Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 54, Illinois 35

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Nebraska’s alternate uniforms were a throwback to 1923, but the game in which the uniforms were worn was very much a creature of the 21st century, with Nebraska winning a shootout over Illinois, 54-35.

Nebraska’s offense was humming, notching 606 total yards, while the defense struggled some, surrendering 509 yards. But Nebraska was plus-three in turnover margin, which helped NU avoid any risk of an upset bid from the Illini.

So in reviewing Nebraska’s third win of the 2018 season …

THE GOOD

Divine Devine. Hey, remember when this dope looked at senior I-back Devine Ozigbo and just saw him and Mikale Wilbon as “returning with the most experience?”

Well, Ozigbo proved that dope wrong. He’s currently no. 25 nationally in rushing yards per game at 95.8. He’s been both the chain-mover and the homerun threat out of the backfield that Nebraska has been needing. He’s been a revelation and, as head coach Scott Frost said, looks very much like a Sunday kind of guy next year.

Nine-Tenths of the Law. One of the fears about Nebraska’s tempo spread attack is whether NU would be able to protect its struggling defense by possessing the ball. Early in the season, that was an active question when Nebraska was in position to win.

But in the last two games, Nebraska was able to execute clock-chewing drives. Against Ohio State, in the second quarter Nebraska had a 10-play, 64 yard drive taking 4:00, and an eight-play, 47 yard drive taking 3:54, both resulting in touchdowns. Against Illinois, in the third quarter Nebraska had a seventeen-play (!), 82 yard drive for a touchdown that took a full 7:48 (!!) off the clock – and included three fourth-down conversions.

Those time of possession numbers aren’t mind-boggling, but they are evidence that Nebraska’s offense does have the ability to keep its defense off the field for at least a little while, minimizing the stress being put on an already thin unit. Seeing this kind of complimentary football is both reassuring and encouraging going forward.

Special Teams. Against Bethune-Cookman, Nebraska returned a punt for a touchdown. This week, Nebraska blocked a punt. More importantly though, it looks like Nebraska has solved to a large degree its issue with kickoff return coverage. Against Illinois, Nebraska averaged 13.8 yards per return, and only 9.3 yards per return against Ohio State.

Against Troy? 25.5 yards per return.

THE BAD

Homecoming. Welcome home, AJ Bush. After a couple of stops, the Nebraska transfer started a game at quarterback in Memorial Stadium, but for Illinois. And he had himself a game, rushing for 187 (!) yards on 25 attempts with three (!!) touchdowns. He added in 126 yards through the air, but on an 11-for-25 day with two interceptions (although, in fairness, his receivers didn’t exactly help him out).

For Nebraska fans with a sentimental streak, it was the best of both worlds. A former Husker got to have his day in the sun and put up some numbers, while Nebraska was still able to notch a win. That, of course, is easier to say after the game as opposed to when Bush was running wild and answering Nebraska score-for-score.

Walking Wounded. Both receiver JD Spielman and I-back Maurice Washington appeared to suffer injuries against Illinois. Washington has struggled with staying on the field all year, which is not a huge surprise for a true freshman with a slight frame. But losing both – and losing Spielman, in particular – against a stout Michigan State defense would be a huge challenge for Nebraska.

AND THE NEW NORMAL

Blackshirts. Tradition of Toughness. Throw the Bones. In the nineties, much of Nebraska’s identity was defined by defensive prowess. If you play word-association with “Nebraska football,” one of the first images you’ll get is a gleeful Nebraska defender crossing his arms and screaming after a sack.

That’s not where Nebraska is now. Nebraska is currently no. nationally in scoring defense, no. 90 nationally in rushing defense, and no. 101 nationally in passing defense.

Sure, some of that is a transition year, and likely has to do with a talent deficit on the defensive side of the ball. But some of it is structural, too.

Take a look at the national rankings of UCF’s defensive performance last year, when the Knights went 13-0 (and won the national championship, amirite?)

Total defense 91
Rushing defense 59
Passing defense 49

That’s better than Nebraska’s rankings this year, of course. But it’s not elite. At best it’s middle-of-the-pack good. And that’s in a year where UCF went undefeated.

Ultimately, a football team reflects the nature of its coach. Under a defensive-minded coach like Bo Pelini, Nebraska would take its cues from its defense, and Nebraska’s 10-3 upset of Oklahoma should be looked at as a model for how Pelini’s teams would win.

Frost is, schematically, the opposite of Pelini. He’s an offensive mind who wants to outscore you – and is perfectly content to let you score a few points in the process. UCF’s 62-55 overtime win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game might have been an extreme version of it, but it still fits into the template of how Frost’s teams win games.

This isn’t to say that Nebraska fans shouldn’t expect – shouldn’t demand – better defensive play. Overall, Nebraska’s defense has not been good enough and needs to be better both this year and going forward. But expectations need to be calibrated for the Blackshirts.

If defensive coordinator Erik Chinander can get his unit into the top-50 nationally defensively, in combination with what Frost’s offense, that should be enough for Nebraska to win a lot of games. But it’s going to look different from what winning Nebraska teams have looked in the recent past.

In other words, Husker Fan, get used to seeing a lot of points on the scoreboard – for both teams. My guess is that as long as Nebraska has more of those points most of the time, though, y’all should be fine.

GBR, baby.

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An Essay on Moral Victories: NU ReView, Ohio State 36, Nebraska 31

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At the start of the season, Nebraska fans had chalked up the Ohio State game as an ugly loss and were looking at games around it on the schedule. A drubbing at Michigan, in what head coach Scott Frost called the bottom of the program’s descent, seemed to reinforce that expectation.

But that’s not what we got. Nebraska went toe-for-toe against Ohio State for four quarters, leading at halftime, before falling to the Buckeyes 36-31. So as we look back on Nebraska’s unexpectedly game showing in Columbus …

THE GOOD

A Glimpse of the Future. There were times when freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez looked like the eighteen-year-old true freshman he is, staring up at the big lights of Ohio Stadium. But there were plenty of times where Martinez looked like a true playmaker – the second coming of Russell Wilson, plus about three inches and twenty pounds, I’m telling ya – and should fill Husker hearts with hope.

Martinez ended the game 22-for-32 in the air for 266 yards and a touchdown, adding in 107 yards on 20 carries with two red-zone touchdowns.

But what might have been most impressive is his resilience. After a truly cringe-worthy decision that denied Nebraska a scoring opportunity in the red zone, there was every opportunity for him to respond like a freshman and melt. He didn’t. He responded with calm and poise, continuing to lead Nebraska on its upset bit.

More than the gaudy stats and flashy moves, that kind of maturity and resilience is what should make Nebraska fans excited to see Martinez’s growth in the future.

