Nebraska Football: 2019 Season Projection for the Cornhuskers

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Once again, the calendar turns towards September, and another college football season is upon us. As Nebraska fans finally enter into South Alabama Week, it’s time for the annual Double Extra Point season prediction.

As always, we will use a four-part metric to look at the upcoming season, in an attempt to bring a little more objectivity to the analysis. Each game will be broken down into four different categories:

Better Win Expect to win all games
Should Win Expect to win more than half of games
Might Win Expect to win less than half of games
Won’t Win Expect to win no games

Once all the games are categorized, we’ll add up the categories and see where the model suggests Nebraska’s record will sit at the end of the season. Of course, we’ll also include a mostly-pure-guesswork Fearless Forecast of the score as well – although, fear not, the “official” DXP prediction will be from the model.

All statistics are from the season preview by Bill Connelly of SB Nation (now of ESPN, of course).

South Alabama (home, August 31)

Assuming the weather cooperates, Nebraska should have a relatively straightforward home opener. The Jaguars are coming off a 3-9 campaign in 2018, and is breaking in a new quarterback, wide receiver corps, and secondary. Memorial Stadium in year two of the Scott Frost Experience might not be the place to do that.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 55, South Alabama 17

Colorado (away, September 07)

The Colorado athletic department tried very publicly to avoid having Nebraska fans invade Folsom Field. That … didn’t work so well, as it inspired Husker Twitter to create its own hashtag and lit even more of a fire for Husker Fan to make the trip west.

Colorado beat Nebraska last year in Lincoln, and does have Laviska Shinault, probably the best wide receiver Nebraska will face this season. But the Buffaloes did go 5-7 and fire their head coach. Nebraska will be new head man Mel Tucker’s first big challenge, and Colorado won’t be catching NU playing it’s first game ever under Frost.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 38, Colorado 24

Northern Illinois (home, September 14)

If there was a canary in the coalmine about Nebraska’s soon-to-be-disastrous 2017 season, it had to be the Huskies’ 21-17 upset of Nebraska on September 16, 2017. Two pick-six interceptions from Tanner Lee put Nebraska in a fourteen point hole that it did climb out of, only to surrender a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to stun the scarlet and cream faithful and give them a vision of things to come that season.

Northern Illinois is coming in with a new head coach, and coming off an 8-6 season in 2018. But the talent difference, combined with the 2017 experience that some on the roster were present for, should help Nebraska avoid an upset bug twice.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Northern Illinois 20

Illinois (away, September 21)

This isn’t exactly a trap game, as it’s so early in the season and Nebraska really should still be feeling like it hasn’t earned anything yet. Plus, Illinois gave Nebraska some degree of fits last year before NU pulled away late. Lovie Smith is probably coaching for his job, and Illinois’ still have B1G caliber athletes, which will be a step up from the week before.

Combine that with a trip to notoriously sleepy Champaign and an inevitable look-ahead to next week (particularly if Nebraska is 3-0), and this game screams ugly, scrappy, survive-and-advance win.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Illinois 23

Ohio State (home, September 28)

Has Nebraska football advanced to the point where there’s no Won’t Win games on the schedule? I think Nebraska football has advanced to the point where there’s no Won’t Win games on the schedule!

After all, Ryan Day has taken up the mantle from Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes will be breaking in a new quarterback in Justin Fields that has all the talent in the world but hasn’t shown it yet on the field. Nebraska will be the biggest test for Day’s new Buckeyes. And if this is 4-0 Nebraska versus 4-0 Ohio State, Memorial Stadium will be crackling with the kind of energy it hasn’t seen since the 2014 Miami game.

Even with Nebraska’s near miss in Columbus last year, calling a win is still a tall order. But the change in how this game is viewed should be evidence enough how things have changed in Lincoln

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 28, Nebraska 24

Northwestern (home, October 05)

If Nebraska has a bogey team in the B1G, it’s the Purples. Nebraska has better talent than Northwestern, yet just about every year the Purples manage to combine their physical play and ruthless efficiency to take advantage of sloppy Nebraska and steal a win. This year, Northwestern will be starting Clemson (!) transfer Hunter Johnson at quarterback, which will give the Purples more talent under center than they’ve had – well, ever, in the Pat Fitzgerald era.

So this game is certainly no gimmie, especially coming off of the Ohio State tilt a week earlier. Still, perhaps more than any besides Ohio State, that Northwestern loss in 2018 stings, and this year’s Nebraska should be sharpened for revenge.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 41, Northwestern 31

Minnesota (away, October 11)

Otherwise known as the B1G Pre-Season Hype Train Bowl, the divisions two national media darlings square off in Minneapolis. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects than Nebraska has less than a 50 percent chance to beat two teams on its schedule, Ohio State and … Minnesota.

