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CornNation’s Midseason Nebraska Football Roundtable

The staff takes stock on where the Huskers have gone, and updates their predictions on where they may go.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

With a Nebraska bye week, we thought it would be a good time to gather the CornNation team and discuss where Nebraska is and where the Big Red is going in 2016.

Be honest. We know your preseason prediction for the season overall. What did you think the Huskers record would be at this point of the season?

Greg: I think I’ve been pretty unwavering in my position on this. Wisconsin and Ohio State were the two question marks. Sure, at the time, we thought Oregon would be good. BUT HOW COULD WE KNOW?!? So yeah, I counted on being undefeated at this point.

Paul: I expected NU to finish the regular season 8-4 with losses to Oregon, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Ioa. Which means I expected NU to be 4-1 heading into the bye week.

Jill: I picked a 9-3 record with a loss to Ohio State and some combination of 2 losses to Oregon, Northwestern, or Wisconsin. We’ve already won two of those, but I have renewed worries about Indiana.

Mike: I had 7-5 on the season, and likely 4-1 at this point.

Andy: At this point, I thought we’d be 4-1 but that didn’t factor in Oregon becoming a team that the Dred Pirate Leach could use for cannon practice.

Joe: 4-1. I Felt that Oregon would be a loss and if we won that we’d drop one of the next two. Pleasantly surprised. I wish Oregon didn’t look so bad, would make me feel better about us.

Jon: I thought we’d have lost to Oregon, but they apparently suck. They gave up 70 friggin’ points at home last night.

Brian: I know I had 10-4 on the season, so I’m halfway to the wins right there. I do now however think that Ohio State is the lone game the Huskers are gonna be a dog, with the Wisconsin game being (basically) a coin flip.

What do you think is the biggest factor in Nebraska being undefeated in 2016?

Greg: Turnovers. well, let’s call them what they are...giveaways. How important it has been that Nebraska is +4 in turnovers (T-23rd in the Nation, 4th in B1G) can’t really be appreciated until we get through October and November, where the Big Red were -11 in those months a year ago. Better decision-making by Tommy (to which some credit must go to Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley for putting Tommy in positions to succeed) and a defense that’s ball hawking more are helping NU in this statistical category and helping the Huskers to the 5-0 start.

Paul: The Defense. Raise your hand if you thought the defense would be carrying the team. Anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Also, Tommy Armstrong’s improvement this year has been a huge factor in Nebraska’s turnaround. He plays with a desire to win that we haven’t seen for 20 years.

Jill: Danny Langsdorf. Also the secondary. Ross Dzuris’ mustache gets the bronze.

Mike: I know a lot of fans are going with “buy-in” as the reason, but frankly, the effects of that are pretty hard to quantify. I’m going back to “running the (explictive) ball” as the core reason. If you look at 2015, some of the most exasperating losses (Illinois, Purdue and Iowa) were because Nebraska abandoned the run. 60/40 seemed to be the magic ratio last season. This season? Nebraska’s running the ball 63.7% of the time thus far. Everything flows from that. Fewer pass attempts mean fewer interceptions. Fewer incompletions mean fewer clock stoppages, meaning the defense isn’t out there as long.

Andy: Well, I hate to say it, but the biggest factor is our completely shitty schedule thus far. The schedule itself is ranked 81st and the opponents power ratings are (in order of games) 132, 106, 42, 53 and 78. All I’ve learned so far is that we’re in better shape than last year, we’re committed to establishing a ground game and we can’t put away bad teams early. That terrifies me.

Joe: Familiarity with the system. Even though we haven’t played perfectly we’ve been much sharper than last year. I also think all of the tough losses last season gave this team the experience to know how to pull those games out this year.

Jon: Our opponents suck! Wyoming is the only team with a winning record, and together our opponents have a hideous record I don’t have time to look up because I waited too long to answer these questions.

Brian: Combo it all above, turnovers are down, running efficiently is up, and the schedule has helped. That being said, I don’t think Nebraska feels terrible about any of the wins they have, so I can live with the schedule thing.

What’s your biggest pleasant surprise this season?