Blackshirt Resurgence. The statistics weren’t exactly glittering. But given how Nebraska’s defense has struggled recently, there were clear signs of life in the Blackshirts. While Ohio State’s running game was able to get on track – which isn’t a huge surprise, given the talent on the Buckeyes’ offensive line and in their backfield, combined with a bye week to prepare – Nebraska was still able to hold Ohio State’s offense under 500 yards.

Throwing the ball, Heisman candidate Dwayne Haskins only completed fifty percent of his passes, was intercepted once, and was sacked once. Nebraska turned Ohio State over three times, and scored 14 points off of those turnovers.

Heck, Nebraska even made Ohio State punt. Three times!

Kickoff Coverage. Yeah, in general the special teams was still atrocious. Poor Caleb Lightborne now has a second meme-worthy GIF to be remembered (and not in a good way) for the 2018 season. Ohio State had three kickoff return opportunities against Nebraska, and only got an average of 9.3 yards per return.

Yes, that’s baby steps. But given what a tire fire Nebraska’s special teams in general has been, finding an improvement in any area is an accomplishment.

THE BAD

Missed Opportunities. Yeah, it was fun to see a competitive game against Ohio State in the fourth quarter. But it was oh, so close, to being something more than that. Say Stanley Morgan gets an extra half yard in the fourth quarter to keep a drive alive. Say JD Spielman comes up with that catch, which in almost all certainty would have been a long touchdown. Say Martinez doesn’t have his freshman moment and eats the ball, allowing Nebraska to kick a field goal and keep the score closer.

It’s a true state of the program to recognize that being disappointed at a five-point loss is in some ways a good feeling. But it was just a couple of plays away from being much, much more.

Still a Freshman. Martinez continues to amaze, but he’s far from perfect. The backward-pass turnover to Spielman that killed a scoring drive was the clearest example of a kid who can still let the moment become too big for him. But it wasn’t Martinez’s only mistake. There were throws he missed and running lanes he could have taken to improve his performance and Nebraska’s chance to win.

To his credit, he said as much in the post-game press conference, talking about his mistakes and what he needed to improve. That level of maturity is what makes it difficult to remember how young and inexperienced Martinez is leading a big-time college football program. So when those freshman mistakes happen, keep that in mind.

Special Teams. OK, fine, the kickoff coverage was good. That pretty much covers the good stuff. The blocked punt (which punter Isaac Armstrong could have done nothing to avoid) not only got the Buckeyes on the board, it got the crowd into the game after Nebraska had scored and stopped Ohio State on a fourth down conversion.

And that was after Lightborne’s moment of madness when he almost entirely missed the ball on a snap onside kick, ending up handing Ohio State amazing field position.

Both of those plays served to help kick start Ohio State, a team that was reeling after an ugly loss to Purdue. Had those plays not happened – or, had Nebraska pulled off the onside kick, which looked like it had a real shot if the kick was executed properly – then Nebraska could have held onto the early momentum and taken advantage of what looks to be a fragile Ohio State confidence.

AND THE MORAL VICTORY

I know what you’re supposed to say. You’re supposed to say that there’s no such thing as moral victories. You’re supposed to say that a loss is a loss and anything less than a victory can’t ever be accepted.

I get it. And for a coach and a player, that’s absolutely the right thing to say. Being satisfied with coming close is a recipe for mediocrity. In a game of such fine margins, having anything less than intolerance for defeat is a fatal flaw.

But I’m going to guess that most of you reading this aren’t coaches or players. You’re just fans, watching from the outside, trying to figure out the status of this program to which you have hitched your emotions.

So as one of those interested outside observers, let’s be honest with each other. Saturday’s performance in Columbus was a moral victory.

Sure, this isn’t a vintage Ohio State team. Sure, the Buckeyes made tons of mistakes that helped Nebraska stay in the game.

But it’s not like Nebraska didn’t make its own mistakes as well. A strong case can be made that Nebraska could have – maybe even should have – won this game had it played cleaner and sharper.

And therein lies the difference. After Saturday’s game, more than anything I found myself disappointed after Nebraska’s five-point loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus, with a nagging feeling of a missed opportunity.

That’s … a much better feeling than most Nebraska fans expected to have. Sherman, set the WayBack machine for October 14, 2017. Ohio State was coming to Lincoln, and there wasn’t a Nebraska fan who thought NU could stay within three touchdowns of the Buckeyes. They weren’t wrong, as Nebraska was outclassed in the contest, 56-14.

Now, let’s set the WayBack Machine to November 05, 2016. Nebraska was 7-1, rated no. 10 in the nation and getting votes in the College Football Playoff poll.

(Yes, Virginia, it was only two years ago that Nebraska was a top-10 team)

As Nebraska fans had seen countless times before against top-tier opponents in a marquee matchup, Nebraska melted in the spotlight. The final score was 62-3, and somehow that score doesn’t convey how thoroughly Nebraska was handled by Ohio State.

With Frost’s arrival, Nebraska fans thought that the days of those embarrassing losses were behind them. Then Nebraska traveled to Ann Arbor and were humbled by Michigan, 56-10. After the game, Frost said that it was the low point of his program, and many observers and fans cynically replied by thinking “wait until you go to Columbus.”

Well, look what happened. Nebraska played a four-quarter contest against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. Nebraska faced off against an opponent with elite talent and stood toe-to-toe with a chance to win. Nebraska fans – and players – now have that image in their memory banks, which they can draw on for confidence.

That’s the moral victory. The narrative of Nebraska’s humiliation against college football’s royalty is – for now – rewritten. The opportunity is there for Nebraska now to redefine itself and establish a foothold on the national stage.

I know November 04, 2016, seems like a million years ago. But it is now two years to the date of the writing of this column since Nebraska was a top-10 team getting votes in the College Football Playoff poll. A lot can change in a short period of time in college football – Frost and his coaching staff are banking on that in 2019.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 45, Bethune-Cookman 9

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Nebraska’s replacement for the Akron game finally arrived, with FCS Bethune-Cookman coming to Lincoln. Head coach Scott Frost got what he wanted out of the game with a comfortable 45-9 win and an opportunity to play a lot of players that otherwise wouldn’t see the field. So in reviewing Nebraska’s win over the Wildcats …

THE GOOD

Taking Care of Business. Nebraska’s contest against Bethune-Cookman could not have gone more to script in terms of how Frost and co. would have wanted to see things unfold. Nebraska’s offense looked lethal, scoring with ease on every possession save one, and getting a special teams touchdown to boot.

Defensively, Nebraska was gouged a few times, but ultimately kept Bethune-Cookman out of the end zone until literally the last play of the game.

Party Like It’s 2012. Nebraska fans could be forgiven, watching the Bethune-Cookman game, in feeling like it had been a long time since they had seen something this comfortable. Nebraska led 38-3 at the half. The last time Nebraska had that big of a halftime lead?

September 22, 2012 – more than six years ago – when Nebraska held a 45-0 lead en route to a 73-7 dismantling of Idaho State.

