Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Iowa 26, Nebraska 20

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

In a back and forth game that went to the last possession, Iowa made one more play than Nebraska and came away with a win in the Heroes Game, knocking off NU 26-20.

This time, the one play Iowa made was a sack of Adrian Martinez as Nebraska was driving for a winning touchdown, knocking the ball loose for Zach VanValkenburg (how did Wisconsin miss signing this kid?) to scoop up and end the game.

After last week’s debacle, Nebraska has gone from embarrassing back to maddening, so – progress? So in looking back at this game …

THE GOOD

Closing time. Adrian Martinez looks to have taken back his starting job at quarterback decisively, going 18-20 for 174 and no interceptions. Yes, Martinez gave up the game-sealing sack fumble. But let’s be honest, that was far more on his offensive line than on the quarterback.

More importantly, with Martinez Nebraska showed at least some semblance of a downfield passing threat. While certainly nothing that looks like a finished product, at the very least the threat of Martinez throwing downfield seemed to – at times – allow the offense to get in some semblance of a rhythm.

Luke McCaffrey is still a remarkable talent and head coach Scott Frost still refers to him as the future of Nebraska. But from where the two are now, it seems clear that Martinez as the signal-caller gives Nebraska’s offense its best chance to succeed.

Blackshirts are back. Be honest. After what you saw against Illinois, you were expecting an Iowa squad that bullied Minnesota and Penn State to run roughshod.

Instead, the Blackshirts held Iowa’s vaunted rushing attack to 2.9 yards per carry. Had Nebraska been sharper in other aspects of the game, that kind of performance should have been enough to win. At the very least, it showed Nebraska ready to stand toe-to-toe with Iowa physically – at least until Nebraska shoots itself in that toe it’s standing with.

Wan’Dale. I mean, what can you say about a guy who leads the team in rushing (six carries for 42 yards) and receiving (nine receptions for 75 yards)? It does seem like Nebraska has finally figured out ways to get Robinson the ball in ways that don’t involve lining him up at running back and smashing him against a B1G defensive line 15 times a game.

Add to it this quote after the game when asked about Nebraska fans doubting the team’s progress (as reported by Evan Bland of the Omaha World-Herald).

Keep doubting us. We’re going to get over the hump eventually. I know there’s a couple of us who will make sure that happens.

That’s the kind of leader you want in that locker room, Husker Fan. There’s plenty of ink spilled about quarterbacks and centers and coaches. But number 1 on offense might very well be the most important person in the room.

THE BAD

The third phase. For the second year in a row, poor special teams play cost Nebraska a game against Iowa. Last year, it was long kick returns. This year, it was the punt game, between allowing sizable returns and Cam Taylor-Britt’s muffed punt.

It’s as good a metaphor as any for where Nebraska is as a program. Special teams, more than offense and defense, is less about athletic talent and more about execution and attention to detail. Northwestern and Iowa have great special teams units. Nebraska’s has been varying degrees of a tire fire for the last two years.

The center experiment. Early on, Frost made a bold move, taking a highly-regarded tight end prospect and converting him to center. Last year, particularly early in the season, Nebraska struggled with the growing pains as Cameron Jurgens adjusted to his new duties and struggled delivering accurate shotgun snaps.

Against Iowa, Jurgens struggled again – and whatever effect Iowa’s clapping coaches had was about tenth on the list of things Jurgens struggled with. Nebraska had four drives that had snap issues. On three of those, Nebraska failed to score.

In a game of fine margins – and Nebraska is nowhere near good enough to win a game with anything less – that’s the difference between victory and defeat. As good as Jurgens is in other aspects of offensive line play – and he’s very good at a number of other aspects – Nebraska can simply not afford to continue to give away drives, possessions, and points based on inconsistent center snaps.

Field position. 54. 46. 55. 66. 30. 19.

Nebraska outgained Iowa, 338-322. Nebraska gained an average of 5.4 yards per play, compared to Iowa’s 4.3. So how did Iowa end up winning?

In large part, because those six numbers were the length of Iowa’s six scoring drives. That means all but one of those scoring drives started further out than the Iowa 45-yard line. And, back-breakingly, the two scoring drives that put Iowa ahead were only 30 and 19 yards long respectively.

To the credit of Nebraska’s defense, four of those six short scoring drives ended in field goals rather than touchdowns. But between turnovers and poor special teams play (see supra), Nebraska helped Iowa by giving it short fields to work with. And in a game of fine margins, that makes all the difference.

AND THE POVERTY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS

Last week’s loss to Illinois was enough to shake Nebraska fans to their core. It appeared that Nebraska had reverted back to where it was at the end of 2017, when it was simply and embarrassingly bullied and intimidated physically by mid-tier B1G competition. With that taste in your mouth, it was hard not to see Nebraska’s future – short-term and long-term – as anything other than bleak.

Nebraska’s performance against Iowa was, then, somewhat of a reassurance. The Illinois game, not the Iowa game or the Northwestern game, was the aberration. Take heart, Husker Fan, Nebraska is not the team that gets shoved off the field by Illinois. Instead, it’s the team that can outgain and either outplay or at least stand even with the best in the B1G West – and then find ways to lose.

That’s … cold comfort, to be sure. Nebraska’s future does not seem to be as hopeless as it did last week. But – as been repeated here many times – winning begets winning and losing begets losing. Nebraska as a program does not have the maturity to handle success, either in the micro or in the macro.

Bust a big run to get the ball within field goal range to tie the game? Holding penalty.

Get a three-and-out with Iowa inside its 30? Muff the punt and give up another field goal.

Get the ball inside Iowa’s 40 on a drive to win the game? Give up a sack through the A-gap and fumble away a sixth straight game.

Get a win against a team full of five-star recruits? Come out the following week with the worst loss in a decade for the program – and this is a team that lost at home to Troy, fer cryin’ out loud.

So yes, Nebraska has stopped the rot from last week at least. But Nebraska is guaranteed to have its fourth losing regular season in five years. And while a smart and particularly handsome analyst was right in that Nebraska fans should focus on one game at a time, it is hard not to notice just how far NU still is from what it was and what it aspires to be.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Ten Commandments for Husker Fans After Illinois Loss

Yes, I know Husker Fan, you’ve seen this before. More often than you should have.

But we’re here again. Nebraska just got bullied, humiliated, and embarrassed on its home field – by Illinois. Not Ohio State. Not Wisconsin. Not even (shudder) Iowa. The Fighting fricking Illini just made Nebraska a laughingstock.

There’s not a ton of point in dissecting the minutiae of what just happened. There’s plenty of outlets for those. We are here to help you, Husker Fan, try to make some sense out of all of this.

Unfortunately, we’ve done this in 2017. And in 2007. But here we are again.

I know you’re hurting right now, Husker Fan. I know you’re struggling with how to respond to this team. Here’s some guidance to help you maintain your sanity.

I. THOU SHALT CARE. This might be the hardest one, other than maybe the Tenth Commandment. The rational thing to do after seeing this debacle is to detach yourself emotionally and walk away.

