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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: The impacts of Noah Vedral’s departure

DSC09320

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

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

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

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

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

GBR, baby.

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

0047509-ovvg-1280X720

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

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

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

THE GOOD

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

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

Thank you, Nebraska, for that.

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

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

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

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

Never change, Husker Fan.

THE BAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND THE RESTORATION OF COMMUNITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GBR, baby.

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

maxresdefault

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE LINE

Red Team White Team
OT: Zach Wiegert, Marvin Crenshaw

OG: Aaron Taylor, Bob Brown

C: Dominic Raiola

OT: Daryl White, Kevin Clark

OG: Will Shields, Dean Steinkuhler

C: Dave Rimington

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

Advantage: White

BACKS

Red Team White Team
QB: Tommie Frazier

RB: Mike Rozier, Ameer Abdullah

FB: Joel Makovika

QB: Eric Crouch

RB: Ahman Green, Jeff Kinney

FB: Corey Schlesinger

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

Advantage: Red

RECEIVERS

Red Team White Team
WR: Irving Fryar, Kenny Bell

TE: Junior Miller

All-Purpose: Rex Burkhead

WR: Johnny Rodgers, Stanley Morgan Jr.

TE: Matt Herian

All-Purpose: Nate Swift

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

Advantage: Red

DEFENSIVE LINE

Red Team White Team
DE: Grant Wistrom

DT: Larry Jacobson, Jason Peter

DE/OLB: Trev Alberts

DE: Willie Harper

DT: Rick Glover, Ndamukong Suh

DE/OLB: Broderick Thomas

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

Advantage: White

LINEBACKERS

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

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

Advantage: Toss-up

SECONDARY

Red Team White Team
CB: Keyuo Craver, Prince Amukamura

S: Nate Gerry, Josh Bullocks

CB: Ralph Brown, Fabian Washington

S: Mike Minter, Mike Brown

Gimmie the Brown Brothers.

Advantage: White

SPECIAL TEAMS

Red Team White Team
PR/KR: Bobby Newcombe

P: Sam Koch

PK: Kris Brown

PR/KR: Dejuan Groce

P: Sam Foltz

PK: Alex Henery

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

Advantage: White

FEARLESS FORECAST

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

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

White 31, Red 28.

GBR, baby.

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

DSC06372

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

Quarterback

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

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

Running Back

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

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

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

Receivers

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

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

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

Offensive Line

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

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

Defensive Line

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

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

Linebackers

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

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

Secondary

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

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

Super Six for 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

GBR, baby.

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

IMAG0120a

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

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

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

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

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

The great social stress test

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

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

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

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

This video explains it very well.

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

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

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

Be good to someone else

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

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

Be good to yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Breaking Down the JoJo Siwa News

5e5fdb7ef1b43.image

Much digital ink was spilled when rumors began to swirl that a Nebraska football player (specifically walk-on quarterback Elliott Brown) is dating internet phenom (and Omaha native) JoJo Siwa.

Kevin Coffey of the Omaha World-Herald went through the details of the relationship and how it has received national attention. But we know, Husker Fan, that you look to the Double Extra Point to give you a different look at Nebraska football. So here’s the Double Extra Point’s full breakdown of a Nebraska football player possibly dating the rainbow-festooned social media star.

Yeah, I got nothing. I’m far to old to have any idea who this person is. This article was written partly for the snark, but mostly for all those sweet, sweet clicks the search engine optimization people say should flow from including in a headline the name of someone that is apparently terribly popular.

But, hey, at least it’s not news of someone else leaving the program, amirite?

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Chill Out About the Top-25 Rankings, Husker Fan

MVIMG_20190413_130052

Last week, two different analytics-based top 25 rankings for 2020 came out, and Nebraska made the cut in both. ESPN’s Bill Connelly has his SP+ ranking put Nebraska at no. 25, and ESPN’s Football Power Index listed Nebraska at no. 22.

Nebraska fans, to their undying credit, freaked out – by being upset that NU doesn’t deserve the hype. Last year, Nebraska was the darling of the college football world, picked in everyone’s top 25, even made a sleeper playoff team. That reality came crashing down pretty quickly, and a smart and particularly handsome analyst talked about the poison of Kool-Aid on a fanbase.

Well, good job, Husker Fan, y’all were listening. Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald pointed out that the response to Nebraska’s top 25 rankings from fans has been to be upset that NU is getting pre-season hype.