Unscathed. At least at the time of this writing, there is no news of any significant injuries coming out of the Bethune-Cookman game. As a newly-confident Nebraska squad heads to Columbus for a litmus test on the program’s progress – and facing an Ohio State team coming off an ugly loss with a bye week to prepare – NU will need all the depth it can get.

THE BAD

The Fifth Possession. Yeah, you’re kinda scraping when you have to point at a specific possession for something bad. But that possession ended with a false start, two straight sacks, then Adrian Martinez throwing an ugly interception to Tydarius Peters.

If nothing else, that possession will give Nebraska’s coaches plenty to work on during the week’s practice. Well, that, and the prospect of playing Ohio State at the Horseshoe.

The Third Type of Liar. Nebraska only outgained Bethune-Cookman in total yardage 468-355. Bethune-Cookman held a significant advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 35:23 compared to Nebraska’s 24:37.

If you just looked at those two stats, you’d think the game was relatively close, and maybe the Wildcats were able to pull some magic out.

The game … was not relatively close. Total yardage can frequently be a misleading statistic that, while useful at times, should always be read in context with the rest of the game. Just look at what Nebraska’s gaudy total yardage stats has gotten it in the first six games of the year.

As for time of possession, with Frost’s offensive scheme you can comfortably start ignoring that statistic. Here’s the time Nebraska’s scoring drives took against Bethune-Cookman: 2:23, 2:19, 2:26, 2:44, 2:36, 1:37. If Nebraska’s offense is working, it’s not on the field very long.

If you want stats that mean something, read Bill Connelly’s S&P+ work at SB Nation, which will help you use numbers to really get a better understanding of what’s happening on the football field.

A Bad Beat. For those of you who … invested in Nebraska as a 41.5 point favorite, the end of the game was less comfortable than the rest of us. At 45-3, Nebraska’s 42-point lead would still let you cash your ticket by the slimmest of margins.

And then Bethune-Cookman scored the garbage-y-est of garbage-time touchdowns, so much so that the officials didn’t even make the Wildcats kick the extra point.

They didn’t need to. With that last-gasp score, the Wildcats ended up with one of the latest and most frustrating back-door covers in recent history.

AND THE HOPE BEFORE THE STORM

Before the season started, Nebraska fans had basically written off the Ohio State game as unwinnable. If you had to schedule a wedding during football season, Ohio State week was the time to do it. Ohio Stadium has been a horror show for Nebraska in its last visits, and little about the 2018 version seemed likely to change that narrative.

But here we are. Nebraska is now 2-6. Ohio State is 7-1, but coming off a 29-point loss to Purdue. Could it be that the mighty Buckeyes are vulnerable, and Frost’s offensive wizardry can work some magic in Columbus?

There’s plenty arguing against that narrative. Urban Meyer, say what you will about his morality or his memory, is one of the great coaching minds of our generation, and he’s had a week to prepare his team. From a talent standpoint, Ohio State looks far more like Michigan, and we know what happened the last time Nebraska took the field against a squad like that. Heck, Frost hasn’t even won a road game as Nebraska head coach.

Still, Nebraska fans are going into Ohio State week with, if not confidence, at least curiosity. It’s games like this – and the ugly losses that followed – that were a massive factor in Bo Pelini losing his job. Frost, in year one, has at least got Nebraska fans thinking that something might be possible in Columbus.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: ReViewing Cornhuskers’ Win over Minnesota by the Numbers

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Finally.

After waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting), Nebraska finally got head coach Scott Frost his first win in charge of the Huskers, an emphatic 53-28 victory over Minnesota.

Ordinarily, we at the Double Extra Point have a particular formula for game review columns. But this time, I’m going to steal a bit from Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald and take some specific numbers and use them to get a little insight into how Nebraska performed in this game, and what it means for the rest of the season.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right, Sam?

3×100

Devine Ozigbo, 12 for 152. Adrian Martinez, 15 for 125. Maurice Washington, 14 for 109.

That’s three Nebraska ball-carriers with over 100 yards of rushing. Oh, by the way, Minnesota was no. 28 nationally in rushing defense coming into the contest. Sure, Nebraska fans were aching to see a win regardless of how it came. But seeing such a prolific rushing performance en route to the win had to add a little sweetness.

25-6

At 28-0 nearing the end of the first half, Memorial Stadium was rocking and, just for a moment, it felt like old times again for Nebraska fans. But Minnesota ripped off three quick scores, including a clever two-point conversion, and the Gophers had pulled to within six of Nebraska halfway through the third quarter.

So here was your challenge for Nebraska mentally. After last week’s collapse against Northwestern, and against the backdrop of a team which seemingly was conspiring to find new and achingly painful ways to lose, it was impossible to avoid the “here we go again” feeling. Could Nebraska really squander a 28-point lead, to Minnesota, at home?

Not this time. After Minnesota brought the score to 28-22, Nebraska outscored the Gophers 25-6, pulling away for a comfortable – and reassuring – victory.

81.32

For as successful as Nebraska was against Minnesota, it was a fight against field position. Nebraska’s average starting field position was its own 19 yard line (18.64, if you want to be picky, although of course there is no 18.64 yard line). Compare that to Minnesota’s average starting field position of its own 38 (!) yard line, and it makes Nebraska’s convincing victory all the more impressive.

1

That’s how many more plays Nebraska ran (73) than Minnesota (72) did. Nebraska was able to rack up 659 yards with those plays, however, compared to Minnesota’s 474 yards.

10,000

That’s how much the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy, born from the union of a mascot and a parody Twitter account and given new life by a GoFundMe account raising money for the Team Jack Foundation and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, has raised this year.

Sure, the Heroes Trophy would be awesome to bring back to Lincoln given Nebraska’s history with Iowa. But it’s still a sterile and corporate creation. And don’t get me started about the Freedom Trophy that looks to any rational observer like a sailboat.

So if nothing else, Nebraska has something to put in the trophy cabinet this year.

And if you want to donate to the cause, you can still do so here.

(Image above is from the Broken Chair GoFundMe page)

54-21

That was the score last year, with Minnesota’s mauling of Nebraska making it clear that Mike Riley would not return as head coach. While any win is euphoric (even generating an inappropriate Gatorade shower), returning the favor to Minnesota by a similar score had to be especially satisfying for anyone who made the trip to Minneapolis last year.

8/12

Coming into the game, Nebraska was no. 112 nationally in third-down conversions at 34.18 percent. That low percentage (along with penalties) is one of the prime reasons why a team that was regularly gaining over 500 yards of offense per game could be winless.

But today, Nebraska was 8-for-12 on third down conversions, helping to keep drives alive and NU’s offense on the field.

1

(Yes, I know this is the second time I’ve used a one for the number. Just pipe down and keep reading.)