Don’t.

Caring passionately about a football team is a blessing, a gift that lets you feel emotions and experience life in a way that those who aren’t fans won’t ever understand.

I know, I know, that means you just went through all of that agony – a feeling you’ve had at some level basically for the last two decades. That’s part of it – and it’s still worth the exchange.

Following a team, being a Nebraska fan, gives you a rhythm to life, and a connection to the past. It gives you things to think about, to focus on, to be excited for. Giving that up is just too high of a price to pay.

II. THOU SHALT FIND A HEALTHY SPACE FROM YOUR FANDOM. Having said all of that from the First Commandment, it is also really important to understand the need to take care of yourself. It’s perfectly fine to put your Nebraska fandom to the side for a little bit and let yourself heal.

Things will look better tomorrow, I promise. And better the day after that. By Friday, after a nice Thanksgiving meal (properly socially distanced, of course) you might even be ready to watch the Iowa game.

Your social media account will be just fine without you doomscrolling for the next few hours. Your bulletin board will muddle through without your ALL CAPS SCREED.

Rake your leaves, walk your dog, bake some bread, play a video game. Find something else that makes you happy and engages your brain.

Nebraska football will be there when you get back. And its going to need you, healthy, to stick together in all kinds of weather.

III. THOU SHALT TURN THE OTHER CHEEK. It’s gonna be ugly, Husker Fan. Nebraska’s going to be the butt of national jokes. Opposing fans are going to revel in Nebraska’s struggles. Your Hawkeye relatives and neighbors are going to luxuriate in this. You’re even gonna get things like this.

(Honestly, well played, Illinois social media team.)

Let them. It’s OK to acknowledge that – right now – the team you love is kinda garbage.

There’s zero point in getting into a fight with someone about this. Just acknowledge that Nebraska’s a mess, and that you still love the program. There’s a level of respect you’re going to earn for acknowledging the reality of your team being bad, and you sticking with them. And I promise, the Fourth Commandment will help you get through that.

IV. THOU SHALT SEPARATE YOUR FANDOM FROM YOUR SELF-IMAGE. This might be the most important thing to remember, just to help keep yourself sane. Yes, Nebraska’s kinda garbage right now.

But that doesn’t mean that you are kinda garbage.

You as a human being are awesome (of course you are, you’re a Double Extra Point reader)! Your friends and family don’t love you any less because your favorite team is bad. Please, please, please don’t let those streams get crossed.

Because if you’re able to remember that your team being bad doesn’t mean you are bad, that will help you keep things in perspective (see the Ninth Commandment) and stay healthy.

V. THOU SHALT NOT STRIKE YOUR COLORS. No hiding, Husker Fan. This is the time when you really earn your respect as a fan. It’s easy to be a fan when your team is good.

Now’s the time you earn your respect, Husker Fan. Wear your colors with pride, even at Thanksgiving with your Hawkeye relatives (over Zoom, of course) and let them take their shots.

I promise you, Husker Fan, not only will you earn respect, but you’ll feel better about yourself too.

VI. THOU SHALT ACCEPT REALITY. You guys, Nebraska’s bad. And there’s plenty of ways this could get worse. Both this year and looking forward.

That’s got to be your starting point. And it’s OK. What is now is no guarantee that it is what will be, whether that’s next week, next month, or next year. More on keeping faith alive in the Tenth Commandment, I promise.

But denying reality is the heart of quite a few problems we are laboring under in 2020. You will do yourself no favors cocooning yourself in a fantasy world. Accept where things are right now – good, bad, and ugly – and ride the wave out with the rest of us here in reality.

VII. THOU SHALT TAKE THE LONG VIEW. When we’ve been at these turning points before, it was pretty obvious that a coaching change was coming and that was a source of long-term hope. That’s – probably – not coming now. Frost almost assuredly isn’t going anywhere, even if Nebraska ends this strange, pandemic-influenced year 1-7.

So you gotta dig in for the long haul, Husker Fan. Yes, it looks bad now, but losing to Illinois doesn’t mean that Nebraska can’t be successful under Frost. Failure under Frost is far from a guarantee.

Of course, success under Frost is far from a guarantee too.

Nebraska football as a program is bigger than one coach – yes, even Frost. Maybe he’s not the right guy for the job. Maybe it’s the next guy that comes in that gets Nebraska back to the promised land.

Nebraska has played college football since 1890. Memorial Stadium was built in 1923. Nebraska fans have been, well, Nebraska fans, swarming to follow the scarlet and cream to its first Rose Bowl in 1941.

Nebraska football will be there after Frost is gone – whether he’s fired after abject failure or after winning national championships. That’s why being a Nebraska fan is so powerful – because it connects you to that history, that tradition, that rhythm of life that was there before you were here and will be there once you’re gone.

Don’t give up on that, Husker Fan, even though it’s not a ton of fun right now.

VIII. THOU SHALT TAKE IT ONE WEEK AT A TIME. I know, it’s hard to think that there’s a benefit of being a fan of a bad team. But one of the benefits is that you can take each game as a discrete, week-by-week experience without worrying about how it fits into the “bigger picture” of things.

College football is beautiful in large part for its weirdness. Nebraska gets Iowa next week, and the scoreboard will start at 0-0 regardless of how ugly this loss to Illinois was.

So take these gifts for what they are Husker Fan. Yeah, it doesn’t seem likely right now, but maybe things click right and Nebraska finally gets a win over Iowa on Black Friday. Or maybe they play a great game against Purdue. Or maybe they thump Minnesota.

Or, maybe none of that happens. But sports is the ultimate in reality television, and you’ll never know unless you watch. So do your best, Husker Fan, to silo off each week’s contest as a one-off rather than seeing it as a bigger picture. It’ll help you feel better, I promise.

IX. THOU SHALT MAINTAIN PERSPECTIVE. I know, I know, “it’s just a game” is loser talk.

But, really, it is just a game. And that’s the beauty of it. One of the reasons sports is such an important part of life is that it gives us a chance to feel passionately human emotions – happiness, excitement, fear, joy, anguish – about something that is ultimately meaningless.

Feeling those emotions – all those emotions, good and bad – is part of what it means to be alive, to be human. And having this big, loud, ridiculous spectacle to funnel those emotions through without (for the most part) anyone getting hurt is a tremendous blessing.

So yeah, Husker Fan, this sucks to feel like you’re back in the wilderness again, stuck there for the better part of two decades. Don’t dismiss or denigrate how bad or sad or mad you feel right now.

But if you remember that, ultimately, it is just a game, then you’re going to be well on your way to finding the strength to do all those other things that will keep you strong, healthy, and sane – well, as sane as a Nebraska fan can be, anyway.

X. THOU SHALT KEEP THE FAITH. Here’s the biggie, Husker Fan. Faith is tough, because it’s a belief in the unseen, the unproven. Faith is holding on to something even when there’s no reasonable explanation for doing so. Faith is looking into the teeth of a frightening, uncertain future and deciding to still believe in a better tomorrow.

