Once again, the calendar turns towards September, and another college football season is upon us. As Nebraska fans finally enter into South Alabama Week, it’s time for the annual Double Extra Point season prediction.
As always, we will use a four-part metric to look at the upcoming season, in an attempt to bring a little more objectivity to the analysis. Each game will be broken down into four different categories:
||Expect to win all games
||Expect to win more than half of games
||Expect to win less than half of games
||Expect to win no games
Once all the games are categorized, we’ll add up the categories and see where the model suggests Nebraska’s record will sit at the end of the season. Of course, we’ll also include a mostly-pure-guesswork Fearless Forecast of the score as well – although, fear not, the “official” DXP prediction will be from the model.
All statistics are from the season preview by Bill Connelly of SB Nation (now of ESPN, of course).
South Alabama (home, August 31)
Assuming the weather cooperates, Nebraska should have a relatively straightforward home opener. The Jaguars are coming off a 3-9 campaign in 2018, and is breaking in a new quarterback, wide receiver corps, and secondary. Memorial Stadium in year two of the Scott Frost Experience might not be the place to do that.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 55, South Alabama 17
Colorado (away, September 07)
The Colorado athletic department tried very publicly to avoid having Nebraska fans invade Folsom Field. That … didn’t work so well, as it inspired Husker Twitter to create its own hashtag and lit even more of a fire for Husker Fan to make the trip west.
Colorado beat Nebraska last year in Lincoln, and does have Laviska Shinault, probably the best wide receiver Nebraska will face this season. But the Buffaloes did go 5-7 and fire their head coach. Nebraska will be new head man Mel Tucker’s first big challenge, and Colorado won’t be catching NU playing it’s first game ever under Frost.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 38, Colorado 24
Northern Illinois (home, September 14)
If there was a canary in the coalmine about Nebraska’s soon-to-be-disastrous 2017 season, it had to be the Huskies’ 21-17 upset of Nebraska on September 16, 2017. Two pick-six interceptions from Tanner Lee put Nebraska in a fourteen point hole that it did climb out of, only to surrender a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to stun the scarlet and cream faithful and give them a vision of things to come that season.
Northern Illinois is coming in with a new head coach, and coming off an 8-6 season in 2018. But the talent difference, combined with the 2017 experience that some on the roster were present for, should help Nebraska avoid an upset bug twice.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Northern Illinois 20
Illinois (away, September 21)
This isn’t exactly a trap game, as it’s so early in the season and Nebraska really should still be feeling like it hasn’t earned anything yet. Plus, Illinois gave Nebraska some degree of fits last year before NU pulled away late. Lovie Smith is probably coaching for his job, and Illinois’ still have B1G caliber athletes, which will be a step up from the week before.
Combine that with a trip to notoriously sleepy Champaign and an inevitable look-ahead to next week (particularly if Nebraska is 3-0), and this game screams ugly, scrappy, survive-and-advance win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Illinois 23
Ohio State (home, September 28)
Has Nebraska football advanced to the point where there’s no Won’t Win games on the schedule? I think Nebraska football has advanced to the point where there’s no Won’t Win games on the schedule!
After all, Ryan Day has taken up the mantle from Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes will be breaking in a new quarterback in Justin Fields that has all the talent in the world but hasn’t shown it yet on the field. Nebraska will be the biggest test for Day’s new Buckeyes. And if this is 4-0 Nebraska versus 4-0 Ohio State, Memorial Stadium will be crackling with the kind of energy it hasn’t seen since the 2014 Miami game.
Even with Nebraska’s near miss in Columbus last year, calling a win is still a tall order. But the change in how this game is viewed should be evidence enough how things have changed in Lincoln
Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 28, Nebraska 24
Northwestern (home, October 05)
If Nebraska has a bogey team in the B1G, it’s the Purples. Nebraska has better talent than Northwestern, yet just about every year the Purples manage to combine their physical play and ruthless efficiency to take advantage of sloppy Nebraska and steal a win. This year, Northwestern will be starting Clemson (!) transfer Hunter Johnson at quarterback, which will give the Purples more talent under center than they’ve had – well, ever, in the Pat Fitzgerald era.