In addition to third-down conversions, penalties have been Nebraska’s bugbear this year. Rather than focusing on the raw number – 6 for 43, a significant improvement – the more illustrative number might be the number of first downs – one – that Minnesota got off a penalty. That helps to understand that Nebraska didn’t give Minnesota a ton of help moving the ball and keeping drives alive – and we can see the difference in performance that results from such a change.

0

That’s the amount of originality that Iowa trolls fans had in co-opting the Cleveland Browns’ beer fridge idea. Now that Nebraska’s won, though, that nonsense is over (and Husker Fan can get a couple of free beers in the process.)

5

That’s the number of games left on Nebraska’s schedule. Three of those are home games, with road trips to Columbus and Iowa City looming.

After the Northwestern loss, the skies seemed very dark and it was hard to see how there could be any joy or hope left in Nebraska’s 2018 campaign. What a difference one game makes. Now that you’ve seen what Nebraska could like once a few things start clicking, the remainder of Nebraska’s schedule looks a little different.

After all, Purdue just demolished Ohio State, 48-20. While the likeliest outcome will be the Buckeyes coming off their bye week and being razor sharp against Nebraska in two weeks, at least now Husker Fan can dare to dream a little bit. Upset the Buckeyes in Columbus, and all of a sudden getting to six wins and a bowl game becomes a legitimate goal.

(And, yes, for the record, I did just take a win against Bethune-Cookman next week for granted. If Nebraska loses that game, y’all know whose fault it will be.)

Is Nebraska going on a six-game unbeaten run after losing its first six likely? Absolutely not. Ending the season with four wins would still be a positive accomplishment after the start of 2018.

But you can’t get to a six-game win streak without winning the first one. Now Nebraska has that win, and the taste of blood in its mouth. Seeing all that faith and hard work and culture change has finally paid tangible dividends. So long as the team doesn’t think that it’s done working – and I suspect Frost will be making very sure there is no laurel-resting this week – then this could make for quite a show down the stretch.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Assessing and Power Ranking the Cornhuskers’ 2018 Alternate Uniforms

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They’re heeeeeeeere …

Nebraska announced that it will be wearing its annual alternate uniform on Nov. 10 against Illinois on Veteran’s Day weekend. The uniform is intended to honor the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, as well as celebrate Memorial Stadium.

While there are any number of metrics available to grade uniforms (Brandon Vogel of Hail Varsity does a great job with his), I’m a fan of the UniWatch Blog system. It’s very simple: Good or Stupid? Clear and gets right to the point. So, on to the analysis.

JERSEY

2018 jersey

This is gorgeous. The stripes on the front and back were very common sights on football uniforms at the time. The numerals call attention to the Stadium Clock, which you can see inside the stadium and is a true hidden gem of Nebraska lore. Plus, it’s really close to the uniform idea that a smart and particularly handsome analyst had. And the “In the Deed the Glory” reprinted on the back is truly fantastic, especially since the original inscription has been covered by the new East Stadium façade.

Good or Stupid? Really, really good.

PANTS

Hard to tell, as we really didn’t get a good look at the pants. Adidas refers to them as “buff” and supposed to resemble the original façade of Memorial Stadium. That likely means they’ll be some kind of tan. As long as it’s not too garish – and given that we didn’t see them at all, it’s likely there’s not much there to see – then they’ll be just fine.

Good or Stupid? Too early to tell, but probably good bordering on meh.

HELMET

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OK, so bonus points for trying to take the premise to its logical conclusion. And if your goal is to recreate a 1923 uniform, then I guess trying to make your helmet look like a leather helmet is admirable as a concept.

But, seriously. No one is going to be giving you bonus points for historical authenticity. It’s ridiculous when the Green Bay Packers do it with their faux-leather pants. And it’s going to be ridiculous when Nebraska does it. The throwback is supposed to be an homage to 1923, not a slavish recreation. Heck, even looking at the 1923 University of Nebraska yearbook shows plenty of gorgeous art deco designs that could have been incorporated onto a helmet design.

Instead, we’re going to see eleven of those on the field. At the same time. Playing modern football. Slamming against Illinois’ blue-and-orange helmets. That’s … going to mess up the historical authenticity.

Good or Stupid? OH GOD THE STUPID IT BURNS!!!!!

OVERALL

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Well, the replica jersey is going to look amazing, and will likely be tops on my list of alternates to wear. The jersey is what most people are going to remember, and so the grade is going to be weighted heavily in favor of its sweet, sweet historical goodness. It’s going to stay in the Good category … but barely, given how ridiculous the helmet is.

Good or Stupid? Good, but just barely.

NEBRASKA ALTERNATE UNIFORM POWER RANKING

Images courtesy of the Lincoln Journal-Star

  1. 2014

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.

  1. 2015

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.

  1. 2012

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.)

  1. 2016

2016

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

  1. 2017

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.

  1. 2013

2103

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.

  1. 2018

2018 main

Fine, call it recency bias. But 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.

HONORARY MENTION

hm

I’m not sure where the curly-Q numeral jerseys would fit on the above power list, but I’m telling you that it’d be way closer to one than seven.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: How Cornhusker Fans Should Respond After 0-6 Start

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Now what, Husker Fan?

Nebraska is now 0-6, after dropping a gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss to Northwestern, after having a two-score lead with two minutes left to play in the game. Even a faint flicker of hope for a bowl game was snuffed out by the loss, and the remainder of 2018 is a game-by-game prospect, with tangible achievements postponed until 2019 and beyond.

Head coach Scott Frost said he was “running out of words” to tell the team after their sixth straight loss of the season and tenth overall (according to Parker Gabirel of the Lincoln Journal-Star). Even more disturbingly, Frost said this about Nebraska’s defensive scheme at the end of the game (as reported by Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald):

“One, I don’t call the defense and two, make a play,” Frost said. “One more play.”

Now, after Northwestern’s 99-yard drive in under two minutes – with no time-outs – to tie the game (a drive which bore haunting resemblance to Nebraska’s 2015 late-game collapse against Illinois), Frost’s frustration was understandable. And nothing in Frost’s quote is factually incorrect.

But some also read Frost’s quote as him trying to distance himself from the loss, to blame defensive coordinator Erik Chinander or the players for letting him down. To be clear, that is not a necessary interpretation of what Frost’s quote, and would run counter to the culture of accountability Frost has said he wants to create in Lincoln.

Having said that, it’s not the first time Nebraska fans have heard a coach say and mean something like that. And after absorbing Nebraska’s tenth (!!!) straight loss, it’s only natural for despair to kick in and color perception to see the seams unraveling on the entire Nebraska program. After a knife-to-the-soul loss like Saturday, Nebraska fans were primed and ready to descend into a very dark, very hopeless place.

And yet …

There you were, Husker Fan, applauding the team – both teams – after that loss. Sure, not all of you. But that core is still there, the ones who measure your fandom in generations, who pledge to cheer the scarlet and cream come in all kinds of weather – and mean it.

(By the way, don’t read the comments after Heady’s Twitter post. Like pretty much all internet comment threads, they’ll make you doubt your faith in humanity.)