Greg: Offensive production, which is uncanny to say based on the offenses that we’ve had in recent years (and how it was sometimes the defense that was holding us back). In an oxymoronic way of thinking, the coaches are getting their best from TA2 by reigning in the way he improvised when under pressure. I think they’ve done this be calling more plays for the mobile QB. It turns him into another weapon that defenses must account for, and opens up other opportunities in the offense.

Paul: Starting 5-0.

Jill: Second place - the wide receivers keep dropping like flies and the offense just keeps chugging along - at least when they really need to. First place - the defensive backs.

Mike: I honestly didn’t think Mike Riley would follow through with running the ball more. And not only are they doing it more, they are doing it in more creative ways. The coaches really sat down over the offseason, figured out what the team did well, and developed a new offense around that.

Andy: What Paul said. That and not panicking away from the ground game and throwing it 45-50 times whenever things stay close like last year

Joe: Another vote for Paul. Wins wins wins.

Jon: That the defensive backfield has been as it’s been. I think you’re looking at a defensive secondary that could one of the best in the nation next year.

That and Danny Langsdorf. He is the best offensive coordinator Nebraska has had in quite a while. He seems to be willing to adjust himself to coming up with solutions, and has realized that Nebraska is serious (REALLY SERIOUS) about winning. This means more than a single season.

Take those two things together and you have to consider that we might have a really decent coaching staff. Coming into this season, I had about zero faith that Mark Banker would construct a good defense. Now he shows signs... signs... oh, dear, signs of progress.

Brian: I think the fact that we’ve only had 2 really bad NO TOMMY moments with Armstrong has helped. He’s actually gotten better in most of his decisions, but not many people notice. Langsdorf has replaced the 4-5 yard slant/outs with QB runs, and while it’s probably not been great for TA’s body, it’s helped with the turnover situation. Now, that being said, the two biggest WTF moments of Tommy’s season has been his interceptions. But, the less of that, the better Nebraska will be.

What’s your biggest concern about this Nebraska football team?

Greg: I would say that right now it’s the health of some of the key cogs of the receiving corps. I know you can never plan for injuries, and the bye week has come along at the right time. It makes sense to have Carter and Westy out for Indiana. Morgan Jr. has been wonderful, as has DPE, Alonzo Moore, Reilley, Reimers, and hell, even Sam Cotton. I feel like I’m leaving someone out. Regardless, we have the receivers we need against the HOOSIERS, so I’m perfectly fine with Westercatch and Carter taking another week to get healthy.

Paul: Turnovers. The 5 INTs we got versus Wyoming are making Nebraska look better than they are in the TO category. We’ve had two games now with zero turnovers. That can’t continue.

Jill: Health is probably my biggest concern, although I still have nagging fears about the defense. The linebackers are healthier than last year but two safeties (K. Williams and Gerry) are our leading tacklers. That is followed by a linebacker (Young), and then a cornerback (Kalu). I know Banker gets his safeties involved in run support, but something is not right with the second level of the Blackshirts. They make plays, but also disappear for stretches.

Mike: Nebraska’s sluggish starts. It’s great to finish strong, especially after blowing so many games last season at the end. But there are several games coming up over the next month that Nebraska can’t wait until late to get started.

Andy: I touched on it earlier, but it’s fact that we can’t jump on lousy teams earlier in the game. It’s nice that we can wear down and roll teams like Wyoming & Illinois in the 4th quarter. But the fact that we’re still in games with these teams late in the 2nd half is not encouraging. If that’s how we come out against Ohio St. & Wisconsin, those teams will have 2nd & 3rd stringers in when the 4th quarter starts.

Joe: Injuries to the lines. There seems to be decent depth everywhere else, but I don’t know if we could survive two or three injuries at the same time. The shitty starts isn’t great either, we are a lot like Tennessee right now. Slightly less drama.

Jon: IT’S ALWAYS THE LINES. ALWAYS. I do think the offensive line has been better than I expected, especially with depth and injuries.

Brian: I agree with Mike, you can’t be a superhero every damn 4th quarter. You have to play better before that. Not saying that Nebraska hasn’t, but the team sleptwalked thorugh the first 40 minutes against Illinois, and that caused more heartburn than anyone wants to admit.

Here’s your chance to revise that prediction, if you wish. How does the rest of 2016 wind up?