Faith is hearing the whispers of doubt, of despair, of apathy, whispering in your ear to take the easy way out – and gently, firmly, saying no.

Faith isn’t something inherent, something you’re born with. It’s a choice. And (because it’s important to stay On Brand with this site) it’s best described by Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Lt. Commander Data I once had what could be considered a crisis of the spirit.

Lieutenant Worf You?

Lt. Commander Data Yes. The Starfleet officers who first activated me on Omicron Theta told me I was an android – nothing more than a sophisticated machine with human form; however, I realized that if I was simply a machine, I could never be anything else. I could never grow beyond my programming. I found that difficult to accept, so I chose to believe… that I was a person, that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and subprocessors. It is a belief which I still hold.

Lieutenant Worf How did you come to your decision?

Lt. Commander Data I made… a leap of faith.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Rightful Heir,” Season 6, Episode 23

You’ve done that as long as you’ve worn scarlet and cream, Husker Fan. Many of you made that leap after Nebraska was mauled by Colorado in 2001. Or Kansas in 2007. Or Wisconsin in 2012.

Make it again, Husker Fan. I promise you, it’ll be worth it. Stick with us. Just listen to this smart and particularly handsome analyst from 2007 – who admittedly might have been just a bit hyperbolic (and even, ew, used the word “haters”) in his younger days.

We must stand firm, and stand together. We must care for and respect each other, even when we disagree. We must remember that we all want the same thing. And we must believe – nay, we must know – that brighter days are ahead. Nebraska will rise again, because we the people will demand it, and will not rest until we are delivered. Let the haters crow and enjoy our time in darkness. We will rise above them, and we will once again be the insufferably polite fans who cheer as our team dominates all opponents.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 30, Penn State 23

Whew!

Nebraska fans were over the moon in the first half, watching NU out-play Penn State and take a 27-6 lead into the half. Then, the familiar second-half doldrums and catastrophic defensive breakdown came back, and Nebraska gave Penn State two legit shots to send the game into overtime.

But the defense held both times, keeping the Lions off the board in two first-and-goal situations, and salting away head coach Scott Frost’s first win in 2020.

So in reviewing Nebraska’s nail-biter against Penn State …

THE GOOD

Luke’s Team. Frost made a bold choice in benching Adrian Martinez for Luke McCaffrey – although given Martinez’s struggles going back to last year, it would have been hard to make any other decision. The decision paid off, with McCaffrey delivering decisiveness, footspeed, accuracy, and good decision-making

Special Teams. Hey, remember last year when Nebraska was literally pulling people off the street to fill in kicking roles? This year, both spots have been manned well, with Connor Culp as placekicker and Will Pryztup at punter. Culp didn’t do anything remarkable, but was incredibly reliable, going 3-for-3 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points. Even though none of the field goals were longer than 30 yards, the point is that he made them all … and kept Penn State at sufficient arms’ length to avoid yet another devastating collapse.

And when Nebraska’s offense went three-and-out late in the game and was set to give Penn State the ball back with a chance to tie, Pryztup uncorked a 53-yard punt that required a fair catch, making the Lions go 69 yards to tie the game. As we saw, Penn State was able to get most of that distance – but not all of it.

Last year, that wasn’t the case. And not having those quietly competent specialists could easily have been the difference between victory and defeat in a game like this for Nebraska.

Meaningless Stat. Penn State had 501 total yards to Nebraska’s 298 – and lost by seven. Last week, Nebraska had 442 yards to Northwestern’s 317 last week – and lost by eight.

It’s almost like total yardage is a pretty meaningless statistic. It’s not quite like a Win in baseball, but please keep in mind that total yardage can be incredibly misleading. In many ways, Nebraska beat Penn State in the same manner that Northwestern beat Nebraska last week – by forcing the opponent to be methodical down the field, and preventing touchdowns in the red zone.

THE BAD

Second Half Struggles. Nebraska has played three games in 2020. It has scored six points – in total – in the second half. That works out to 0.067 points per minute. Nebraska’s run a total of 95 second-half plays, yielding 0.063 points per play.

That’s … bad.

Thankfully Nebraska had a big enough first half lead to survive the second half offensive power outage – as well as facing an opponent somehow worse in the red zone than NU. While a win like this is critical for the team’s psyche, Nebraska can’t just cede the second half offensively if it wants to turn that mythical corner.

Staying Sharp. Nebraska’s still struggling with getting correct personnel in on offense, even coming out of stoppages of play. It wasn’t nearly the struggle it had been in weeks past, but those are the kinds of mistakes that just simply shouldn’t happen at all.

Converting. Much like last week, third down and red zone conversions for Nebraska were anemic. Nebraska was 4-for-12 on third downs, and 1-for-4 in touchdowns scored in the red zone. Both of those statistics are a big reason why Penn State was able to mount a comeback and – almost – snatch a victory away from Nebraska.

AND THE FOOT IN THE GROUND

Well, there it is, Husker Fan. We’ve talked a lot here about how winning begets winning. Now – finally – Nebraska has gotten a payoff for all its hard work. Now there’s some confidence that can build from a win over a marquee team.

Yes, I know Penn State is 0-4, but it’s still Penn State. There’s still NFL guys – a bunch of them – that were on the field trying to muster that comeback. And, finally, Nebraska was in a tight spot and made the winning play instead of having the winning play made against it.

The closest thing Nebraska had to that kind of a result was last year’s 13-10 thriller over Northwestern. Given how anemic Nebraska’s offense was in that game, it was hard to see it as a turning point – and with Nebraska getting bullied by Minnesota the following week, 34-7, it clearly wasn’t.

This feels a little different. Nebraska really dominated Penn State in the first half. Then, the calamitous find-a-way-to-lose Nebraska showed up in the second half. But the defense bowed up, again and again, and made two goal line stands to preserve a win.

So, let’s see if this is when Nebraska as a program finally puts a metaphorical foot in the ground to change direction. Next week Illinois comes to town, coming off its first win of the season after handing the starting quarterback job to dual threat freshman Isaiah Williams.

The opportunity is there for Nebraska to get only its fourth back-to-back winning streak in Frost’s tenure. A win over Illinois – a team that Nebraska has the talent to beat – puts Nebraska at .500 going into Black Friday against Iowa.

Nebraska got the win it desperately needed, to put confidence and hope into a battered program. Let’s see if that foot in the ground holds, and Nebraska can build on this victory to change the direction of the program.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Crisis of Faith After Another Self-Inflicted Failure for Nebraska

So … now what, Husker Fan?

Nebraska came to Evanston with an opportunity to put itself right in the mix for the B1G West title. In a pandemic-shortened season, and with division heavyweight Wisconsin in question, the door was wide open.

And, as we have seen time and time (and time, and time, and time) again, Nebraska ran face-first into that mythical door as opposed to kicking it open.

Nebraska outgained Northwestern in total yardage, 442-317. Nebraska gained more yards per play, 5.02 to 4.88. Nebraska ran far more plays than Northwestern, 88-65. Nebraska was even with Northwestern in turnovers, with two apiece.

