Nebraska Football: Spring Football Preview

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On Monday, Nebraska started spring practice in its second year under head coach Scott Frost. Unseasonably frigid temperatures kept work inside as the squad opened preparation for the Spring Game on April 13.

This is now Nebraska’s second straight season without a bowl game, meaning a second long winter of waiting for Nebraska football. So spring practice should bring a welcome relief for Nebraska fans weathering yet another cold winter of discontent. Here’s what to keep an eye on as spring practice begins.

OFFENSE

Returning Strengths

  • Quarterback. There is little doubt that Adrian Martinez is the biggest reason for Nebraska’s optimism in 2019. Martinez’s accomplishments last season have at least one Las Vegas sports book listing him as third-favorite for the Heisman next year. That might be a little optimistic, but at least Nebraska is coming into next year’s campaign with its situation at signal-caller settled.
  • Y and Z Receivers. JD Spielman is clearly Nebraska’s most dangerous receiving threat returning next season, and incoming freshman Wandale Robinson looks perfectly set to excel in the slot. While not every receiving position is clear (see infra), Nebraska does have a lot to lean on at receiver.
  • Tight End. Jack Stoll could very well be one of the team leaders next season, and Kurt Rafdal and Austin Allen both saw increased playing time towards the end of 2018. Kateriene Legrone should also have an opportunity to see the field, giving Nebraska at least four dangerous options to create mismatch opportunities and challenge the middle of the field.

Biggest Questions

  • Offensive Line. Nebraska does have quite a bit of returning talent, but it’s not entirely certain how it is going to fit together. And center for Nebraska is one of the biggest open questions, which is always a challenge. There’s enough talent for Nebraska’s offensive line to be successful, but it is still unproven.
  • X Receiver. Nebraska will be looking for a true no. 1, go-to receiver to make catches that get first downs as well as threaten downfield. Stanley Morgan’s leadership and production will be a huge challenge for Nebraska to replace, and while there is significant depth at receiver, it is unclear who (if any) in that room will be able to fill that role.
  • Running Back. At this time last year, it was hard to imagine that Devine Ozigbo’s graduation would be one of Nebraska’s biggest challenges going into 2019, but here we are. Maurice Washington and Miles Jones, Nebraska’s two returning backs with any playing time from 2018, are huge question marks for different reasons. The incoming backs, Dedrick Mills, Rahmir Johnson, and Ronald Thompkins, all have potential but are unproven.

Players to Watch

  • Jaylin Bradley. Ozigbo is gone. The competition for running back carries won’t arrive until fall camp. So this spring, Bradley will be competing with Wyatt Mazour and the other walk-on running backs for a chance to get the carries that Ozigbo had last year. Bradley didn’t see the field last year, and with the other backs coming, this spring may be Bradley’s last, best chance to really make an impact and earn a spot on the depth chart.
  • Cameron Jurgens. One of the biggest open positions for Nebraska in 2019 is center, and Jurgens has taken a strange path to the position. Jurgens was a four-star prospect in Nebraska’s 2018 class (.9227 composite, according to 247 Sports) – as a tight end. But after a redshirt year, Jurgens switched positions from tight end to offensive line and looks to be competing for a spot at center. Given his composite ranking, Jurgens’ athletic prowess is unquestioned. If he can make the switch in positions – and make no mistake, it’s a massive switch – then Nebraska could get a quick infusion of talent in the middle of the offensive line.
  • Jaevon McQuitty. Much like with Bradley, there is an opening in the depth chart at X receiver, and McQuitty has his best opportunity to take advantage and seize a spot. He’ll have some competition from players like Mike Williams and Andre Hunt, in addition to the freshmen receivers coming in the fall. So this spring is the time for McQuitty to make his move, if it’s going to happen.