In general, that’s the right result. Coming off three losing seasons and with a brutal 2020 schedule, it’s going to be critical for Nebraska fans’ collective sanity to keep expectations reasonable. A 7-5 season for this team, with this schedule, should be viewed as a success – regardless how foreign that sounds to Nebraska fans.

Having said that, though, these two particular top 25 rankings shouldn’t freak Nebraska fans out. Both SP+ and the FPI are data-driven, as opposed to subjective opinions about what’s going to happen. And one of the biggest components in both metrics is returning offensive production, which Nebraska has in spades this season.

Nebraska’s got a returning two-year starter at quarterback (ok, fine all you Luke McCaffrey stans, most likely). Nebraska’s starting running back, two top wide receivers, and top tight end will be coming back. Most of Nebraska’s offensive line returns. And Nebraska’s head coach returns for his third season in charge.

Those returning starters are a significant part of the formula both SP+ and the FPI use in the preseason to rank teams. And the advantage of data-driven rankings is that they take subjectivity out of the analysis. Given Nebraska’s faceplant last season, it’s only natural to resist ranking NU highly the following season. It’s certainly natural (although, in all candor, a bit unexpected) for Nebraska fans to resist the “woo we’ll be awesome this year” impulse.

But analytics don’t care about any of that. The numbers say what they say, and the algorithms that spit out those numbers are tuned year in and year out to find which data points are most correlative to future results. It worked that way last year, when the analytic rankings were predicting Nebraska to win five to six games, regardless of their pre-season hype.

Of course, there’s no guarantees. Like Connelly says, analytics are the start of a conversation, not the end of one. And just from a survival skill perspective, it’s understandable – even healthy – for Nebraska fans to be skeptical of anything that looks like unearned glory.

So don’t freak out, Husker Fan. There’s good reason to think Nebraska’s offense in particular might very well be significantly better than last year. If you can find a way to acknowledge that possibility without going right to “Adrian Martinez gonna win the Heisman yo,” then the 2020 season might not quite be the chewing-broken-glass ordeal the last few years have been for the scarlet and cream faithful.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Taysom Hill a Blueprint for Luke McCaffrey

DSC09320

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints in a wild card playoff game on a disturbingly familiar official’s decision. But the Saints’ controversial loss hides a remarkable performance from New Orleans’ backup quarterback Taysom Hill.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Hill is the Saints’ backup quarterback/running back/wide receiver/kick coverage specialist. While Hill may be the heir apparent to Drew Brees, Saints head coach Sean Payton has been very creative in finding ways to use Hill’s talents even with Brees under center.

Against the Vikings, here’s Hill’s stats. There’s … a lot going on.

Passing 1/1, 50 yards, TD
Rushing 4 carries, 50 yards (led team in rushing)
Receiving 2 catches, 3 targets, 25 yards, TD
Defensive 1 tackle

Watching this game, it’s hard not to let your mind wander a little bit and wonder if Scott Frost is watching too. Because Luke McCaffrey bears a lot of resemblance to Hill, and not just because they both wear number 7.

Hill is six-foot-two and 220 pounds. McCaffrey is six-foot-two and 200 pounds. Hill put up a 4.44 40-yard-dash time at the NFL combine. McCaffrey has put up a 4.5 40-yard-dash. Hill was a dual-threat weapon at quarterback in college. McCaffrey is a dual-threat weapon that provided Nebraska quite a spark in his limited appearances under center.

Now, Nebraska looks to have a spirited competition at quarterback for 2020. Adrian Martinez, as a two-year starter, should have an inside track, especially coming off an injured sophomore campaign. McCaffrey sparkled in his times both under center and on the field last season. And freshman Logan Smothers bears so many resemblances to a younger Martinez in terms of size, speed, and athletic ability.

There’s no question that McCaffrey could beat Martinez out and be Nebraska’s starting quarterback next season, especially if Martinez doesn’t recover fully from his injuries. McCaffrey only played four games last year, so he still has four years of eligibility to use, and Martinez will be a junior next year.

But if Martinez (or, heck, Smothers) wins the job, there’s an opportunity for McCaffrey to take on a Hill-like role for Nebraska’s offense. We saw it last year, in a limited role. McCaffrey had 24 carries for 166 yards and a touchdown, and one catch for 12 yards, in addition to going 9-12 for 142 yards and two touchdowns as a quarterback.

According to Bob Hamar of the Grand Island Independent, Frost is well aware of McCaffrey’s versatile skills.