Those are numbers that should point to a win. But those numbers cover the game as a whole. When Nebraska’s offense was called upon to produce when it mattered, it fell flat. Nebraska was 4-for-16 (!) on third-down conversions. Nebraska only scored one touchdown in six trips to the red zone – and turned the ball over twice in Northwestern’s end zone.

Indeed, the second interception – Luke McCaffrey bouncing a pass off his lineman’s helmet and having it flutter softly into the hands of an opposing defender for an interception – feels like a distillation of Nebraska football over the last five years.

And, really, that’s the ball game. If Nebraska puts the ball in the end zone, rather than turning it over, that’s a fourteen-point swing in a game Nebraska lost by eight.

So stop me if you’ve heard this one. Nebraska’s own ill-discipline and inability to perform at the crucial moment was the difference between victory and defeat.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst said this after Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State this year.

Nebraska, for the most part, held up physically against the Buckeyes, which is probably the most encouraging thing about the contest. For at least a half, Nebraska went toe-to-toe with the best team in the B1G.

Unfortunately, Nebraska in the second half looked quite a bit like the Nebraska we saw last year – sloppy, self-inflicted mistakes letting an opposing team get away. So next we we’re really going to see what this Nebraska team is going to be.

That’s what’s terrifying, isn’t it Husker Fan? Terrifying that the self-destruction in Evanston, the interception bounced off an offensive lineman’s helmet in the opponent’s end zone, is what this Nebraska team is going to be. It’s probably a little hyperbolic (not to mention pedantic) to be reminded of George Orwell’s “1984” quote about how a seeing the future is to “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”

But sometimes that’s what it feels like to be a Nebraska fan. When Scott Frost arrived in Lincoln, he was able to unite the fanbase around the hope of a dynamic offense and a tough-minded attitude. But what we have seen since his arrival in 2018 is exactly what we’d seen before – a team with flashes of potential that was utterly unable to get out of its own way.

Now, in year three, we’ve seen a re-run of the same movie that has all but foreclosed Nebraska’s chances of winning a wide-open B1G West division. And fans are running out of reasons for hope.

Winning begets winning, and losing begets losing. I do think Frost was right in that when Nebraska turns the corner, it will happen quickly. I’ve just become fairly certain that “when” in that sentence is doing a lot of work.

Frost ain’t going anywhere, and his inclusion on any hot-seat rankings is silly talk. He’s just signed a multi-year extension, he’s still recruiting at a high level, and making any judgments about a program in this pandemic-altered season is folly. If you’re looking for true danger signals about Frost’s tenure, watch to see if the recruiting rankings start to slip.

Until then, Frost is the guy, and he should be. He’s got every chance to get the gigantic ocean-liner U.S.S. Nebraska Football Program turned away from its current course into the Cove Of College Football Irrelevance.

But the Northwestern game felt like a turning point, at least for me – and it seemed like a lot of Nebraska fans as well. Everyone is, of course, still hoping Nebraska will turn that mythical corner and start to be a contender in the B1G West.

The certainty that Nebraska will turn that corner under Frost, though, feels like it died in the long Evanston grass on Saturday morning. Now we’re back to where we were in late-era Pelini and the entire Riley era – going full Missourian and waiting for Nebraska to “show me” before investing any kind of confidence in future competitiveness.

Penn State is coming to Lincoln this weekend. How are you approaching this game, Husker Fan? Excited at the chance for (at least on paper) Nebraska to finally get a marquee win? Or resigned to watching a game that you hope like heck Nebraska wins but holding your breath and waiting to see what borderline-comical way Nebraska finds to lose?

The answer says a lot about where you’re at 26 games into Frost’s tenure in charge.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: OF COURSE Nebraska Should Stay in the B1G!

It’s … been a rough year for everyone. The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on us all, and about things far more important than football.

Having said that, this is a blog about football. And specifically for Nebraska football, this has been a rough year. New B1G commissioner Kevin Warren earned himself no friends with being the public face of cancelling, then un-cancelling, the B1G football season.

On at least two separate occasions this year, Nebraska has born the brunt of national scorn for the (apparent) crime of wanting to play as many football games as possible. The second act of that particular drama, after Wisconsin cancelled its game against Nebraska after a COVID-19 outbreak, seemed to push many Nebraska fans to the breaking point.

Nebraska, apparently, had an agreement in place for a replacement game against the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. According to Nebraska, UTC’s testing protocols were at least as stringent as those of the B1G, so playing the game in that context would not increase any risk of exposure.

The B1G said no, and elements of the Nebraska fanbase – who already blamed the conference in general and Warren in particular for everything from negative national attention to having no fans in the stands – took their online outrage to the next level.

Now throughout the Nebraska fanbase – and even with some prominent local media members – the wisdom of Nebraska’s continued membership in the B1G has been called into question. I know it’s been a long year, and surviving this pandemic has been tough on everyone but … that’s crazy talk.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. According to USA Today here and here, the per-team conference payouts for each of the Power 5 conference schools looks like this.

ConferencePer-School Distribution (approximate)
B1G$55.6 million
SEC$45.3 million
Big 12$38.2 – $42 million
ACC$27.6 – $34 million
Pac 12$32.2 million

*pausing to let the obligatory “it’s not all about money” folks get that out of their system*

That’s a huge different in terms of per-team payouts. And before your eyes glaze over, stop for a second and think about the power that money brings. Power to hire the best coaches – like, I don’t know, some guy like Fred Hoiberg to help turn around a moribund men’s basketball program. Power to build facilities that can rival anyone in the nation and help a school like Nebraska that has to compete nationally for the best players.

And that’s just talking about the athletic side of things. I know you don’t come here for a discussion of academia, but Nebraska’s membership in the B1G is a game-changing difference for the university’s academic mission. Nebraska’s B1G membership allows the university to attract the most sought-after professors, access to some of the most lucrative grant opportunities, and the prestige to put its work before the world’s stage.

Getting back to the football field, though, the B1G provides for Nebraska something it’s never truly had – rivalries.

I know, Husker Fan, I know. Nebraska-Oklahoma holds a special place in your heart, and rightfully so. The Game of the Century will always hold a place in the lore of college football.

But, I have some hard news for you. Oklahoma was never really all that into you. Oklahoma’s rival was, is, and always will be Texas. We saw that as the Big 8 morphed into the Big 12 and Nebraska got kicked to the curb by Oklahoma.

After that? Colorado was kind of a spicy fling, but the Buffaloes bolted for the west coast at first opportunity. Missouri was just starting to feel like it had possibilities, before the SEC came calling for the Tigers (and, by the way, the B1G said an emphatic no). Kansas State? Come on, Husker Fan, are you seriously holding a torch for a game in Manhattan, Kansas?

Now, Nebraska’s got Iowa. Whether you know it or not, Husker Fan, Iowa’s had a thing for you for a very long time. As much as the black-and-gold faithful won’t admit it out loud (especially after winning five straight), there’s a special place in their hearts every time they see their scarlet-and-cream neighbors with their five national titles fall on their collective faces.