DEFENSE

Returning Strengths

  • Defensive Line. The returning experience is there. Particularly with the addition of graduate transfer Darrion Daniels, Nebraska front should have both experience and depth coming back. The production of that front last year, of course, wasn’t what anyone thought (no. 96 nationally in rush defense and no. 76 nationally in sacks, according to com). But after a year in defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s system (and, in all candor, a year removed from former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco), perhaps the unit we thought would be a strength in 2018 will actually become one in 2019.
  • Secondary Starters. Three of Nebraska’s four starters in the secondary should be decided going into spring football. Dicaprio Bootle was Nebraska’s best and most consistent cornerback throughout 2018, and Lamar Jackson responded to his benching early in the season to solidify himself as a starter. At safety, neither starter returns, but Deontai Williams showed such athleticism and natural ability that it would be stunning not to see him on the top line of the depth chart this year.
  • Mohammed Barry. Martinez is arguably Nebraska’s most important player, but it’s hard to overstate the leadership Barry brings not only to the defense but to the team in general. With a number of Nebraska’s vocal leaders from last season graduating, the mantle looks to fall to Barry to take on that role in 2019.

Biggest Questions

  • Secondary Depth. After the three likely starters, there’s little proven talent in the secondary. There is a tremendous amount of potential, but all unproven. That should be enough to keep Chinander up at night, but also provides an opportunity for someone to stand out.
  • Pass Rush. A pass rush is a defensive back’s best friend, and Nebraska’s pass rush struggled last season. With no obvious pass rush specialist being recruited in this year’s class, Nebraska will be looking to manufacture a rush from the talent already on the roster. A healthy JoJo Doman staying at outside linebacker should help, and a return to 2017 form for Ben Stille may be part of the answer.
  • Run Defense. Take another look at Nebraska’s performance against teams like Wisconsin and Iowa – if you can stomach it. Wisconsin averaged 7.7 yards per carry against Nebraska, while Iowa averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Nebraska simply will be able to win the B1G West if it cannot significantly improve how it defends power running teams.

Players to Watch

  • Breon Dixon. After transferring from Mississippi, last year it looked like Dixon might be the kind of immediate infusion of SEC talent that could give Nebraska’s defense an instant jolt. But it didn’t happen for Dixon last year, who saw very little of the field and was unable to make an impact. With a year in the system, 2019 is the time for Dixon to make his move.
  • Avery Anderson/Eric Lee. Yeah, I know it’s cheating to list two guys here. But Anderson and Lee were both highly regarded recruits, now in their last year at Nebraska. With the questions remaining about depth in the secondary, these two seniors have a door open to see the field and leave an impact in 2019.
  • Collin Miller. Will Honas came in as a junior college transfer last year and looked to be part of the puzzle for Nebraska’s transition on defense. But an injury against Purdue knocked Honas out for the season, and is still recovering from that injury. So outside of incoming freshman Jackson Hannah, Miller has the opportunity this spring to solidify a starting position at inside linebacker.

GBR, baby.

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.

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: Five Reasons Why Scott Frost Could Fail

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We are now less than two weeks away from Nebraska taking the field under new head coach Scott Frost, and to say that Husker Fan is excited is the understatement of the century. Already, every possible variation of a “Frost warning” t-shirt has been bought and sold, and a long-dormant sense of hope for Nebraska to return to national glory has awoken.

There is plenty of reason for that optimism. All kinds of national media are convinced that Frost is the right guy to lead Nebraska out of college football’s desert of irrelevance. And they’ve got plenty of reasons to think so. He’s got the pedigree, both from his playing days in college and the NFL, and coaching under Chip Kelly at Oregon.

Since Frost’s hire, Nebraska fans have had visions of trophies dancing in their heads. Precious little thought has been given to the other side of that scenario.

Now, let’s be clear. I think Frost is the right guy. I agree with the generally-accepted wisdom that Nebraska under Frost could be back to being – well, Nebraska in short order.

But “likely to succeed” doesn’t mean “will succeed.” And I hate to break it to you, Husker Fan, but there are some reasons out there why Frost might not be successful at Nebraska. Here are five of them.

There’s More to the UCF Turnaround

You may have heard that Frost engineered quite the turnaround in Orlando. The Knights were 0-12 the year before he arrived. In two short seasons under Frost’s tutelage, the Knights were 13-0 and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Some even crowned UCF the 2017 National Champions of college football.

That’s a heck of an accomplishment, of course, enough to win Frost basically every national coach of the year award he could win for 2017. And he deserved them. Having a guy like that take the reins in Lincoln should give Nebraska fans plenty to be excited about.

