As we get closer and closer to the return of Nebraska football, the Corn Nation staff sat down to give you our preseason thoughts.
(A disclaimer: a year ago, most of us were blissfully unaware of the carnage that was about to befall our beloved football program. So take this for what it’s worth...)
On a scale of 1 (Iowa scored again on yet another Tanner Lee Pick-Six) to 10 (Christian Peter just danced into the endzone against Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl), rate your level of excitement for the 2018 Nebraska football season.
Nate M: The question is about the level of excitement and for me it is an easy 10. It isn’t based on how good I think we could be this season, but based off of unity and hope. For the first time in a really really long time I feel like the entire fan base is getting behind this team. The fan base became fractured the moment Frank Solich was fired. And with every subsequent firing/hiring it became fractured once again. So up and until the day of the Scott Frost press conference there was a fan base made up of factions of fans. Now I think it has changed and except for a few outliers there is only one faction left.
That in itself is enough for me to bring it to an 8. But then after all of the reports about the changes in strength and conditioning and how much better the team is being coached I am excited to see quality football once again at Memorial Stadium.
My excitement isn’t excitement for the prospect of winning a conference championship or anything like that. It is only excitement for the idea that quality football should be forthcoming.
Huskerboneyard: Scott Frost as the head coach, quarterback battle going into game week, and brand new “revival” of Husker football? 10! I had to watch some games on Youtube the other day, or I was going to implode. I feel like a drug addict every time fall camp is coming to a close, and this year is on the pure Colombian cocaine level.
Mike: I get all of the optimism, but it’s still just an eight to me. Seeing Nebraska running a modern offense again after three years of Riley/Langsdorf is going to be fun, but this was a four-win team last season. There are going to be learning pains; it’ll be better than last season, if only because it would be difficult to be much worse.
Paul D: I want to be excited. There is so much to be excited about. But there’s so much about college football that really bothers me...the shitshow that is Ohio State Football right now is just the latest. I know I’ll be pumped at kickoff, but right now I’m dangerously close to having zero fucks to give about CFB right now. So we’ll call it 4/10.
Uglydog56: So much hype has made me apprehensive. There’s so much talk about scheme and conditioning, but we’re starting the same center who couldn’t block a prank caller on his iphone last season, and the same cornerbacks that couldn’t wrap their arms around someone if they were wearing his favorite perfume. It takes 3 years to build a lineman, not 3 months. Reality’s going to hurt a lot soon. Put me down in the “meh to shrug” range.
Salt Creek: Anything other than a 10 is a lie. Reality can wait a day, though I trust Greg Austin to make this OL work more than say Cavanaugh. (Good luck with that one, Syracuse!)
Jon: I'm not there yet. Maybe I really am an old curmudgeon. Maybe it's because I've gone through too many sugar-coated offseasons and I do not allow myself to get to upbeat about a season before it starts.
I am very excited about Scott Frost being our coach. It's the fans I've come to dread. Remember how the shitheads only show up on game threads when things are going badly? This year and next they will be worse than ever.
Let’s say 6/10.
Andy: I’d love to call it a 10, but - even though the risk is much lower this time - deez nuts have caught too many boots in recent years for me to drop my guard completely. Also, you brought up Christian high-stepping into the end zone on that Wuerffel fumble which unleashed crazy torrents of glee. I’m not quite at Defcon 1 yet, so let’s call it 8.5.
Greg: I feel the excitement swelling up inside me. It’s definitely there. Saturday I’ll don my red, throw my son in his little 2T Husker jersey my wife found for him, and we’ll watch the game with much enthusiasm. But we’ve been “hurt too many times” or whatever cliche you want to attach, so I’m still cautious. Put me down for a 7. Saturday, I’ll be here:
Jill: I’m with Greg, Andy and Jon. Hopeful, but not going to let anyone know that. This could be a very bumpy season at times. 7/10.
What looks more competent in the early part of the season: the offense or the defense?
Nate M: I think a few months ago the answer would have been the offense, but with some of the additions on defense who sound like they might be immediate contributors like Will Honas, Deontai Williams, Breon Dixon, Cam Taylor, Caleb Tannor and Tre Neal among others I think I might have to side with the defense. I’m hoping that having to scrimmage against the Scott Frost offense might actually make life easier for our defense on Saturday against teams that aren’t running 90 plays a game.
By the end of the season the offense and defense might switch it up, or hopefully if I’m right that the offense will catch up with the defense.
Huskrboneyard: The defense is going to be the strongest part of the team, at least, for the first part of the season. The quarterback situation has me worried. The offense seems to be loaded at the skill position and has the potential to have the best o-line since 2014. The weakest part of our entire team, I believe, will be at the quarterback spot. I look towards Makenzie MIlton’s first season at UCF. People were calling for him to get benched and then came out the second year and killed it. There are going to be some serious growing pains, and I hope they are over quickly.