Nebraska fans are juuuuuuust starting to return the favor to their noisy neighbors. And if you, as a Nebraska fan, can’t find some hate in your heart after this, I can’t help you.

The point being, though, is that Nebraska’s home in the B1G gives the space NU to have a true, honest-to-heaven, 12-month-a-year rival, something it has never had before. That’s a good thing, as it gives Nebraska fans a chance to feel those unchecked emotions that can only come from vanquishing a truly hated rival.

Wait until Nebraska knocks off Iowa, Husker Fan, and see how you feel. Trust me, once that happens, you’ll get it.

Besides, what’s the option if Nebraska were to leave the B1G? Go back to the Big 12?

Texas is still, last I checked, Texas. True, Texas might not quite be back, but that’s not going to change how Texas as an administration operates. And as you might recall, Husker Fan, that was pretty intolerable when Nebraska kept losing votes to Texas in those halcyon Big 12 days y’all are apparently pining for.

Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel has been pretty open in his willingness to consider Nebraska leaving the B1G. Back in August, here’s his justification (if you can call if that) for such a move.

There’s money in the Big 12, too — especially one that would add Nebraska and Arkansas or UCF.

BWAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!!!

*deep, cleansing breath*

BWAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!!!

Yes, clearly the difference between the money brought in by the B1G and the Big 12 is the addition of those ratings giants … Arkansas or UCF.

So let me get this straight. Y’all want to go to a conference which is bringing in less per school now – and will go down once the pot has to be split twelve ways instead of ten – and have to deal with Texas and Oklahoma rolling over Nebraska again in terms of influence within the conference. You want to give up the power and stability that comes with being in the financially strongest conference. You want to give up the academic prestige and fundraising clout that the universities throughout Nebraska’s system now enjoy.

Because … the current commissioner is bad at his job?

Yes, the B1G botched handling this pandemic. I suspect that some of the struggle comes from the two powerhouses of the conference, Ohio State and Michigan, at loggerheads about how much risk to accept in playing a football season. And when Mom and Dad are fighting like that, it’s understandable how disorganized and incomprehensible the conference’s response has been.

There’s also, of course, a heaping dose of B1G arrogance that’s backfired. I’m firmly convinced that the decision in early August to cancel the season – when a decision did not have to be made – was done in large part because the B1G thought that the other conferences would follow suit. I mean, it is a conference that chose “Legends” and “Leaders” as division names.

When that failed, and with the two powers of the conference pulling in opposite directions, it’s not hard to understand why the conference response has been such a mess.

That doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, of course. But take a deep breath, Husker Fan.

This year was always going to be hard, regardless. Don’t let these short-term frustrations make you lose sight of the long term. Nebraska has a stable home in the most powerful conference in college sports. And you get a for-reals rivalry in the bargain.

Complain about the conference all you want, if it makes you feel better – and those are pretty sweet shirts. But Nebraska’s right where it needs to be.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Ohio State 52, Nebraska 17

After a strong start, Nebraska fell victim to both its own mistakes and a top-flight Ohio State squad, losing its 2020 season opener to the Buckeyes, 52-17. The game was more than competitive throughout the first half, but a flurry of chances taken advantage of by Ohio State put the game beyond doubt early in the second half. So, in looking back at week one of the B1G 3.0 schedule for 2020 …

THE GOOD

Signs of Life: That first half felt pretty good, didn’t it Husker Fan? You could see it, starting to take shape, that proof-of-concept of what head coach Scott Frost is trying to build. You could see Nebraska competitive in a way that we haven’t seen for a while.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s second half looked a lot like what we’ve seen earlier in terms of NU hurting itself. But after last year’s humiliation, to see Nebraska at least be able to be on the same field with Ohio State

Bringing Heat: Nebraska sacked Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields three times. Given how much Nebraska struggled with generating a pass rush last year, and that the entire defensive line was replaced, it’s an encouraging sign that Nebraska is able to generate enough of a pass rush even against an offensive line like Ohio State.

Competent Kicking: Placekicker Connor Culp wasn’t asked to do a lot, but looked like a competent FBS kicker. That in and of itself is a massive difference from last season. Remember, with a league-average placekicker, Nebraska last year is likely 7-5 with a win over Iowa. So that box, at the very least, is checked for Nebraska.

THE BAD

Self-Destruction: Nebraska was down 17-14 with three minutes to go in the first half and the ball. If Nebraska scores, they go into half with the lead. If they at least bleed the clock, they are within three points at the half.

Instead, Nebraska took a delay of game penalty to start the drive (!), went backwards on three plays, and punted the ball back to Ohio State at midfield. The Buckeyes punched in a touchdown, then scored on the first play of the second half, and all of a sudden it was 31-17.

That kind of summarized the second half. Penalties and turnovers helped snowball the game and let it get away from Nebraska. Ohio State is very, very good, probably College Football Playoff good. But Nebraska gave the Buckeyes a ton of help in the defeat.

Lack of Deep Threat: Nebraska’s quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey had a total of 290 yards of total offense – out of Nebraska’s total of 377. Wan’Dale Robinson was the only receiver with any catches (outside of garbage time), logging six grabs for 49 yards. I am not sure Nebraska threw more than one pass more than thirty yards downfield.

That’s not going to get it done against anyone, much less Ohio State. Junior college transfer Omar Manning wasn’t able to get into the game, which might have made a difference. But Nebraska’s got to find a way to manufacture some kind of deep threat or the offense is going to struggle.

The Outs: Every time Nebraska went to a single-high look, Nebraska’s secondary gave monstrous cushions to the outside receivers and left easy completions for 8-15 yards. For the most part, Nebraska’s defense held up fairly well (relative to Ohio State). And with both starting safeties for Nebraska missing the first half against Wisconsin for targeting calls.

Against Illinois (I know, I know), Wisconsin’s freshman quarterback Graham Mertz took advantage of soft outside coverage on the same kind of outs the whole game. If Nebraska is going to recover from this beating and compete against Wisconsin, that’s got to be fixed.

AND THE LONG VIEW

Ohio State wasn’t going to be the measuring stick for Nebraska’s progress. Nebraska, for the most part, held up physically against the Buckeyes, which is probably the most encouraging thing about the contest. For at least a half, Nebraska went toe-to-toe with the best team in the B1G.

Unfortunately, Nebraska in the second half looked quite a bit like the Nebraska we saw last year – sloppy, self-inflicted mistakes letting an opposing team get away. So next we we’re really going to see what this Nebraska team is going to be.

Wisconsin looked sharp in a comfortable win over Illinois on Friday. The Badgers clearly aren’t the same team without talents like Jonathan Taylor and Quintez Cephus. But like Wisconsin teams of the past, the Badgers know exactly who they are and will punish Nebraska if it can’t play cleaner.