You’re going to be tested, Husker Fan, even more than you have. Wins may be elusive this year, and perhaps even beyond. You’ll be mocked and trolled by fans of teams who hate Nebraska (looking at you, Hawkeye Fan, and a locked beer fridge is neither “Iowa nice” nor at all original).

You have faith in Frost to succeed, and that faith is still well-founded even with how 2018 has unfolded. He’s not perfect, of course – his oddly-conservative play-calling on the drive before Northwestern’s 99-yard march and game plan as a whole against Troy being examples of mistakes. But he still gives Nebraska its best chance to take its place amongst college football’s national powers.

A chance is not a guarantee, though. While all the signs point to Frost righting the ship, there’s no promises that Frost can be successful, at least on the time frame that fans were initially expecting when he arrived in Lincoln.

So you’ve got a choice, Husker Fan. You can surrender to despair and bitterness. Or you can choose a different path. You can choose to enjoy the spectacle of the game without expecting the luxury of a victory.

This doesn’t mean you accept failure, of course. It doesn’t mean you don’t agonize at the losses and rage against the mistakes and poor decisions that snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Demanding excellence and that the program be on the path to achieve it is one of the prime distinguishers between Nebraska and other programs.

What it means is that you don’t quit showing up. You don’t quit wearing your colors – flying your Husker flag – with pride. You don’t turn on the players – a collection of college kids – ever. And you don’t turn on a coaching staff until they’ve given you no choice but to do anything else.

In other words, you don’t stop believing.

I know, I’m beating this thing into the ground. But remember when, at the start of the year, we thought the biggest question to answer was what song should replace “Sirius” for the Tunnel Walk?

In my mind, there’s no doubt as to what the theme song of this year – and of this fanbase, in general – should be.

Workin’ hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice just one more time

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on, and on, and on

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feelin’

Don’t stop believing, Husker Fan. Now more than ever.

(And, seriously, HuskerVision bigwigs, make the Journey singalong A Thing already, wouldya?)

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Husker Fans Need To Make a Leap of Faith After Michigan Loss

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

When Scott Frost returned as Nebraska’s head coach, games like this weren’t supposed to happen. Nebraska wasn’t supposed to be embarrassed on a national stage. Nebraska’s wasn’t supposed to be the butt of the joke from a fast food franchise.

And, yet, here we are. Before the Michigan game, Frost said that things might get worse before they get better. After the game, he said that Nebraska had hit rock bottom.

How did this happen? How did a Michigan team that struggled at times against SMU the week before so thoroughly dominate Nebraska?

There’s plenty of potential reasons, of course. Michigan has better talent than Nebraska (although, according to the five-year recruiting averages, only three spots nationally better). Nebraska is in year one of a rebuild, with freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez still limited with a knee injury. And apparently Michigan players still had a burr under their collective saddle for Frost saying that UCF outhit Michigan when the two teams played in 2016.

But I thought what might have been the most insightful was a quote from linebacker Mohammed Barry (from Parker Gabriel of the Lincoln Journal-Star):

“The only [players] we would lose are the ones we never really had,” he said. “That’s probably better in the long run. … The guys we are going to actually win with and win championships with would never do that.”

“Let’s just be truthful: There are some people that want it and some people that don’t. That’s why we’re playing the brand of football we’re playing right now. We’re going to get there and it’s all positive, but I hope that if people have any doubt in us and our team that they make their exit now and we get better from here on out.”

Frost had a similar message to the team after last week’s loss to Troy (from Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald):

“I just got done telling the team that, when things get tough like this, you have two choices: You fight back and you work even harder or you give up,” Frost said. “I also told them if anybody doesn’t want to stay on board with this ride with us, let me know now and get off. Because I know where this is going. We just haven’t had the results early.”

After Tuesday’s practice before Purdue, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander added to the consideration the quote that the team needs “105 guys who love to play football, period” (according to HuskerMax). Read between the lines and it’s hard not to conclude that there’s a problem in the locker room with players who aren’t fully invested in Frost and his system. If that’s true, it would explain a lot of what we’ve seen at the start of this season.

Football isn’t a game you can play halfway, certainly not at the level of a major college football program. Football is hard. It’s a game of fine margins. At this level, players on both sides of the field are amazingly talented and athletically gifted. Except in the most extreme of physical mismatches, the difference between winning and losing is about which team is best able to work together and commit to its process, and which team is confident enough in its ability to be successful.

Given the quotes from Frost and Barry, it’s certainly plausible to conclude that there are parts of this Nebraska squad that aren’t all-in on Frost’s process. Don’t forget, the elder statesmen of this team are on their third head coach, including one who all but told the team they were justified in bailing on the program on his way out the door.

And as for confidence, well, it’s hard to see how this Nebraska team wouldn’t be reeling. Nebraska hasn’t won a game since October 28, 2017, when it went on the road to beat – Purdue. Since then, Nebraska has lost seven straight, and surrendered 50 or more points five times (including, weirdly, three straight 56’s being hung on the Blackshirts). Nebraska has come close twice this year but couldn’t get over the finish line, then got curb-stomped in Ann Arbor.

So when things started to go badly at Michigan, it’s only human that all those previous losses would come crashing down around the confidence of Nebraska’s players. Just ask Michigan safety John Metellus after Nebraska’s first offensive series ended in an interception (as reported by Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald).

“After that first series, when we went back out there, we just knew they wanted to give up,” Metellus said. “You could just see it in their eyes.”

Now, let’s be clear. Nebraska didn’t quit. Nebraska fought and tried its best against Michigan, start to finish. But trying your best also means summoning whatever confidence you can that you can be successful at something, especially something as hard and physically demanding as top-flight college football. Without that confidence, “your best” is still some percentage less than your potential.

And that’s what Nebraska is facing now. A crisis of confidence in a group of young men that wants desperately to be successful, but hasn’t seen that hard work pay off in almost an entire year.

Which brings us to Purdue on Saturday. The Boilermakers are 1-3, but coming off an upset of nationally-ranked Boston College. Purdue is going to arrive in Lincoln thinking it can beat Nebraska. The bookies agree, making the Boilermakers a three-point favorite.

All of a sudden, the Purdue game has become one of the most consequential games in recent Nebraska history. A win puts Nebraska at 1-3 overall and 1-1 in the B1G. But more importantly, it lets the team remember what winning tastes like, and gives them tangible proof that all the blood, sweat, and tears they’ve been expending has a payoff. A win gives Nebraska a legitimate, if narrow, path to six wins and a bowl game.

A loss, on the other hand, would make that albatross hanging around the neck of the Nebraska football program that much heavier. A loss to Purdue could put a catastrophically-bad season – 2-10, maybe 1-11 – on the table.

We will see on Saturday how much confidence Frost and his coaches can inject into Nebraska as a football team. But we will also see how the Nebraska fanbase responds to what feels like the other side of the college football looking glass.

