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.

Nebraska Football: Yes, Recruiting Rankings Are Important For the Cornhuskers

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So, we’re a little ways away from 2017’s National Signing Day, and Nebraska ending up with a no. 23 ranked class nationally (according to 247 Sports). Reports tended to think the class ranged from solid to good but not great. But there is a pretty universal agreement amongst those covering the team that Nebraska needs a good recruiting performance to win trophies.

But not everyone agrees with that premise. Keyshawn Johnson (senior, not the incoming freshman) thinks recruiting rankings are for fools (according to Erin Sorensen of Hail Varsity).

There is a not-insignificant portion of the fan base that feels this way about recruiting, too.  So, let’s imagine a conversation with such a fan – we’ll call him the Grumpy Recruiting Skeptic (GRS) – and help see if we can understand the tension.

GRS: I am so glad recruiting season is over.

DXP: I know, it’s pretty exhausting, but it’s nice to see Nebraska making some progress.

GRS: No, I mean I’m just tired of hearing about all this recruiting nonsense. It’s such a waste of time.

DXP: What do you mean?

GRS: This is Nebraska, we don’t need to worry about all that five-star nonsense. Back in the day, we’d win with grit and our walk-on program.

DXP: Well, even those teams in the nineties had some pretty talented players on them.

GRS: Of course. But we didn’t spend our time obsessing about which five-star kid was going to go where, because who knows what those kids will end up being. Highly rated kids flame out all the time, so I don’t know why we obsess about it so much.

DXP: You’re right, individual highly rated players do crash and burn. But in general, the better you do in recruiting, the more likely you are to win.

GRS: That’s what those sites want you to think. But how come teams like Texas and Florida get all the good recruits and don’t win squat?

DXP: Again, you’re looking at individual instances. The averages don’t take Mack Brown into account. Just read this piece from Matt Hinton from SB Nation, it explains why the ranking sites are helpful.

GRS: <clicking website, staring intently, putting phone down in frustration> TL;DR, what’s the point?

DXP: Basically, Hinton categorized schools in terms of their recruiting prowess as seen by the sites, ranking them from one-star schools to five-star schools. Here’s what their overall winning percentages are, from 2010-2013.

Five-star schools .679
Four-star schools .557
Three-star schools .495
Two-star schools .367
One-star schools .394

GRS: So, you’re telling me the good schools win a lot. Do they pay you for this?

DXP: OK, that was hateful. And besides, the numbers speak for themselves, I think. You recruit well, you win pretty often. You don’t recruit as well, you don’t win as often.

GRS: Yeah, but even those “five-star” schools have big time recruits that don’t work out. Even mighty Nick Saban at Alabama has his recruiting busts.

DXP: I think you’re missing the point. You’re right, college football is littered with individual five-star prospects that never amounted to anything …

GRS: See, you agree with me. I knew you’d come around.

DXP: Ahem. BUT, you can’t look at recruiting by cherry-picking individual cases. For it to really make sense, you have to look at it as a whole.

GRS: So you’re saying I shouldn’t be looking at all those amazing individual prospects that Jeremy Crabtree gets so excited about.

DXP: Well, sort of. Let me show you something Stuart Mandel of FOX Sports worked up. He was looking at the 2015 NFL Draft class.

So despite comprising less than 1 percent of all recruits, five-stars accounted for a quarter of 2015 first-rounders. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of all recruits are designated as being three stars or less, yet their representation in the first round is nearly half that.

Put it this way: About one in four five-star recruits like No. 1 pick Jameis Winston goes on to become a first-rounder, but only about one in 64 three-star recruits like No. 2 Marcus Mariota does.

GRS: Well … that’s about the NFL, all I really care about is what happens in college.

DXP: But it illustrates the main point. You have to think of each recruit as a percentage chance to become a successful football player.

GRS: So think of these kids as numbers instead of as human beings. No wonder you run a blog out of your parents’ basement.

DXP: It’s a nice basement, thank you very much. And you’re avoiding the point. To really understand why recruiting rankings are important, you have to think of each recruit as a percentage chance to be successful. The higher the recruit (as we see from Mandel’s work), the higher percentage chance that he’ll be a successful player.

GSP: That seems pretty obvious.

DXP: I know, but I don’t think most people think of it that way. The individual hits and misses are easy to remember and visualize. But it only makes sense when you think about the group as a whole.

GSP: Meaning …

DXP: Well, let’s take Nebraska’s 2017 class as an example. There’s 20 kids in the class. Let’s say head coach Mike Riley recruited well, and each kid had a forty percent chance of being a success. Compare that to, just as an example, a less successful recruiter whose class would have kids with a thirty percent chance of being successful. You following me?

