, but the combination of Nebraska’s 2019 and 2020 classes have done quite a bit to lay  a new foundation.

Defensive Line

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Blaise Gunnerson 6’5” 250 .8801 (3 star) SDE
Jordon Riley 6’5” 330 .8524 (3 star) SDE
Nash Huntmacher 6’5” 285 .8722 (3 star) DT
Jimari Butler 6’5” 217 .8621 (3 star) WDE
Marquis Black 6’4” 280 .8614 (3 star) DT
Nico Cooper 6’5” 220 .8594 (3 star) WDE
Pheldarius Payne 6’3” 270 .8541 (3 star) SDE

Nebraska’s defensive line was one of its strengths in 2019. Which is a problem in 2020, as all three starters (Khalil Davis, Darrion Daniels and maybe Carlos Davis) look to be on NFL rosters next year. So restocking the cupboard on the defensive line was a priority in 2020. Like the offensive line, defensive line is difficult to contribute right away, but Nebraska does have a couple of candidates in junior college transfers Riley and Payne.

Linebackers

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Keyshawn Greene 6’3” 195 .9387 (4 star) OLB
Eteva Mauga-Clemens 6’2” 218 .8688 (3 star) OLB

Another quality over quantity position, Nebraska was looking for weapons to bolster an anemic pass rush. Clemens, as a junior college transfer, should provide some immediate depth, and Greene as a signing-day decision was one of the players that got Husker Twitter very excited.

Secondary

Name Height Weight Composite Position
Henry Gray 6’0” 172 .9064 (4 star) S
Jaiden Francois 6’0” 184 .9047 (4 star) S
Isaac Gifford 6’0” 175 .8434 (3 star) S
Tamon Lynum 6’2” 165 .8375 (3 star) CB
Ronald Delancey III 5’11” 160 .8551 CB

The easiest way to improve a pass rush is, of course, to get better pass rushers. But improving the secondary is an indirect way to accomplish the same goal. Nebraska’s talent haul in the secondary might be the sneakiest addition in the class, with Gray and Francois talented enough to compete for playing time as freshmen.

Super Six for 2020

6. Sevion Morrison (RB). Mills finally looked to get some momentum (not to mention carries) towards the end of 2019, and looks set to enter next season as Nebraska’s bell-cow. And while Johnson definitely flashed, Morrison showed at the high school level that he has the skills needed to be an all-around running back.

5. Henry Gray (S). It would have been just as easy to put Francois here as Gray, as adding four-star talent to the secondary will reap benefits. But Gray is also a prolific peer recruiter, at least as seen on his Twitter account, and the value of such peer recruiting can’t be ignored.

4. Keyshawn Greene (OLB). Nebraska’s linebacker corps, particularly at outside linebacker, definitely needed an infusion of talent, and Greene looks to be an effective pass rushing weapon. Just as importantly, Greene’s decision to pick Nebraska on signing day shows Frost still has the credibility amongst incoming high school players to close on recruits.

3. Turner Corcoran (OL). The highest-rated prospect probably has to be on the list somewhere, and here he is. Nothing on any offense works without and offensive line to make it work. And last year’s offensive struggles can be explained in part by having two walk-on guards and a center who never played center before. Corcoran, along with the recruiting work done in 2019, looks to upgrade the athleticism and talent level on the pipeline.

2. Logan Smothers (QB). Other than perhaps goalkeeper in hockey, no position is more important than quarterback. Smothers has all the tools Frost wants to run his offense – speed, arm talent, and leadership. If Martinez continues to struggle, and Luke McCaffrey is not able to grow in his ability to throw the ball, it’s not a silly prospect to thing Smothers could win the starting job at some point in 2020.

1. Omar Manning (WR). Nebraska needed – not wanted, needed – immediate help at receiver. Manning’s arrival not only provides an immediate starter, it gives Nebraska something it didn’t really have last year – a prototypical no. 1 receiver with the size to win contested balls as well as the speed and route running to get open. Manning’s arrival – assuming he makes grades – will have the single biggest effect on Nebraska’s 2020 squad.

GBR, baby.