This dope worried that a blowout loss to Michigan could start to turn Nebraska fans against Frost and the program and, if that happened, could start a cascade of events that could sink Frost’s chances of being successful. To their great credit, Nebraska fans have not done so (with very few exceptions) and have held fast to the faith that Frost will eventually right the Big Red ship.

There are a number of objective reasons for holding fast to that faith. Frost’s pedigree – learning from coaches as varied as Tom Osborne and Chip Kelly – suggests he has the experience to know what he’s doing, particularly on offense. His success at UCF is undeniable. His time both as a top-level college player and an NFL veteran gives him his bona fides. And his charisma and connection to both players and recruits keeps people listening to what he has to say.

But, let’s face it, Husker Fan. Part of the reason you’re continuing to believe is because you kinda have to. Giving up that faith condemns you to despair for the foreseeable future. Despair that the Nebraska team in which you’ve invested your passion (as well as your time and money) will never be more than the butt of a snarky social media manager.

You have the experience of recent Nebraska football history, from Frank Solich’s fumbling of Osborne’s mantle, to the experience of Bill Callahan and Steve Pedersen, to the plateau and drama of Bo Pelini, to the jovial mismanagement of Mike Riley, to 0-3 in 2018. Balanced against that, you have all of the legitimate reasons to believe in Frost’s ability to resurrect Nebraska as a national football power.

None of us know the future. So Husker Fan, you’re faced with a choice given those competing arguments, as to how you respond. And many of you are making the kind of choice we saw the android chief operations officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise face in Star Trek:The Next Generation.

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

Lieutenant Worf: How did you come to your decision?

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

Star Trek:The Next Generation, “Rightful Heir” (S6:E23), quote courtesy of IMDB (emphasis added).

That’s what you’re doing now, Husker Fan. Certainly if you’ve made it this far, you’re choosing to make that leap of faith, choosing hope over despair even in the face of current evidence.

You may be doing it in part for your own history, honoring your forebearers who introduced you to Nebraska football. For me, that’s my dad, with his comically-trinket-ladened Nebraska hat, taking me down to a frozen Astroturf field after Nebraska’s Halloween evisceration of Colorado in 1992 to throw around a stocking hat like it was a football. It’s my mom, who still comes to the home games with me to share the experience (and to sneak in a little time to spend with each other). I suspect many of you who have read this far have a similar story as to why Nebraska football is important enough to expend this energy.

And even if there’s not a sentimental attachment, don’t lose track of one very important thing – this is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, it’s just a football game. No one is going to lose their life or their freedom as a result of a college football game.

That blessed silliness is what makes an emotional investment in a sporting event so powerful and so liberating. As fans, we can wrap ourselves in the minutiae of the game and the roster, and surrender our emotions to the highs and lows of the contest. We get to feel those intense, authentic, irreplaceable feelings of joy and sadness that only come from following a game over which we have no control of the outcome.

And, win or lose at the end of the contest, life goes on around us. We can invest fully, experience those emotions fully, and walk away at the end of it with nothing lost outside of the feelings we chose to put on the line.

If that’s why we all get on this ridiculous roller-coaster in the first place, then why not choose hope? Why not make that leap of faith and believe in the possible, especially when there are still good reasons to think those dreams could come true?

A smart and particularly handsome analyst suggested that a particular song should be sung at Memorial Stadium by the whole crowd every home game. At this stage in the life of the program, it seems like we need it more than ever.

Don’t stop believin’, Husker Fan.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Make The “Don’t Stop Believing” Singalong A Thing, Already!

Journey-Dont-Stop-Believin

Nebraska was supposed to open its 2018 campaign — and welcome new head coach Scott Frost — with a game against Akron on September 01. Thanks to a lightning storm, the game never happened, which has caused all kinds of distress.

But there definitely was one very good thing that came from the lightning delay.

For those of you that didn’t click the video, that’s 90,000 people all singing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Not just the chorus.

The. Whole. Song.

It was amazing to be part of, and legitimately one of the most fun experiences I’ve had a chance to be part of in Memorial Stadium. (Although, given that Nebraska is in the midst of a six-game home losing streak, including losses to schools from the MAC and the Sun Belt, that might be setting the bar low).

Just because it was so much fun, I was all on board with Nebraska finding a way to do this singalong on a regular basis after the Akron non-game. But as this season has unfolded, I’ve thought about it more. There’s a deeper reason why a Journey singalong should definitely Become A Thing on gameday.

Look at the lyrics.

Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to the feelin’

Tell me, Husker Fan, that those lyrics don’t describe being a Nebraska fan right now.

Nebraska is 0-2. Nebraska has lost seven of its last eight games. Nebraska will go a calendar year without having won a home game.

And yet fans still, almost to a person, still have faith in Frost. Fans keep showing up to cheer on the Scarlet and Cream. Fans still believe that Nebraska can and will return to national prominence as a football program. And that continued faith — dare I say, belief — is what keeps the possibility of that return alive.

After all, as a smart and particularly handsome analyst has observed, the biggest danger to Frost is a traumatized fanbase turning on him if success doesn’t come quickly enough. With a daunting schedule to come, 2018 could be a very rough year for Nebraska.

If that’s the case, it is incumbent on the fanbase to weather the storm (both metaphorical and actual). Or, as the lyrics to a slightly-less-catchy song would say:

There is no place like Nebraska,
Where they’re all true blue.
We’ll all stick together,
In all kinds of weather,
For dear old Nebraska U.

We’ve seen all kinds of weather lately, haven’t we, Husker Fan? So why not find four minutes and ten seconds in the gameday experience to let the Sea of Red raise its voice as one and celebrate its faith and perseverance?

Don’t stop believin’, Husker Fan. Hold on to the feelin’.

GBR, baby.

 

 

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Colorado 33, Nebraska 28

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The Scott Frost era didn’t start the way Nebraska fans had hoped, with a heartbreaking 33-28 loss to one of its ancient foes, Colorado. Nebraska outplayed the Buffaloes, outgaining them 565-395. But three turnovers, dropped passes, devastating penalties, and an injured phenom ended up being the difference between the two teams.

So in looking back at game one for Frost’s Cornhuskers …

The Good

A-Mart. If Nebraska’s quarterback competition really was razor-thin until the last week or so, then Tristan Gebbia’s a pretty impressive signal-caller. True freshman Adrian Martinez moved the offense consistently, showed both his elusiveness and his breakaway speed with his 41-yard touchdown run, and his arm with a picture-perfect deep shot to J.D. Spielman in stride for a 57-yard touchdown pass.

Sure, it was far from flawless, including a fumble and a cringe-inducing interception in the fourth quarter. And his injury left Memorial Stadium silent in the fourth quarter, as walk-on Andrew Bunch tried to lead Nebraska to a come-from-behind win.