So the season is off the ground. But next week, in many ways, the season really begins.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Predicting the Cornhuskers’ 2020 Season

OK, so now for the third time this year, here’s our official predictions for Nebraska’s 2020 season. As always, we will be using the following technique for season predictions, breaking games down into four categories.

BETTER WINWin all games in the category
SHOULD WINWin more than half the games in the category
MIGHT WINWin less than half the games in the category
WON’T WINWin no games in the category

In addition, as always, we’ll include a Fearless Forecast of the game’s score, primarily to give us a second bite at the apple to get the season record right.

(Kidding, of course, the Fearless Forecast one doesn’t count for the Double Extra Point’s “official” prediction.)

It’s shorter this year, but with everything that’s gone into getting here, it might be sweeter.

OHIO STATE (away, Oct. 24)

In 2018, a freshman Adrian Martinez took Nebraska into the Horseshoe and nearly pulled off a remarkable upset against the juggernaut Buckeyes.

In 2019, Ohio State had a new head coach and Nebraska had the momentum of ESPN Game Day being in Lincoln for the game – and got throttled by one of the best college football teams to play in Memorial Stadium, period.

It’s a weird year, and this is the first game back after a long, long layoff. If there’s gonna be a freaky result to happen, this would be the time.

Having said that, Husker Fan, expect a bad outcome for Nebraska. Just remember that the Buckeyes aren’t the measuring stick for Nebraska’s progress – at least not yet.

WON’T WIN

Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 54, Nebraska 24

WISCONSIN (home, Oct. 31)

OK, we’re cheating a little bit, as this is being written after the first half of the Wisconsin-Illinois game. Quarterback Jack Cohn will be sidelined for the Badgers for some time, but freshman phenom Graham Mertz looks every bit the part to fit in nicely – at least against Illinois’ secondary.

In this pandemic-shortened sort-of season, it’s tempting to think the whole thing could be a mulligan. But Nebraska went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin last year, until a kick return for a touchdown broke the dam open.

Wisconsin without Jonathan Taylor and Quintez Cephas is not the same offense of course. But Wisconsin has been the best team in the B1G West for some time. I’ll believe Nebraska beats Sconnie when I see it, not before.

Besides, if Nebraska wins, we’re stuck having to house this monstrosity of a trophy for a whole year.

MIGHT WIN

Fearless Forecast: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 23

NORTHWESTERN (away, Nov. 7)

The Purples always give Nebraska fits. With the overgrown grass at Ryan Field to slow down Nebraska’s speed, and with Northwestern’s discipline and toughness, the Purples are laboratory-built to keep games close. Last year, Nebraska got a walk-off (and super shaky) field goal to notch a win.

Look for a better performance for Nebraska this year. This is definitely a canary-in-the-coal-mine game, meaning if Nebraska doesn’t win relatively comfortably, then it bodes ill for the rest of the season.

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 28, Northwestern 14

PENN STATE (home, Nov. 14)

The Nittany Lions come to Lincoln with a more talented roster than Nebraska. But they come without uber-talented running back Journey Brown and linebacker Micah Parsons. Omaha World-Herald reporter Sam McKewon is convinced Penn State is a winnable game for Nebraska.

Maybe. But I’ll believe it when I see it with a talent game like this.

WON’T WIN

Fearless Forecast: Penn State 35, Nebraska 21

ILLINOIS (away, Nov. 21)

Look, Illinois went to a bowl last year and Nebraska didn’t. And Illinois is now reaping the benefit of head coach Lovie Smith’s decision to go with a massive youth project a couple of years ago, and now boasts an incredibly veteran squad.

It’s just … not a terribly talented veteran squad. Now, maybe Nebraska’s gauntlet of a schedule start takes it out of the team’s psyche and NU isn’t able to answer the bell. But this game, both because of the talent difference and because of where it is on the schedule, is the only game that goes in this category.

BETTER WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 38, Illinois 17

IOWA (away, Nov. 27)

Well, if it takes a pandemic to get Nebraska-Iowa back to Black Friday …

Yes, it’s great that Nebraska and Iowa is back on Black Friday. And yes, Husker Fan, you need to embrace the rivalry with Iowa. Believe me, they hate you regardless and have for generations, and this conference is a lot more fun if you hate them back.

In the last two years, Iowa has beaten Nebraska on last-second field goals. Iowa this year will be breaking in a new quarterback, although by this time of the season that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Nebraska outplayed Iowa last year and gave the game away at the end.

Which, fair play to Iowa, was taken advantage of by the Hawkeyes. In 2018, Iowa outplayed Nebraska and let NU back in and nearly steal the contest. Regardless, the two teams are clearly neck-and-neck with each other.

So maybe it’s a little bit of the Gambler’s Fallacy, but Nebraska’s due.

MIGHT WIN

Fearless forecast: Nebraska 27, Iowa 24 (with at least one blown kiss by an NU specialist to the empty stands)

PURDUE (away, Dec. 5)

Nebraska hasn’t beaten Purdue since a last-second touchdown from Tanner Lee (remember that guy?) to Stanley Morgan in 2017 – which was Mike Riley’s last win as Nebraska’s head coach. Purdue is still a well-coached team and will probably have all-everything tailback Rondale Moore at its disposal. Plus, a trip to West Lafayette is not ideal, even without fans.

It’s a dangerous game for Nebraska, but one where NU’s underlying talent advantage should help break the streak.

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 27, Purdue 21

MINNESOTA (home, Dec, 12)

A young, highly-touted coach falls victim to a punishing running attack, suffering a blowout loss on the road.

Yep, that’s what happened in 2018, when P.J. Fleck rowed the boat to Lincoln and Minnesota lost to Nebraska 53-28.

Look, Minnesota’s 2019 campaign was nothing short of remarkable. But why one season vaults Goldy up to the level of Wisconsin and Iowa in the upper echelon of the B1G West still escapes me. Yes, Minnesota should be good this year. But I’m waiting to see if 2019 was the rule or the exception before I will give Minnesota the same due that Sconnie or Iowa get.

MIGHT WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 28, Minnesota 21

SEASON RECAP

OK, let’s take a look and see what our system tells us about how Nebraska’s season will go

CategoryNumberExpected Wins
Won’t Win20
Might Win31
Should Win22
Better Win11
 2020 Season Projection4-4

A 4-4 mark for Nebraska would reflect steady progress, particularly with noticing a win over one of Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota. It’s not going to be challenging for a division title, but it should be enough proof-of-concept that Scott Frost’s scheme and vision can be successful in the B1G.

The Fearless Forecast is more optimistic, with a 5-3 mark – and, more importantly, notching wins over Iowa and Minnesota. This season would have to be viewed as nothing but a great success, getting Nebraska a good matchup in the Championship Week positional postseason game against the B1G East and a good bowl opponent.

So enjoy this strangest of seasons, Husker Fan. Any games we get in the midst of this pandemic are a blessing, so take them in that spirit.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Five Reasons the Cornhuskers can Rebound in 2020

Nebraska hasn’t had a winning season since 2016. That’s hard to process when it’s seen in black and white. And while three years isn’t forever, Nebraska fans can be forgiven for feeling like it has been.