“He’s a really good football player,” Frost said of McCaffrey. “He can run, he can throw, he can catch, he loves it, so he’s going to be a really good player for us around here for a long time and we thought it was smart to get a guy like that on the field.”

Frost wanted to make it clear that McCaffrey’s future is at quarterback, but he can provide some help at receiver going into Friday’s game against Iowa.

Frost said quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco makes sure all his quarterbacks know the assignments of all the offensive players on every play. That makes it possible for a player like McCaffrey to slide into another position.

“Luke is an extremely versatile guy,” Frost said. “You can just see the raw athleticism that he’s got. He’s going to be a hell of a ball player for us in the future. I just look forward to however we use him, whether that is how we did last week or if that’s at quarterback, wherever he’s needed. But he’s a hell of a ball player and I can’t wait to see him in the future.”

Of course, Frost’s focus was on McCaffrey staying at quarterback. There was at least a good argument that McCaffrey was more effective in his time at quarterback than Martinez was. And especially with a third talented quarterback entering the room (and that’s not even talking about Noah Vedral), Frost has to know he runs the risk of losing someone to the transfer portal.

But if Martinez does win the job, and McCaffrey still sees himself as Nebraska’s future starting quarterback – much like Hill is waiting for his shot after Brees retires – then Frost would have an opportunity to get creative with McCaffrey’s skills.

Nebraska’s got a lot of new talent at skill positions coming in. But there’s precious little in terms of returning production, outside of JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson. If Martinez does win the job, then Frost will have an entire offseason to devise clever ways to use McCaffrey’s talents.

It doesn’t have to be a main feature of Nebraska’s offense. Hopefully some of Nebraska’s incoming talent (especially junior college transfer Omar Manning) will provide some day-one assistance.

But anyone who has watched the Saints this season knows that Hill’s role in the offense has grown and he’s become a legitimate weapon for New Orleans. If the Saints would have won the game, Peyton’s use of Hill would have been one of the primary reasons cited for the victory.

So maybe Frost can steal a page or two from Peyton’s playbook and find more ways to get an explosive and dangerous playmaker like McCaffrey on the field more in 2020.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Frost Effect Still Showing in Husker Recruiting

DSC07809

Nebraska head football coach Scott Frost signed a class of 25 for the 2020 early signing period. That class was ranked no. 20 overall by 247 Sports, no. 4 in the B1G, and no 1 in the B1G West.

Nebraska’s class was only behind the conference’s recruiting juggernauts Ohio State (no. 3), Michigan (no. 12) and Penn State (no. 13). And although as the Omaha World-Herald’s Sam McKewon points out, the rest of the B1G West is also doing better on the recruiting trail, Nebraska still holds a decided advantage over its nearest division rivals Wisconsin (no. 26), Purdue (no. 29), Iowa (no. 31), and Minnesota (no. 33).

What is remarkable about Nebraska’s recruiting accomplishment, of course, is how it doesn’t match performance on the field. Nebraska is coming off of a third straight losing season, and yet is able to attract top-20 talent to Lincoln.

Some of this is a testament to the enduring attraction of a blue-blood historic program like Nebraska. Even long dormant, the echoes of glories past still can be heard by at least some of the prospects visiting Memorial Stadium, inviting them to join in the story.

But I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Nebraska’s recruiting success even in this historically fallow period is due to Frost’s charisma and vision. If there is one thing from which he has never wavered, it is that he “knows where this is going.” And you can hear lots of Frost’s recruits echoing that line.

So I got to wondering just how unique Nebraska’s recruiting accomplishment has been compared to its lack of performance on the field. I took the 247 top 25, and calculated each team’s winning percentage from 2017 to 2019, to get a visualization of just how much an outlier Nebraska is in terms of recruiting accomplishments in comparison to wins and losses.

3ya final

As you can see, with one exception (oh hai north carolina y’all have been garbage lately), Nebraska’s winning percentage – or, more accurately, lack of winning percentage – really does stand out from the rest of the top 25 recruiting programs. That dichotomy is a visual reflection of the Frost effect, of Frost’s ability to keep alive his vision of “where this thing is going” and get top-flight talent from around the nation to believe it.

Of course, this can’t go on forever. If Nebraska continues to struggle on the field, eventually Frost’s belief and strength of personality won’t be enough, and the recruits will stop coming. In the very near term, whether that’s next year or within the next two, Nebraska’s win-loss record has to start matching its recruiting success.

GBR, baby.