So this game is certainly no gimmie, especially coming off of the Ohio State tilt a week earlier. Still, perhaps more than any besides Ohio State, that Northwestern loss in 2018 stings, and this year’s Nebraska should be sharpened for revenge.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 41, Northwestern 31
Minnesota (away, October 11)
Otherwise known as the B1G Pre-Season Hype Train Bowl, the divisions two national media darlings square off in Minneapolis. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects than Nebraska has less than a 50 percent chance to beat two teams on its schedule, Ohio State and … Minnesota.
That seems to be giving a lot of home field advantage to TCF Bank Stadium, which is … nice, but it’s no Death Valley. If Nebraska’s defensive line is what it appears to be this preseason, NU should be well poised to earn a second straight win over the Gophers.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Minnesota 17
Indiana (home, October 26)
Coming off of a bye, Nebraska gets to catch a breather before facing a Hoosier squad that went 5-7 in 2018. The talent level for Indiana is improving, and tailback Stevie Scott should be a handful for any defense.
But Indiana still looks to be a rebuilding B1G East school trying to find its footing. Coming off a bye, Nebraska should have plenty to take care of the Hoosiers at home.
Preview data from Corn Nation.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Indiana 21
Purdue (away, November 02)
Quick, name the last game that Mike Riley won!
Yep, it was that bonkers last-second 25-24 win in West Lafayette that kept the faintest spark of hope alive, before an overtime loss to Northwestern (of course) the following week snuffed it out. Of course, head coach Jeff Brohm didn’t have phenom Rondale Moore to deploy in 2017, and the Boilermakers rode Moore and Brohm’s innovative offense to wreak havoc.
Unfortunately for Purdue, Moore is one of only three (!) returning starters on offense. Nebraska-Purdue could be one of the most fun games to watch in the coming years, with Brohm’s offense facing off against Frost’s, but until the Boilermakers reload the talent level shouldn’t be quite even.
Data from Phil Steele’s 2019 College Football Preview. Yes, the hardcopy magazine.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 51, Purdue 41
Wisconsin (home, November 16)
Well, here’s the acid test to see how far Nebraska has advanced in year two of Frost’s reign. Sconnie will bring in the best running back in the country in Jonathan Taylor, who pretty well single-handedly beat Nebraska in 2017 as a freshman. But Wisconsin also brings back questions at quarterback and a bruised ego from a sub-par 2018 campaign.
The Badgers have a six-game winning streak over Nebraska. If Frost really is going to return Nebraska to an era of national relevance and conference championships, that path leads through Wisconsin.
Fearless Forecast: Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 35
Maryland (away, November 23)
A trip to the east coast, sandwiched against two physically and emotionally challenging games, going to a stadium that will likely have less than 20,000 fans, at the end of November.
Now that’s a trap game.
Maryland’s talent is better than you think, but even a year removed from the unparalleled disaster D.J. Durkin left, new head coach Mike Locksley will have a challenge on his hand rebuilding the Terrapins. And a public spat with a Michigan assistant coach probably isn’t going to help things.
Fearless Forecast: Maryland 27, Nebraska 24
Iowa (home, November 29)
Wisconsin may be the bellweather game for Nebraska’s growth in the B1G West, but it’ll be the last Black Friday game (for two years, at least) that will really tell the tale of Frost’s second season in Lincoln. Iowa fans have been clamoring for this to be a rivalry (even though they’ll never admit it), and Nebraska fans are thiiiiiiiiis close to accepting the role.
Accept it, Husker Fan. Iowa will be bringing in a very Iowa team to Lincoln. The Hawkeyes may well have the best pure pass rusher Nebraska will face in A.J. Epenesa. But they will not have first round NFL draft picks Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson running down the seams. This game should come to the fourth quarter, potentially with the B1G West title on the line.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Iowa 28
Let’s count up our categories and see what the model predicts for Nebraska’s 2019 campaign.
||Total projected wins
So, the DXP model puts Nebraska at 7-5, which at this stage would probably feel a little disappointing for Nebraska fans. It shouldn’t be, given where the program has been and the promise being shown. And the fact that 7-5 would be seen as disappointing for fans – as well as for players and coaches – is a testament to the importance of expectations, as pointed out by a smart and particularly handsome analyst.
For those who want to feel better about the upcoming season, the Fearless Forecast has Nebraska at 9-3, and that’s with a trap-game loss to Maryland. The best thing about predictions, though, is that we’re about to get some additional data to see just how accurate (or inaccurate) our models are.