But there’s reason to think that, even in this pandemic-shortened season, Nebraska can finally show that it is turning that metaphorical corner. Here’s five reasons why you should be hopeful as the new season dawns.

GETTING DOWNHILL

If there was one specific area of disappointment for Nebraska in 2019, it was a lack of offensive performance. But towards the end of the season, as Nebraska’s offensive line began performing well, NU began leaning on downhill running with Dedrick Mills.

In the seventh through ninth games of the season, Mills never had more than ten carries in a game, and never averaged more than 3.75 yards per carry. But against Wisconsin and Iowa (two of the last three games), Mills had 17 and 24 carries, and averaged over 11 (!) yards per carry against the Badgers’ defense.

This year, Nebraska’s offensive line is starting from a much better place than last year. In 2019, the middle of Nebraska’s offensive line consisted of two walk-ons and a center who never played center. This year, Nebraska’s offensive line is both more experienced and more talented, and have a proven between-the-tackles thumper in Mills.

PROTECTING WAN’DALE

The second reason is related to the first. Last year, freshman phenom Wan’Dale Robinson was the most dynamic, dangerous part of Nebraska’s offense. Indeed, with the departure of Maurice Washington, the struggles of Adrian Martinez, and the injuries to J.D. Spielman, Robinson was the only offensive weapon.

The problem with that was it put so much pressure on Nebraska to over-use their best weapon. Robinson is five-foot-nine and 185 pounds. Robinson had games with 19, 22, and 14 carries. That’s too many for a player of his size, and we saw Robinson suffer from injury and diminished proportions.

In many ways, Robinson’s use last year echoed how De’mornay Pierson-El was used in 2016 and 2017. Pierson-El, like Robinson, was a diminutive, dynamic offensive weapon. Pierson-El, like Robinson, was at many times Nebraska’s only legitimate offensive weapon. Pierson-El, like Robinson, was exposed to far too much punishment from over-use, suffered injury, and ultimately never was able to realize his potential.

If Nebraska is able to establish more of a downhill attack, and has more weapons (see below), then Robinson will be able to be used properly, not over-used, and have a chance to fulfill his potential.

OPTIONS FOR MARTINEZ

Last year, receiver was an underwhelming position for Nebraska. Again, Robinson ended up being Nebraska’s only consistent weapon, particularly with Spielman’s injury.

This year, Nebraska has a number of tantalizing possibilities at receiver. Junior college transfer Omar Manning’s size and body type is tantalizing, although his injuries have limited his availability at least at the start of the season. Freshman Xavier Betts brings a similar size, and Alante Brown has possibility as a playmaking receiver.

Tight end has always been a little bit like Lucy with the football for Nebraska, as the possible talent always seems to be present but never quite materializes (otherwise known as the Mike McNeil effect). But this year could be different. Rutgers transfer Travis Vokolek has all the attributes to be a dangerous offensive weapon, and Chris Hickman is now listed at wide receiver but is functionally a move tight end as well. Particularly with the uncertainty at wide receiver, tight end might take up the slack to provide additional weapons, and maybe force a second safety back and open up running lanes between the tackles as well.

DEONTAI’S BACK

Deontai Williams’ freshman year offered a tantalizing look at an immensely talented defensive back. At safety, Williams displayed the kind of talent and instincts that can be game-changing for a defense. Unfortunately, he struggled to carve out a role as a freshman, and was looking at his sophomore campaign to start making his mark.

An injury in the season opener derailed his entire 2019 season. But now he is back, healthy, and looks set to lead an experience secondary. While Nebraska might struggle with generating pressure, if Williams and the rest of the secondary can overachieve then Nebraska’s defense has a chance to shine.

COMPETENT KICKING

Yeah, last year was a rousing disappointment. But you can point to discrete events in a number of games – Wisconsin and Iowa being the most obvious – where even a competent placekicker would have either won the game or at least kept it very competitive. If that’s the only variable that changed, how would  you look back on a 7-5 record with wins over Wisconsin and Iowa last year, Husker Fan?

Nebraska made sure it wouldn’t be in the same situation this year, having four (!) punters and five (!!) placekickers on the 2020 roster. Michigan State transfer William Prystup will be the starting punter, and Connor Culp will be the starting placekicker. Specifically Culp, an LSU transfer who went 11-16 for field goals and 20-23 for extra points in 2017, will at least provide Nebraska with a legitimate FBS kicking option – something that was lacking last year. And just having that option will prevent Nebraska’s offense from being hamstrung as it was last year.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Assessing and Power Ranking the Cornhuskers’ 2020 Alternate Uniform

Sure, things have been weird this year. And with just an eight-game season and no fans, it’s not going to stop being weird.

But there are some constants in the universe. One of those is Nebraska getting an alternate uniform. And adidas found an amazing way to announce this year’s alternate threads

<insert squeals of joy>

Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for horror movies, Hallowe’en, and pretty much all things spooky. When FOX came out with its “Cornfield” promo for Nebraska, I was over the moon.

(“Then you remember … this is where the sacrifices are made …” <squeeeeeeeeeeeee>)

So, yeah, I’m probably the target audience for the new promo video. But given how unique Nebraska’s Blackshirts secondary mark is, I think it’s pretty genius to lean into it.

So let’s grade this year’s version of the alternates. As always, we will use the “good or stupid” metric pioneered by the legendary Paul Lukas at Uni-Watch.

The Helmet

It’s last year’s alternate helmet. Which looked awesome. So, pretty easy “good” there.

The Jersey

Much like we were promised, it’s an away version of last year’s model. Still, the solid black numerals on the white shirt really are bold. There’s nothing really fancy or complicated about this set, and that’s what makes it work. “Good” all the way.

The Pants

A smart and particularly handsome analyst has railed for some time about how solid-colored football pants suffer from “yoga pants” syndrome, and how Nebraska would be so much better served by putting those beautiful stripes back.

This apparently is an exception. The solid black pants with the bright red N … somehow works. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the jersey, maybe it’s just the transgressiveness of a solid black pant, but these really do look amazing as part of this whole setup.

The next frontier, of course, is for Nebraska to go full Darth Vader and pair this year’s pants with last year’s jersey. Maybe that’s for 2021. Either way, a surprising “good” on this one too.

NEBRASKA ALTERNATE UNIFORM POWER RANKING

Images courtesy of the Lincoln Journal-Star

10. 2014

The infamous trash bag uniforms, which had numerals which literally couldn’t be read from the stands. The two-toned helmets were pretty cool, but overall the unis were a disaster.

9. 2015

Mystifyingly, adidas took its disastrous 2014 concept and made just a slight tweak, putting it on a black background instead of a red one, and made the uniform only marginally less horrific.

8. 2012

These original throwbacks get far more hate than they deserve, especially how well they combined with Wisconsin’s to make a truly memorable spectacle. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, Wisconsin had the better unis that night.)

7. 2016

The first road alternates Nebraska has worn ended up making good use of the trash-bag silver, working them into an ice concept that ended up very sharp.