But if A-Mart can stay healthy (and yeah, I’m gonna to my best to make A-Mart A Thing) and learn from his mistakes, my goodness could he be something special.

The Blackshirts Are Back. Last year, Nebraska had fourteen sacks. On the season.

Tonight, against Colorado, Nebraska had seven.

Nebraska held Colorado to 44 yards rushing. Absent two deep shots in the fourth quarter which were at least decently defended, Nebraska held Colorado’s offense in check pretty much the entire game. After a year of watching Bob Diaco’s defense (usually peering through your fingers in horror while swearing profusely, seeing Nebraska’s defense against Colorado – even in a losing effort – has to be encouraging.

Taking a Punch. With 6:47 left in the first quarter, Nebraska was down 14-0 with two of its newest offensive stars (junior college transfer running back Greg Bell and true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez) having put the ball on the ground. For a team playing its first game under a new coach, coming off a 4-8 season, you could understand how a team could collapse mentally.

Instead, Nebraska ripped off 21 straight points to take the lead, dominating Colorado on both sides of the ball. Although the result didn’t work out the way Nebraska wanted, the fact that NU could get off the mat and respond like that should give Nebraska fans lots of hope.

The Bad

A-Mart’s Knee. At the time of writing, Nebraska fans are still on tenterhooks waiting to hear the status of Martinez’s knee. With Gebbia’s transfer, Nebraska is down to two walk-ons – including one true freshman – on the quarterback depth chart.

There was so much to be positive about, to be hopeful about, in Nebraska’s performance against Colorado. But if Martinez is going to miss any significant time, Nebraska is going to struggle to improve on last year’s 4-8 record.

Mental Mistakes. The game was there for Nebraska to win. But being minus-three in turnover margin – including two that led directly to fourteen Colorado points – makes it awfully hard to win. Nebraska also committed eleven penalties for 95 yards. Two of those penalties – the personal foul against Antonio Reed that kept Colorado’s drive alive to take the lead, and Brendan Jaimes’ false start that cost Nebraska its last time out – were devastating.

Had Nebraska just made some of those mistakes, not all of them, NU likely escapes Memorial Stadium with a win.

Missed Opportunities. It wasn’t just the mental mistakes. Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan dropped a touchdown pass, and sophomore J.D. Spielman dropped a clutch pass late in the game that likely would have changed the outcome of the contest. And freshman kicker Barret Pickering missed a 43-yard field goal that would have left Nebraska just needing another field goal, rather than a touchdown, in its final comeback attempt.

Much like with the mental mistakes, had Nebraska converted on even some of these missed opportunities, NU likely beats Colorado.

And the Spark that Lights the Flame

If you really want to be pessimistic, you could look at the start of Frost’s career in Lincoln and see it starting the same way that Mike Riley’s did – with a heartbreaking loss at home to a team from the west.

But this feels different. Nebraska dramatically outplayed Colorado. Nebraska’s loss was largely self-inflicted, with the damage coming from the first game of the season, and the first game played under Frost’s tutelage. Although we’ll never know, had Nebraska gotten its first game against Akron in last week, it seems like some of the kinks we saw on Saturday could have been ironed out, and Nebraska likely wins the game.

Now, with Nebraska being (at this point) one game down and 0-1 on the season, the path to six wins and a bowl game is pretty narrow. Dreams of an eight or nine win season might have been a bit premature (as a smart and particularly handsome analyst reminded you).

But Frost said when he got here that this was going to be a multi-year project. There’s still going to be bumps on the road – after all, trips to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbus, Ohio, still await.

And after the performance Nebraska put on against Colorado – one game, one data point, to be sure – Husker Fan has to feel like there’s a spark that’s been lit, that has a chance to grow into a flame.

GBR, baby.

Photo gallery here.

Nebraska Football: Predictions for the Cornhuskers’ 2018 Season

frostAs the first game of the Scott Frost era comes close, it’s time to make things official and predict how the 2018 season will unfold for Nebraska. At the Double Extra Point, we use a particular system to try and make season predictions less of a guessing game.

The system is to break the games on the schedule into four different categories. Better Win games are ones Nebraska should be able to win all the games in the category. Should Win games are games where Nebraska should win a majority (more than half) of the games in the category. Might Win games are games where Nebraska should win less than a majority (less than half) of the games in the category. And Won’t Win games are games where Nebraska shouldn’t win any in the category.

Once the games are categorized, we can then add up the expected wins from each category and get a season win total. Of course, I’ll also make a Fearless Forecast for each game, and rest assured I will take credit for whichever prediction ends up closer to reality.

(Kidding! The “system” prediction is the official season call from the DXP!)

Akron, Sept. 1

The Zips are coming off a 7-7 record in 2017, but were ranked no. 112 nationally in S&P+, the analytical model used by Bill Connelly of SB Nation. They do return most of their defense, but are far behind Nebraska in terms of their five-year recruiting average (again from Connelly of SB Nation), meaning NU’s talent should be far superior.

After last year, nothing should be taken for granted, but Akron does provide as soft of an opening for Frost’s tenure in Lincoln as he could reasonably hope for.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Akron 17

Colorado, Sept. 9

If nothing else, the return of Colorado to Nebraska’s schedule has reignited the Nebraska-Colorado venom across social media.

One year removed from a Pac-12 title game, Colorado went 5-7 last year, and Connelly’s analytics have the Buffs doing one worse this season. Colorado does return a starting quarterback, but that’s about it offensively, with a lot of work to rebuild defensively as well.

So while Nebraska brings a number of advantages to the game, Colorado will be the first Power Five opponent Frost’s Huskers face.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 41, Colorado 31

Troy, Sept. 15

redalert

TRAP GAME WARNING!

If there’s a game early in the season that should scare the bejeezus out of Husker Fan, this is it. A trip to Ann Arbor is the following weekend. The opponent’s name is Troy, and I don’t care how dialed in a team is, I refuse to believe it’s not a challenge to get Nebraska athletes to one hundred percent buy in to an opponent named Troy. And the game is an 11:00 a.m. kickoff, games Nebraska traditionally struggles to perform well in.

Exhibit A: September 16, 2017, 11:00 a.m.: Northern Illinois 21, Nebraska 17

Exhibit B: September 6, 2014, 11:00 a.m.: Nebraska 31, McNeese State 24

Oh, by the way, Troy beat LSU last year, 24-21, in Death Valley. So the Trojans aren’t going to have any fear coming into Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska’s a better team than Troy, and should win this game. But this is a scary scenario for Frost’s first season.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 38, Troy 27

At Michigan, Sept. 22

Frost didn’t get any favors from the schedule makers with his first road trip. Michigan is loaded, particularly on defense. Nebraska has a true freshman quarterback making his first road trip, and two walk-ons (including one true freshman) behind him.

Yes, Michigan has been underwhelming under Jim Harbaugh. But that’s underwhelming for Michigan standards. That doesn’t mean it makes the task for Nebraska any easier in Ann Arbor.