GRS: You’re not talking about Frank Solich, are you? Don’t get me started on Solich being fired …

DXP: <exasperated sigh> No, I’m not talking about Solich. I’m not really talking about anyone in specific. I’m just trying to make the point.

GRS: OK, then I’m with you.

DXP: Now, which class would you rather have, the forty-percenters, or the thirty-percenters?

GRS: Well … the forty-percenters, I guess.

DXP: Because that gives you the best chance to win, right?

GRS: Yeah, I guess so.

DXP: Even though, statistically, more than half of even the forty-percent class will fail.

GRS: But how do you explain teams like Kansas State, that consistently win with lesser talent.

DXP: Good question. The short answer, I’m pretty sure, is that Bill Snyder is a warlock.

GRS: It would explain a lot.

DXP: But it’s true, teams with lesser talent do win all the time. It’s just really hard to do. Yeah, you can win with (using our example) a thirty-percent roster. But it’s going to happen less often than teams with a forty-percent roster, that’s just math. (And, as the amazing commercial reminds us, if you argue with math, you will lose). Or, you have to make up the difference with better coaching. Snyder can do that. But most coaches can’t. If nothing else it makes your margin of error that much smaller.

GRS: But … you know, they say that if we go back to worrying about recruiting rankings, we’ll go back to the Callahan era …

DXP: Literally no one is saying that.

GRS: Being good at recruiting means Callahan and Steve Pederson and Solich going to Ohio!!!!!!!!11!!1!

DXP: OK, slow down, take a deep breath. Here, put on your 2005 Ohio Bobcats jacket.

GRS: Mmmmm, so green and snuggly. OK, I’m better now.

DXP: So, are you feeling a little better about recruiting rankings?

GRS: Well … maybe a little. But don’t ask me to like the stupid thing with the hats they do.

DXP: Baby steps, my friend, baby steps.

Nebraska Football Class: Super Six of Cornhuskers’ 2015 Class

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

While it sounds far more like the name of a B-list superhero team, the “Super Six” is the cliché for laying out the best six recruits in a team’s class. Nebraska’s 2015 class signed 20 players, ending up no. 31 nationally and no. 4 in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports.

So who is Nebraska’s Super Six out of the 2015 class? Here’s the view (along with a bonus sleeper) from one smart and particularly handsome analyst.

No. 6: Dedrick Young (ATH/LB, three-star, 87 composite)

Given Nebraska’s desperate need to build depth at linebacker, it’s almost impossible to fill out a Super Six without including one. Young looks to be the most promising of Nebraska’s three linebackers in the 2015 class (four if you count Adrienne Talan). He’s also an early-enrollee, meaning Young will get to participate in spring practice. Don’t be surprised to see him competing for playing time as a true freshman in 2015.

No. 5: Matt Snyder (TE, three-star, 88 composite)

Under Bo Pelini, the tight end position was maddeningly under-utilized. While being blessed with a number of offensive threats at the position (Mike McNeil, Kyler Reed, and Cethan Carter), Nebraska’s offense never found a way to really utilize the kind of matchup problems a pass-catching tight end can cause.

So to see Nebraska land another threat in Snyder, to compliment what will hopefully be an expanded role for Carter going forward, is a promising sign of things to come.

No. 4: Carlos Davis (DE, three-star, 89 composite) and Khalil Davis (DT, three-star, 89 composite)

Yeah, I know it’s cheating (and kind of trite) to list them both in one spot. But, honestly, they’re both incredibly talent, both will be playing on the defensive line, and landing the twins was very much a package deal for Nebraska.

So while they may not see the field at the same time (given the depth issues, Carlos has a better shot at freshman playing time), listing them both at the same time feels about right.

No. 3: Daishon Neal (DE, three-star, 89 composite)

While raw, Neil looks to have the potential to be a dominant defensive end. Enough potential to draw interest from a number of big-time programs around the country, particularly a late push by Michigan (according to Corn Nation) once Jim Harbaugh arrived.

Given the position of need he is filling, the potential he is showing, and the ability of Nebraska to protect a home-state kid (Neal is a graduate of Omaha Central) from being poached by a conference rival, Neal’s signature is a big deal.

No. 2: Eric Lee (CB, four-star, 93 composite)

Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions on defense to play, combining the need for speed, aggression, ball skills, and the knowledge to read both an offensive play and the receiver being covered. Lee possesses all those skills, and has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Blackshirts.

While not getting the top overall nod, Lee’s retention in the class after the coaching change was one of new head coach Mike Riley’s biggest successes in his young tenure at Nebraska.

No. 1: Jalin Barnett (OG, four-star, 92 composite)

You could make a pretty good argument that Lee is a better overall player than Barnett, or at the very least a better NFL prospect. But during his Signing Day press conference (a transcript found on Huskers.com), Riley repeatedly referred to offensive linemen as “gold.”