6. 2017

The concept was brilliant, to pay homage to the 1997 team by replicating the mesh uniforms. And while it came out great, it was also hard to tell the unis apart from normal ones on the field during the game. (In full disclosure, this picture is also my avatar on an unsettling number of websites).

5. 2013

Even early in the process, adidas got this one right. The basic black uniforms, the different-but-legible stencil numerals, and the overall simplicity gives this one a place of honor in the Nebraska alternate uniform pantheon. The unique stenciled numerals and (of course) the stripes on the pants give 2013 the nod over 2019.

4. 2020

After a year to process and accept the Blackshirts logo being worn by the offense as well, I’ve come to realize that this concept is really, really sharp. The white isn’t quite as amazing as the black – although those black pants with the red N are pretty amazing – so last year’s gear gets a slight nod. But, dang, did adidas get this right. 

3. 2019

OK, I admit it, these things have grown on me to the point where they surpassed the 2013 set, something I didn’t think would happen. Now, if Nebraska goes the full Darth Vader and rolls out with these shirt and the 2020 black pants …

2. 2018

Anything that involves old-school numerals, a shout-out to the Stadium Clock, and the full In the Deed The Glory inscription is going to be hard to beat. If it wasn’t for the silly helmet, this one would be the one to beat. Also, adidas, why could I not buy an “18” jersey with the cool 8 numeral, instead of getting stuck just buying a “1.” Just take my money already!

1. 2009

Because of the three-year hiatus, these gorgeous threads frequently get left out of the alternate uniform consideration. That’s a shame, because these throwbacks, with the curly-Q numerals and numbers on the helmets, have yet to be surpassed. Quite honestly, Nebraska could go to these uniforms as their regular ones tomorrow and I’d be quite happy (as long as they put the stripes back on the pants, natch).

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Don’t Let Anyone Fool You, Schedule Difficulty Matters

So, last time I was able to get a piece posted here, we were reviewing the B1G’s newly-released conference-only schedule, postulating on how it affected Nebraska, and looking forward to at least some level of college football. As the song from “Hamilton” goes …

Since then, Nebraska has been on the vanguard of pushing the B1G to reconsider the decision that commissioner Kevin Warren said “would not be revisited.” In the national conversation, Nebraska has taken a bit of a heel turn, summarized most likely by ESPN’s Desmond Howard referring to NU as “the loudest five-win team in the country.”

But all that noise apparently paid off, as the B1G announced it would return for an nine-game schedule starting on October 24. On Saturday, the schedule was announced (with no little amount of snark from the FOX hosts about how Nebraska should be careful what it asks for). So here is Nebraska’s 3.0 version of its 2020 football schedule

10/24at Ohio State
10/31Wisconsin
11/07at Northwestern
11/14Penn State
11/21Illinois
11/28at Iowa
12/05at Purdue
12/12Minnesota
12/19B1G East opponent

When the schedule was released, Nebraska Twitter exploded (which is, in all honesty, kind of what Twitter is for) about how front-loaded the schedule was. Many in the local media pushed back on that perspective.

From a coach’s perspective and a player’s perspective, I get it. Complaining about the difficulty of a schedule is, at its heart, finding a reason to fail. And for any competitor, even acknowledging that increased level of difficulty undercuts the confidence necessary to perform at your best and maximize your ability to perform.

But those of us who just watch the game – whose mindset does not directly influence the outcome – in this case have the benefit of clearer sight.

Let’s start with an agreement that the teams on Nebraska’s schedule would have been set one way or the other. Yes, Nebraska lost Rutgers instead of Penn State as a crossover game, which increases the schedule’s degree of difficulty. But that was the most likely scenario simply for the distances involved in the travel.

Even so, it’s silly not to acknowledge that the order in which the games are put influence how difficult the schedule would be. To demonstrate this, let’s just walk through a few thought experiments.

First, would it make Nebraska more or less likely to have a successful season if it was able to start well and gain some momentum as opposed to taking a loss or two early?

We know the answer after seeing head coach Scott Frost’s first two years in Lincoln. In 2018, Nebraska missed its season opener against Akron, then lost a heartbreaker to Colorado. In 2019, after a less-than-convincing win against South Alabama, Nebraska again lost a gut-wrencher to Colorado. I would argue that those early losses affected the psyche of those teams – which, don’t forget, were coming off two losing seasons in three years – and made getting over the hump in close games later in the season harder.

So if stacking wins early makes it more likely to win later, then Nebraska’s 3.0 2020 schedule definitely will make it harder for Nebraska. Having three of its first games against top ten teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State) makes it incredibly challenging for Nebraska to get early momentum in the season.

Here’s the first experiment then. Which of these possible schedules would give Nebraska the best chance to get off to a good start – which we have established would help succeed later in the season?

Schedule 1: at Illinois, at Purdue, Michigan, at Northwestern

Schedule 2: at Ohio State, Wisconsin, at Northwestern, Penn State

If you said Schedule 1, quite honestly, you’re lying. Clearly Schedule 1 would give Nebraska a far better chance at getting off to a good start.

Schedule 2 is, of course, Nebraska’s. Schedule 1? Well, that’s Wisconsin’s (minus going to Nebraska in week 2).

Second, would it make Nebraska more or less likely to beat some of the most challenging games on its schedule if they were spread out, giving Nebraska time to recover, or having them all put together?

(Cue all of the B1G cliches about being such a physical league and leaving bruises week after week)

So, let’s try the same thought experiment. The games I would deem “challenging” I’ve put in ALL CAPS.

Schedule 1: Illinois, Purdue, MICHIGAN, Northwestern, MINNESOTA, Indiana, IOWA

Schedule 2: OHIO STATE, WISCONSIN, Northwestern, PENN STATE, Illinois, IOWA, Purdue, MINNESOTA

This one isn’t quite as start, but you still see that gauntlet at the start of the season with Schedule 2, with three “challenging” games in four weeks. There’s nothing like that in Schedule 1. So, clearly, Schedule 1 is a more navigable schedule because it doesn’t have all those “challenging” games back-to-back.

And yes, Schedule 2 is Nebraska, and Schedule 1 is Wisconsin minus Nebraska in week 2. Even if you count Nebraska as a “challenging” game, Sconnie still doesn’t have any back-to-back.

The point of these thought experiments is not to allege a conspiracy theory (although if one was inclined to think the B1G head honchos wanted Nebraska to pipe down it’s hard to imagine how it would do much different with the schedule.)

The point is, quite simply, to show that schedules matter. I know Football Tough Guys would respond with a variant of “it’s a tough game, shut up and play,” usually accompanied by some form of grunt and beard scratch.

That’s what Nebraska is going to do, of course – and the silver lining to this is the opportunity NU has to get even more attention and credit if its able to pull off an upset.

But to pretend that a schedule doesn’t make a team’s path to success easier and harder in the service of – I don’t know, some mythical notion of toughness – is just being willfully blind.

GBR, baby.