Won’t Win

Fearless Forecast: Michigan 38, Nebraska 24

Purdue, Sept. 29

The Boilermakers are a trendy sleeper pick in the B1G West, and head coach Jeff Brohm took remarkable strides in his first season. But keep in mind, Purdue was one of Nebraska’s four wins last year, and that was in East Lafayette. The Boilermakers do return both their quarterbacks, but still have enough of a talent deficiency to make this a game Nebraska should win at home.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 53, Purdue 38

At Wisconsin, Oct. 6

If there’s an acid test for Frost’s Year One at Nebraska, it’s the trip to Camp Randall. It’s easy to look back at 2017 and remember it as a tire fire. But don’t forget that going into the fourth quarter, Nebraska was tied with Wisconsin. It wasn’t until Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst took the ball out of quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s hands and let freshman phenom tailback Jonathan Taylor run wild on then-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense that the Badgers pulled away in the fourth quarter.

Talent-wise, the teams are relatively equivalent, with Nebraska having a slight advantage in the five-year  recruiting average. But Wisconsin has a significant advantage in terms of scheme and culture. If the Frost Effect is going to push Nebraska to a conference competitor in 2018, this would be the game we would find out.

But that’s likely a bridge to far to ask Frost to bring his charges this season.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 24

At Northwestern, Oct. 13

The Battle for NU is a strange beast. Each team has an amazing record at their opponent’s field. Since joining the B1G, Nebraska is 3-0 in Evanston, and 1-3 in Lincoln. And the one Nebraska win was courtesy of the Kellogg-to-Westerkamp Hail Mary, otherwise Northwestern would be 4-0 in Memorial Stadium.

This year’s contest is in Evanston, so weirdly that’s good news for Nebraska. What’s better news for Nebraska is that Justin Jackson is now playing for the Los Angeles Chargers, and Clayton Thorson is still … Clayton Thorson. This sets up to be the best shot for Frost’s first road win as head Husker.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 40, Northwestern 21

Minnesota, Oct. 20

It was the Minnesota game when you knew it was over. In the three games prior to Nebraska, Goldie scored a total of 47 points.

Minnesota hung 54 against Nebraska on that cold November afternoon in Minneapolis.

Does that mean Minnesota should be a favorite to beat Nebraska this year? No. The talent differential between the two teams is still stark.

And Minnesota’s 54 points wasn’t a reflection of the talent level and fundamentals of the two squads. It was the result of a coaching failure by then-head man Mike Riley in his staff that broke the 2017 Nebraska squad. It’s unfair to say the team quit. But it’s very fair to say that the team was given more than it could bear, and against Minnesota the result of that failure became apparent.

Should Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 47, Minnesota 17

At Ohio State, Nov. 3

I don’t know who at the B1G scheduling office has it in for Nebraska, but fer cryin’ out loud there’s been a lot of Buckeyes on the slate recently.

  1. 2017. 2018. 2019. 2020. 2021. 2024.

At this point it kinda feels like Ohio State is getting a trial run in the B1G West. Sure, Ohio State has been embroiled in scandal lately. But because head coach Urban Meyer only got a three-game suspension for his mishandling assistant coach Zach Smith’s history of domestic violence (and that’s describing it mildly, although the story is still unfolding), it is unlikely that Ohio State will be anything less than the machine it has been under Meyer by the time Nebraska rolls into Columbus.

Won’t Win

Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 49, Nebraska 21 (but Nebraska makes Brutus punt for the first time since 2012!)

Illinois, Nov. 10

It looked good on paper, didn’t it? Former NFL head coach – former Super Bowl head coach with the Bears – Lovie Smith comes to college to coach the team from whom the Bears copied their team colors.

Unfortunately for the Illini, it really hasn’t worked out. Illinois is 5-19 since Smith arrived in Champaign, and 2-16 against the B1G. Former Nebraska quarterback AJ Bush was named Illinois’ starter for the 2018 campaign. But Illinois’ recruiting under Smith gives little comfort to Illini faithful.

Yes, Illinois was one of Riley’s ugly losses in 2015. And as we’ve seen before <cough Northern Illinois cough> nothing should be taken for granted. But this should be Nebraska’s second-softest game on the 2018 slate.

Better Win

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 55, Illinois 28

Michigan State, Nov. 17

Sparty and Nebraska are right next to each other in terms of five-year recruiting averages, meaning the talent level on the field should be very even. And Michigan State did what Nebraska faithful are hoping from Frost’s crew, jumping from a dreadful 3-9 in 2016 to 10-3 in 2017.

With the game being in Lincoln, many are marking this game as Frost’s best chance to get a quality win. It’s fair analysis, Sparty under head coach Mike D’Antonio looks to be a tall order for Nebraska at the back end of a grueling schedule.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Michigan State 31, Nebraska 28

At Iowa, Nov. 23

As a smart and particularly handsome analyst observed, this thing is now a rivalry. Losing two straight to the Hawkeyes by a combined score of 96-24 will do that.

The five-year recruiting averages would suggest that Nebraska’s on-field talent is better than Iowa’s. Results on the field would suggest that Iowa has a significant leg up on Nebraska.

Nebraska fans are certainly hoping that Frost will be able to restore what they perceive to be order in the universe by regularly beating Iowa. Maybe that will happen, as coaching and scheme in Lincoln come to equal the recruiting rankings.

But for the last game of a grinding season, in Iowa City, it will be tough sledding for Nebraska to break the trend of the Heroes Game over the last few years.

Might Win

Fearless Forecast: Iowa 28, Nebraska 24

Conclusion

So let’s see what the system suggests Nebraska’s win total should be for 2018

Category Number Expected Wins
Better Win 2 2
Should Win 5 3
Might Win 3 1
Won’t Win 2 0
  Total Expected Wins 6

So the system pegs Nebraska at 6-6 for 2018, whereas the Fearless Forecasts have NU going (checks notes) 7-5 on the campaign. That’s right in line with what the investors in Las Vegas, with Nebraska’s win total (according to oddsshark.com) at 6.5 for 2018.

However, both Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald and Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star have called an 8-4 campaign for Frost’s inaugural season. Sure, this dope said that there’s reason to believe in an 8-4 season.

But there’s also a real risk that if expectations run too high in 2018 and Nebraska fails to deliver – and don’t kid yourself, the path to 5-7 or worse for this season with a first-year head coach and a threadbare quarterback depth chart is there for all to see – then there is a real risk that the giddy optimism of this season could turn into the cynical backbiting that has plagued Nebraska’s fanbase since the firing of Frank Solich.

And, as that smart and particularly handsome analyst observed, a poisoned fanbase is the biggest risk to Frost’s ability to succeed in Lincoln. So enjoy your football, Husker Fan, Lord knows the wait has been long this year. But please please please please please, don’t let your excitement run away with you this year.

GBR, baby.