That seems to be giving a lot of home field advantage to TCF Bank Stadium, which is … nice, but it’s no Death Valley. If Nebraska’s defensive line is what it appears to be this preseason, NU should be well poised to earn a second straight win over the Gophers.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Minnesota 17

Indiana (home, October 26)

Coming off of a bye, Nebraska gets to catch a breather before facing a Hoosier squad that went 5-7 in 2018. The talent level for Indiana is improving, and tailback Stevie Scott should be a handful for any defense.

But Indiana still looks to be a rebuilding B1G East school trying to find its footing. Coming off a bye, Nebraska should have plenty to take care of the Hoosiers at home.

Preview data from Corn Nation.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Indiana 21

Purdue (away, November 02)

Quick, name the last game that Mike Riley won!

Yep, it was that bonkers last-second 25-24 win in West Lafayette that kept the faintest spark of hope alive, before an overtime loss to Northwestern (of course) the following week snuffed it out. Of course, head coach Jeff Brohm didn’t have phenom Rondale Moore to deploy in 2017, and the Boilermakers rode Moore and Brohm’s innovative offense to wreak havoc.

Unfortunately for Purdue, Moore is one of only three (!) returning starters on offense. Nebraska-Purdue could be one of the most fun games to watch in the coming years, with Brohm’s offense facing off against Frost’s, but until the Boilermakers reload the talent level shouldn’t be quite even.

Data from Phil Steele’s 2019 College Football Preview. Yes, the hardcopy magazine.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 51, Purdue 41

Wisconsin (home, November 16)

Well, here’s the acid test to see how far Nebraska has advanced in year two of Frost’s reign. Sconnie will bring in the best running back in the country in Jonathan Taylor, who pretty well single-handedly beat Nebraska in 2017 as a freshman. But Wisconsin also brings back questions at quarterback and a bruised ego from a sub-par 2018 campaign.

The Badgers have a six-game winning streak over Nebraska. If Frost really is going to return Nebraska to an era of national relevance and conference championships, that path leads through Wisconsin.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 35

Maryland (away, November 23)

A trip to the east coast, sandwiched against two physically and emotionally challenging games, going to a stadium that will likely have less than 20,000 fans, at the end of November.

Now that’s a trap game.

Maryland’s talent is better than you think, but even a year removed from the unparalleled disaster D.J. Durkin left, new head coach Mike Locksley will have a challenge on his hand rebuilding the Terrapins. And a public spat with a Michigan assistant coach probably isn’t going to help things.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Maryland 27, Nebraska 24

Iowa (home, November 29)

Wisconsin may be the bellweather game for Nebraska’s growth in the B1G West, but it’ll be the last Black Friday game (for two years, at least) that will really tell the tale of Frost’s second season in Lincoln. Iowa fans have been clamoring for this to be a rivalry (even though they’ll never admit it), and Nebraska fans are thiiiiiiiiis close to accepting the role.

Accept it, Husker Fan. Iowa will be bringing in a very Iowa team to Lincoln. The Hawkeyes may well have the best pure pass rusher Nebraska will face in A.J. Epenesa. But they will not have first round NFL draft picks Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson running down the seams. This game should come to the fourth quarter, potentially with the B1G West title on the line.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Iowa 28

Conclusion

Let’s count up our categories and see what the model predicts for Nebraska’s 2019 campaign.

Category Number Forecast Wins
Won’t Win 0 0
Might Win 4 1
Should Win 6 4
Better Win 2 2
  Total projected wins 7

So, the DXP model puts Nebraska at 7-5, which at this stage would probably feel a little disappointing for Nebraska fans. It shouldn’t be, given where the program has been and the promise being shown. And the fact that 7-5 would be seen as disappointing for fans – as well as for players and coaches – is a testament to the importance of expectations, as pointed out by a smart and particularly handsome analyst.

For those who want to feel better about the upcoming season, the Fearless Forecast has Nebraska at 9-3, and that’s with a trap-game loss to Maryland. The best thing about predictions, though, is that we’re about to get some additional data to see just how accurate (or inaccurate) our models are.

GBR, baby.

4 thoughts on “Nebraska Football: 2019 Season Projection for the Cornhuskers

  1. As always, love reading the predictions (and the system you’ve established). As I’ve said before, I will refrain from making definite predictions because I’m somehow always wrong, but I’ve definitely been bracing myself for a 6-6/7-5 campaign, so it’s a bit disheartening to see that be the official, non-fearless prediction. Oh well, most people said the 2016 team wasn’t going to get to 9 wins, either.