But there’s more to the story. Yes, going from 0-12 to 13-0 is an amazing feat. But let’s broaden the lens a little and look at UCF’s performance over the last seven years.

YEAR UCF RECORD
2017 (Frost) 13-0
2016 (Frost) 6-7
2015 (O’Leary/Barrett) 0-12
2014 (O’Leary) 9-4
2013 (O’Leary) 12-1
2012 (O’Leary) 10-4

Yeah, UCF was terrible in 2015, enough to get previous head coach George O’Leary fired mid-season. But it’s not like UCF was a year-after-year disaster that Frost resurrected. The squad that Frost inherited was only a year removed from a nine-win season. It was only two years removed from being a three-point loss to South Carolina away from being in the mix for the final BCS title game.

Now, let’s be clear. This doesn’t take any credit away from Frost’s accomplishments at UCF. Going from 0-12 to 13-0 is remarkable, regardless of context.

But UCF’s 2015 debacle was clearly the outlier. So to assume Frost is a necromancer that can raise the football dead based on two years of work in Orlando ignores the platform upon which Frost stepped when he arrived at UCF.

Frost Has Never Done This Before

Frost has been a head coach for two years, and has had phenomenal and demonstrable success. But it’s still just two years. He and his staff have never put a full recruiting class together. Sure, Frost’s recruiting in Lincoln up to now has been admirable, especially without a full cycle.

But we still don’t know how Frost’s recruiting will hold up

We also don’t know how Frost and his staff will handle a step up in class. Going from the American Athletic Conference to the B1G is a pretty big step. There’s a quantum difference between games against South Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston, and Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Frost won’t be successful. But it means that Frost’s ability to get wins against B1G competition – both on the recruiting trail and on the field – is still an open question. Yes, he’s currently doing very well, ranked no. 26 on 247Sports. But he’s also still trading on his 12-0 record from last year. What happens if Nebraska goes through a 6-6 season – or worse – and the shine is off the rose on the recruiting trail is still an open question.

The Schedule Is A Beast

Frost did not pick the best year to arrive in Lincoln trying to raise the dead. Nebraska’s 2018 schedule was rated the nation’s second hardest by Athlon Sports and 247 Sports, and the nation’s hardest by Bleacher Report.

Take a quick look (maybe through your fingers to shield your eyes) and you’ll see why. Nebraska has road trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Iowa. That’s … daunting. If Nebraska gets through this gauntlet at 2-3, it’s doing very well. Going 1-4 through that schedule is more likely.

That leaves Nebraska needing to win four home games – in a best-case scenario – just to become bowl eligible. The home schedule includes a Power Five school in Colorado that’s one year removed from the Pac-12 title game, a Troy team that beat LSU in Death Valley last year, an improving Purdue, and Minnesota squad that hung 54 on the Blackshirts last year.

Oh, and Michigan State, projected no. 13 nationally by Phil Steele.

Let’s say Nebraska has two gimmies, against Akron and Illinois (although as we saw against Northern Illinois last year – or Illinois in 2015 – there’s probably no such thing as a gimmie). That means Nebraska would have to go 2-3 against Colorado, Troy, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan State just to make bowl eligibility.

And that’s if Nebraska wins two games on the road. Otherwise, NU needs a 3-2 mark against those five just to see a bowl in 2018.

Maybe things will click for Nebraska. Maybe Nebraska’s starting quarterback – who will be a freshman, either true or redshirt, regardless of who wins the job – grabs the reins and succeeds right away. Maybe the defense picks up new coordinator Erik Chinander’s new system.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. But that’s a lot of maybes, and a schedule with very little room for error if some of those maybes come up the wrong way.

Sure, if you squint real hard, you can see 8-4 in this schedule, like this dope argued. But it’s just as easy – maybe even easier – to see a path to 4-8 in Nebraska’s 2018 campaign.

Tackle Depth Is Scary

Brendan Jaimes. Christian Gaylord. Matt Farniok. Matt Sichterman.

As a very wise man once said, that’s it, that’s the list. In this case, that’s the list of true tackles on Nebraska’s roster. Most of you reading this know that you need to start two tackles, meaning Nebraska has a two-deep at tackle for the season – if everyone stays healthy and performs up to expectation.