Greg: I don’t think anyone saw this type of season from Wisconsin, but I’m sure they were on someone’s sleeper list. I think they were more impressive in the loss to Michigan than they were in their two wins over Top 10 teams. That defense is always scary. If Nebraska is healthy when they travel to Madison, I think that has game-of-the-week potential. Well, not to ESPN, which will probably have Tennessee at South Carolina for Game Day...because why not? Ohio State may be the best team in the country, but no one will notice until the playoffs, because #Bama. I still say a trip to Indy is in our future.

Paul: I believe Nebraska will lose in Camp Randall and in the Horseshoe. And Ioa, being Ioa, is always dangerous. But I think we’re a lot better team than Ioa. 10-2, #2 in the West behind Wisconsin.

Jill: I probably shouldn’t but I will up my prediction to 10-2. We lose to Ohio State and either Wisconsin or Indiana (probably Wisconsin).

Mike: I thought Wisconsin would be better this season, and they’ve found a way to get a couple of wins most people didn’t think they would. They are clearly the best team in the Big Ten west at this point. Nebraska is going to need to take their game to another level (and then some) to knock off the Badgers in Mad-town. Right now, I’m picking 9-3, with losses to Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio State. I didn’t have Indiana in the loss column at the start of the season, but they’ve caught my eye the last couple of weeks.

Andy: I said 8-5 and I’m going to stick with it, maybe 9-4. In my heart I want us to figure a way to get out of the gate better, but the inability to do it against weak competition combined with key injuries on offense makes me think that’s going to get harder, not easier. I can see 4 second half losses (plus bowl loss just to make it add up).

Joe: I think I said 9-3. And that’s my pick now. I think we lose a close game at Wisconsin (which is progress, I guess) and we may play Ohio State closer than people think, but I think we may also drop a game we shouldn’t. Minnesota?

Jon: I say our best case was to win the Big Ten West and go to the Big Ten Championship and get to a good bowl game and I’ll stick with that.

Brian: I think that the Huskers will sweep the west, with the only game being a toss-up against the West is the Wisconsin game. If they can beat the headgames that creep up inside their heads when there’s a game at Camp Randall, then I’ll be really sold.

Nebraska’s 5-0, and five wins was enough to go bowling last season. What bowl game will the Huskers play in? Who do you think the opponent might be?

Greg: Great googly-moogly. I’m so bad at bowl game selection. Take out the “New Year’s Day” Bowl Games, because New Years is on a Sunday and that’s the NFL’s day. I’ll say that it’s the Capital One Orange Bowl and I’ll say it’s against Ole Miss. And if given the choice, I think that’s the more attractive game than Jan. 2 at the Outback Bowl. It’s a Friday vs Monday thing, but, personally, I think the Orange Bowl lends a bit more prestige.

Paul: I have no idea. The B1G has a great bowl lineup (most being New Years’ Day bowls) so I’m pretty certain we get one of them.

Jill: Well, if we get through the season at 10-2, we are probably still the 4th pick from the B1G. So...Outback?

Mike: Outback would be a great bowl. Nebraska’s never been there and it’s warm. Who will they face? I’ll throw Texas A&M out there.

Andy: I’ll be honest, I’m just don’t have the motivation to look up all those numbnuts bowl game/conference agreements. Since bowl karma hates us, I’ll say it’s a rematch with UCLA but this time in the Golden Corral/Viagra Bowl on Dec 24th in Grand Rapids, MI.

Joe: Is there still a citrus bowl, because if there is I pick that. If not I say peach, or plumb or prune bowl. I’d like us to play Ol Miss in Hugh Freezes last game.

Jon: What I’ve learned from my staff is that I need to find a guy or girl who specializes in bowl selection predictions. We will go to the Outback Bowl and play Tennessee. This is all wonderful until we have to watch those horrid Outback SHRIMP ON THE BAHBIE BLOOMIN UNYUN commercials so much that a guy runs rumors about going back to the Big 12 and we wonder “do they have to play in the fucking Outback Bowl? Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.” and then we spend the entire offseason on that.

Brian: If Nebraska can get to the B1G title game with 1 loss against Ohio State, then they get a NY6 game. Give me the Cotton Bowl, cause I’m a greedy bastard and it means we all party at my house. If the Huskers either don’t get to Indy or is 2 losses by the time they get there, then if they don’t win, I’ll live with the Outback or maybe even the Citrus.