    I didn’t realize Northwestern had a transfer from Clemson this year, so I did a little digging. It might be jumping the gun a bit so call Johnson the most talented QB the Wildcats have had. He may have potential, but what he’s shown so far in limited action, is, uh… Put this way, in games against teams not called Kent State (who finished 2-10), Citadel (5-6), and Wake Forest (who admittedly was a respectable 8-5), Johnson finished 2017 4-of-8 for 9 total yards, with 0 touchdowns and an interception. The last game we saw him in was against Miami, where he went 1-of-3 for -4 yards.

    While it’d be fair to say he was just out there in mop-up duty during a 38-3 blowout win, it’s also fair to say that Clemson team offered him much more supporting talent than his new team will. And it’s even more fair to say that he sat all year behind Kelly Bryant for a reason, Bryant, of course, being the very definition of a “meh” QB that year (206 yards passing and 1 passing TD/game, 3.7 yards/rush… and that’s without factoring in his awful game against Bama in the playoffs).

    So, I guess that’s all a long way of saying, just like I’ll believe Nebraska is better than a .500 team when I see it, I’ll believe Johnson is better than Persa, Colter, and Thorson when he shows it. (That said, I still think Northwestern wins that game, because we’ve only beaten them once at home and it took two once-in-a-lifetime plays to do it.)

    • Thanks as always for the read and response. When I talk about Johnson being the most talented QB at Northwestern, I guess I’m referring to recruiting rankings. Johnson was #21 overall in ESPN’s rankings, Thorson was #133, and Colter was unlisted (and a wide receiver, fer cryin’ out loud). I know, I know, plucky walkons showing their true worth and all that Rudy rah-rah, but at the end of the day talent’s a big deal. Now maybe Johnson’s a head case or an over-hyped recruit or whatever — and his performances at Clemson certainly suggest that might be the case — but it’s also possible that now he’s being treated like the BMOC he thought he was that he’ll shine. Maybe it would have been more accurate to say Johnson is best “prospect” the Purples have had under Fitz.

      I actually like Sam McKewon’s theory that Northwestern is actually pretty consistent year-to-year in terms of the level of football it plays, and its success is a bellweather of the division’s strength. The Purples can win the division in a down year (I’m still struggling to make my brain accept that happened last year), and go 3-4 or 2-5 in a good year for the rest of the division.

      Nebraska really dominated most of that game in Evanston, and should have won absent the last-second hilarity. Combine that with the game being in Lincoln — even a week after Ohio State, which does scare me — and I just can’t see the Purples hanging with the Scott Frost Experience in year two.

      I’m totally with you on not buying Nebraska’s back to a nine-win mark (which, disturbingly, is the Pelini line of production) until I see it. I feel like 7-5 is a pretty good baseline expectation from what we’ve seen before. I’m also prepared, however, to be pleasantly surprised by the shift in talent (look at all the underclassmen on the two-deep, especially on offense) and the shift in culture paying dividends. Still, I think it’s more likely to have old ways slip in on a road game like Colorado or Maryland than home to the Purples.

      Thankfully we don’t have to wait long to find out. South Alabama week, wooooooo!

    • Thanks as always for the read and response. When I talk about Johnson being the most talented QB at Northwestern, I guess I’m referring to recruiting rankings. Johnson was #21 overall in ESPN’s rankings, Thorson was #133, and Colter was unlisted (and a wide receiver, fer cryin’ out loud). I know, I know, plucky walkons showing their true worth and all that Rudy rah-rah, but at the end of the day talent’s a big deal. Now maybe Johnson’s a head case or an over-hyped recruit or whatever — and his performances at Clemson certainly suggest that might be the case — but it’s also possible that now he’s being treated like the BMOC he thought he was that he’ll shine. Maybe it would have been more accurate to say Johnson is best “prospect” the Purples have had under Fitz.

      I actually like Sam McKewon’s theory that Northwestern is actually pretty consistent year-to-year in terms of the level of football it plays, and its success is a bellweather of the division’s strength. The Purples can win the division in a down year (I’m still struggling to make my brain accept that happened last year), and go 3-4 or 2-5 in a good year for the rest of the division.

      Nebraska really dominated most of that game in Evanston, and should have won absent the last-second hilarity. Combine that with the game being in Lincoln — even a week after Ohio State, which does scare me — and I just can’t see the Purples hanging with the Scott Frost Experience in year two.

      I’m totally with you on not buying Nebraska’s back to a nine-win mark (which, disturbingly, is the Pelini line of production) until I see it. I feel like 7-5 is a pretty good baseline expectation from what we’ve seen before. I’m also prepared, however, to be pleasantly surprised by the shift in talent (look at all the underclassmen on the two-deep, especially on offense) and the shift in culture paying dividends. Still, I think it’s more likely to have old ways slip in on a road game like Colorado or Maryland than home to the Purples.

      Thankfully we don’t have to wait long to find out. South Alabama week, wooooooo!

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