Tackle is, put mildly, an important position. And an injury to any one of those four guys puts Nebraska in a circumstance where it will have to rotate players out of position at tackle, or ask the remaining tackles to play more games than they otherwise would.

Oh, and did I mention that Frost’s hurry-up offense focuses on speed, meaning that it will ask its offensive players – particularly its offensive line – to be in peak condition to put pressure on opposing defenses.

Losing one or two of those four guys, either to injury or poor play, could end up being an Achilles heel for Nebraska’s offense in 2018.

The Fans Could Wreck Everything

Yep, Husker Fan, this one’s on you. I know just how excited y’all are for the Frost era to begin. And you’ve got every reason to be. Frost looks every bit as advertised, and on paper he looks tailor made to return Nebraska to glory.

Heck, Nebraska fans are standing in line just for hours to get the guy’s autograph (according to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald).

But remember, Husker Fan, you haven’t seen Frost coach a game for Nebraska. More importantly, you haven’t seen Frost lose a game for Nebraska.

I know, I know, y’all are all about being patient, about knowing that the process will take time for Frost.

Honestly, I believe that’s what you think right now. I’m less convinced that you’ll think that if Nebraska is 2-6 this year, coming off home losses to Troy (!) Purdue, and Minnesota, and twenty-point blowouts to Michigan and Wisconsin on the road.

Don’t forget that the hurry-up style of offense Frost prefers, when it doesn’t work, can be pretty ugly. An unsuccessful hurry-up offense leads to a lot of quick three-and-outs and pressure on your defense. Nebraska’s defense is already preparing to face 90 (!) plays per game, according to McKewon.

To put that in perspective, Minnesota scored 54 points against last year’s Blackshirts in 61 plays. So if things go badly, they could go pretty spectacularly badly. And that’s hard for fans to watch.

The word “fan” is shorthand for “fanatic.” Almost by definition, fandom defies cool, rational analysis. If Nebraska is sitting at 2-6, and looking ugly with Frost’s unique scheme, then there will start to be fans that turn on the team.

It wouldn’t be many at first, given the incredible goodwill and credibility Frost has coming into the job. But a sub-.500 2018 will, almost without question, leave a portion of the fanbase at best uneasy and at worst skeptical of Frost’s ability to raise Nebraska from the dead.

That puts immense pressure on 2019, then. Nebraska has a road trip to Colorado for its second game of the season, and hosts Ohio State in game five. Even assuming a win over the rest of the slate (which includes Northern Illinois, so we know not to take anything for granted), how would the fanbase feel about a 3-2 Nebraska coming off a blowout loss in Columbus after a 4-8 season?

Again, this is not to say that this dystopian future will happen. It’s not even to say that it’s likely – I think it’s not, to be honest. But can you look at where Nebraska’s been since the 2001 version of Black Friday and say that outcome is impossible, or even preposterous?

And even If the situation isn’t that dire, fans are still fans. Eventually, Frost the prodigal son returned to save the kingdom will become Frost the coach who called the wrong play and cost Nebraska a win. This year – mark it down – there will be a portion of the fanbase that will turn negative.

It’s likely not a big portion, of course, and Nebraska having success early will put those nattering nabobs of negativity far out of the spotlight.

But this has been a traumatized fanbase, rent asunder by the firing of Frank Solich, abused and taken advantage of by Steve Pederson, willfully divided and antagonized by Bo Pelini, incompetently managed by Shawn Eichorst, and historically failed by Mike Riley. Yeah, I know, it’s only a game. But that’s a lot of trauma (in relative terms) for a fan base to absorb, especially one for whom Nebraska football is such a core part of its identity.

Winning, of course, makes that trauma go away. But continued lack of success – and how much and for what length of time is the great experiment upon which we are all embarking – will bring those demons to the surface.

Abraham Lincoln himself – the namesake of the school’s home town – said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Possibly the greatest danger to Frost being successful as Nebraska head coach is if that success does not come quickly enough, and a critical mass of that traumatized fanbase ends up giving up on hoping in Frost, turning in with negativity, and destroying itself.

GBR, baby.