Passion on Hold: A Husker Fan’s Guide to Surviving the Pandemic

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Even before the world went haywire, this blog had lain a bit dormant. The complications of a reality balancing a profession and raising two teenagers is enough to strain any content provider – to the point where the last thing on the site was about some person named Siwa.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, and within two weeks our entire world became frozen in amber. Every sport ground to a halt as we all learned the meaning of “social distancing” and the pleasures of eating our favorite restaurant food out of Styrofoam boxes.

Given the nature of my real world job, the pandemic has been pretty all-consuming, to the point where I’ve developed some pretty unhealthy habits fairly quickly. So coming back here to the reassuring world of Nebraska football (and after the last few years, who would have thought that would be true?) makes a lot of sense.

So expect to see more content coming for a while. Some if it might not be terribly timely (like coverage of the recruiting class), but it’s a good exercise for me to get caught up on things. But all of it will be proceeding under the assumption – but, let’s face it, really more the fervent hope – that the 2020 season will go off as scheduled.

But before we back to the football, indulge me for just a bit to think about this pandemic, and how we collectively respond to it, take care of each other, and take care of ourselves.

The great social stress test

I’ve heard the social distancing that we are all practicing now, with all its attendant challenges, is a grand social experiment to see how an open society handles such a challenge. I don’t think that’s the best way to describe what’s happening, though.

Instead, I look at it as a stress test for our society. Without delving too far into politics, I think it’s fair to say that even before the pandemic our social system wasn’t the healthiest. Now, we are asking one of the hardest things of a society – to make individual sacrifices for the collective good.

Most of you reading this wouldn’t die from COVID-19, the illness that comes from coronavirus infection. At least, probably, as we still don’t know nearly enough about this particular strain (which is why it’s referred to as novel coronavirus, not because it’ll be available in paperback this Christmas).

But you might be infected and not know it – the thing has a 14-day incubation period and we are criminally short on what testing we do have – so while you’re out and about you could be infecting people and not know it.

This video explains it very well.

So all this sacrifice you’re going for probably isn’t for you. It’s not for someone you know. It’s for someone you’ll never meet, to make sure to do your part so they don’t get sick and die.

That kind of altruism is a big ask, and for how long we as a nation can keep it up will tell us a lot. That’s why I think of it as a stress test – the system gets challenged and we see when and if it holds up, buckles, or fails altogether.

In addition to the general rules (focus on what you can control, stay on a schedule, avoid overconsuming news), there’s two things I am working on as a way to get through this ordeal.

Be good to someone else

First, take steps to be good to others. The big sacrifice you’re being asked to make is for someone who doesn’t really have a face. So find someone to be good to, to make their lives a little better. Eat out at a (local, take-out) restaurant, and tip liberally. If you can, keep paying the people you would normally pay (cleaners, hairdressers, and the like) who might be out of work during this social distancing. Call friends and family you haven’t talked to. Donate food (or time, if you can) at your local food bank.

Sure, it’s always good to do this. But particularly now, finding some very specific someone to do some very specific (even if its small) kindness will help give your brain a visceral reminder of why you do good things for others. And maybe that little buzz of good feeling – that small little tapping-in to the cosmic harmony that you feel when you act selflessly – will help recharge your batteries just a bit when your Netflix queue is getting thin or your kids aren’t quite the model home-school students you hoped.

Be good to yourself

On an almost daily basis, I have had to remind the people I share a home with that it’s going to be important to be patient with each other and show grace, because we’re going to be stuck with each other for a while. But the same holds true for the person you see in the mirror.

Yes, I know, there are people dying, and people making heroic sacrifices to help care for them. Yes, in comparison to that the loss of college baseball or the XFL or movies or whatever you are missing right now is trivial.

Let yourself grieve it anyway. Don’t shame yourself into trying to convince yourself that you aren’t sad, or anxious, or angry, or however it’s expressing itself.

You’re human, and you’ve lost something important to you, or fear that you will. Grieving that loss – as trivial as it might seem in the light of this moment – will help you stay strong and endure what’s to come.

Hail Varsity’s Erin Sorensen shared this piece, which really helped open my eyes about what I was processing throughout all of this, I’d suggest you check it out.

Enough preaching, I promise. From here going forward, until we get more concrete news about the 2020 season, it’ll be time to start spitting some fresh, hot college football content. We all need something positive to focus on, right Husker Fan?

GBR, baby.