And for good reason, given the importance of the offensive line to everything a football team is trying to do. Barnett looks to be the best of the bunch, even at a position of depth for Nebraska at the moment. While he may not make the field in 2015, Barnett’s potential still makes him the top pick of the class.

Sleeper: Lavan Alston (WR, three-star, 88 composite)

I have somewhat of the same propensity as Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, in that I think you can never have too much speed on the field. (I also like white jumpsuits and little chains to hold my glasses, but that’s another story for another day).

One thing that will improve a running game immensely is a wide receiver who is a threat to stretch the field. When Kenny Bell was injured last year, Nebraska’s ability to take the top off opposing defenses was limited, and the running game suffered as a result.

Alston is the kind of deep-threat receiver that can make a difference not only in the plays he makes, but in the way he forces defenses to adapt to his presence on the field. Don’t be surprised to see him in the mix this season.

All rankings from 247Sports.

Extra Points 05/08/14

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Some of the best info about Nebraska football from around the web.

A deep dive into Nebraska’s 2011 recruiting class, seeing how NU did in retrospect. (Omaha World-Herald)

The Nebraska football program is one of the best academic performers nationwide. (WOWT)

Nebraska unveils a new “seat yourself” mechanism for season ticket selection. (Corn Nation)

Is the B1G kicking the football season off in New York on the cards? (Big Ten Network)

Nebraska Football: Five 2015 Recruits Every Cornhusker Fan Should Be Following

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know that recruiting never ends, and that NU must be focused now on the class of 2015 to help secure future glories. So as the spring game fades from memory, and fall camp still seems quite far off, those fans will be spending this summer keeping track of Nebraska’s prospects for next year’s recruiting class. Here are five names to keep an eye on, and help you through those long summer months until football comes back.

All rankings (including national rankings in parentheses for each position), measurables, and ratings are from 247 Sports.

J.W. Ketchum III

Position: Athlete (no. 14), Dual-Threat Quarterback

Measurables: 5-foot-11.5, 201 pounds, 4.56 40-yard dash

Rating: Four-star (0.9225)

The search for a quarterback is never-ending. Even with Nebraska’s signing of Kevin Dillman, a second dual-threat quarterback target is important for Nebraska’s 2015 class. Ketchum would fit the bill nicely, with decent speed and athletic talent to provide depth and competition at signal-caller in a post-Tommy Armstrong world.

Marquise Doherty

Position:  Running Back (no. 39), Safety, Athlete

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, 4.62 40-yard dash

Rating: Three-star (0.8778)

Much like at quarterback, it’s hard for Nebraska to have too many running backs. Right now, the backfield depth seems pretty deep. But look down the road a couple of years, after the departure of Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, and you can see how important keeping the flow of tailbacks is for Nebraska. Doherty fits the bill, with enough athleticism and flexibility to play other positions if need be.

D.J. Beavers

Position: Outside Linebacker (no. 27)

Measurables: 6-foot-2.5, 200 pounds, 4.70 40-yard dash

Rating: Three-star (0.8721)

As we see Nebraska’s defense evolving under Bo Pelini, one of the crucial areas will be finding players that can effectively rush the passer. Landing Beavers would be a nice addition to an area where Nebraska is already young, providing depth and a solid pipeline of talent for years to come.

Landis Dunham

Position: Outside Linebacker (no. 47), Weak-Side Defensive End

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

Rating: Three-star (0.8530)

Are you sensing a theme? Yes, Nebraska will be looking hard for edge pass rushers, particularly if Randy Gregory decides to forego his senior season in 2015 and head for greener pastures in the NFL. Dunham is the kind of player Nebraska is looking for, with the flexibility to slide from defensive line to linebacker depending on the need.

Monte Harrison

Position: Wide Receiver (no. 60)

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds

Rating: Three-star (0.8818)

Yes, I know that Harrison is signed and part of Nebraska’s 2014 class. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be seeing him on the field in Memorial Stadium this August. Harrison is baseball player as well, and likely to be drafted fairly high by a major league club. Much like the Bubba Starling saga, whether or not Harrison decides to forego his college career for a pro baseball paycheck is a question that won’t be answered until August.

But of all the recruiting questions Nebraska fans will be following, Harrison’s decision will have the most immediate impact on NU’s prospects.

Extra Points 04/29/14

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Some of the best info about Nebraska football from around the web.

Nebraska spends the most in the B1G in recruiting costs. (Iowa City Gazette)

ESPN making a “30 for 30” about Nebraska going for 2 in the ’83 Orange Bowl. (Lincoln Journal-Star)

Many athletic directors believe college football playoffs will expand. (Yahoo!)

Nebraska’s all-Spring Game team. (Bleacher Report)