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.

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.