Mike: I’ll agree with the defense. I’m not worried about the quarterback situation at all; I would have been fine with either Gebbia or Martinez. But my vote is with the defense, because I think there was much more talent on that roster than we saw in the results last season. They’re desperate to get the taste of November out of their mouth.
Paul D: Both are going to be at about 50% of their max 4 games in, and probably about 70% at the end of the season. I think the offense will look spectacular against Akron but it will be the defense that carries NU to a 4-0 start. Then Michigan awaits. It will have to the offense that wins that game.
Uglydog56: I’m going with the offense, because the tempo is going to show the defense’s flaws more acutely. The inside linebacker position has yet to gel, that’s a bad place to be deficient. We still don’t have a true nose tackle ready to start. The talent in the offensive skill positions will mask the deficiencies at other positions, at least until higher caliber competition comes to town. If the offensive line has improved more than I foresee, the offense could be hell on wheels.
Salt Creek: From last year’s preview: “Our OL successfully does their jobs for a full season!” If we consider the incredibly low bar we have for “competency” with both units compared to 2017, we have to ask: Greg Austin fixing the OL versus Chinander fixing the defense. I think Chinander has the lower bar to clear, so give me the defense to shine early.
Greg: I see bright spots and “possibility” for both. But if forced to choose, I’d probably say that the defense would have the edge early, allowing a little more time for the offense to gel as the team hits the conference schedule.
Jon: I expect this offense to explode. This offense has firepower and it has Scott Frost as an offensive coordinator. We will struggle against really good defenses, i.e. Michigan, but we will outscore a lot of teams. We will use a lot of screens and misdirection to make up for a lackluster offensive line. The quarterback situation is more tenuous since Tristan Gebbia’s decision to transfer, but the offense is still in a better position than the defense.
Andy: I’m going with the offense.
Both sides of the ball are learning new schemes and neither were very good last year, but:
- The offense was nearly as awful as the defense and
- They didn’t have such a feckless tool as a coordinator that they all but quit on him.
Seriously - the defense all but sat on the field giving Diaco the finger the last three games. They’ve got more to overcome mentally. Also, the offense got more new toys to play with.
Jill: I get this one wrong every year so I’m going to say special teams. Who isn’t excited about a kicker named Pickering? A backup punter named Armstrong? And a starting punter who’s built like a linebacker and was voted “most likely to get an unnecessary roughness penalty” at the National Punter’s Association Convention.
OK, Caleb Lightbourn didn’t actually get that award, but he would if punters had associations or conventions.
Name a newcomer of the year and MVP for both the offense and the defense this season.
Nate M: For newcomer of the year: I think I am going to go with Maurice Washington.
Offensive MVP: Stanley Morgan Jr.
Defensive MVP: Luke Gifford. I said last year that he would be an all-conference player by the time he’s done here. Lets see if I can at least get that part right.
Huskrboneyard: The newcomer of the year will be Mike Williams at receiver. This guy is an actual freak show but in a good way. He is the most athletic player on the team and will be pushing Stanley for the number one spot.
Offensive MVP: Stanley Morgan Jr. just because he is going to get the most opportunities out of everyone. If we had a cowbell running back then I would have picked him, but this year will be running back by committee.
Defensive MVP: Lamar Jackson. He has the highest ceiling of anyone on our defense and this will be his breakout year, which will put him in everyone’s mock drafts in the near future.
Mike: Offensive newcomer will probably be one of the I-backs; my vote is Greg Bell. Defensive newcomer is going to be cornerback Cam Taylor. Howard Griffith raved about him, and he’s had some buzz this spring. I’ll concur with Stanley Morgan as offensive MVP. Defensive MVP? I’m tempted to say that it’s going to be one of the linebackers, either Mohammed Barry or Dedrick Young.
Paul D: Offense: Stanley Morgan, Defensive Lamar Jackson. See above for the reasons.
Uglydog56: Offensive newcomer: Maurice Washington. TheMaurice koolaid is just so tasty! Whatever happened to get him here, I’m happy it did. MVP: Same. I’m going back for seconds! Tasty, tasty, hype flavored kool-aid. Defensive newcomer: Cam Taylor, definitely. I would have loved to see Breon Dixon become a sack machine, but it sounds like he's redshirting. MVP: Luke Gifford. He was badly missed after his injury last season.
Salt Creek: Offensive newcomer: Scott Frost and Troy Walters. Defensive newcomer: Chinander. The players are amazing, but I think the coaching will shine through. Offensive MVP? Going with Greg Bell. On defense, give me Stolty.
Greg: Offensive MVP I will put as 1 and 1a, and I think it’s between Stanley Morgan Jr and JD Spielman, who, with all the other additions on offense, I think maybe some people are sleeping on. Defensive MVP will have to be Mick Stoltenberg, because if the defense is going to be what it can be, it has to start with that NT. Offensive newcomer will be either Adrian Martinez (peak behind the curtain, I’m typing this after it was announced he’s the starting QB) or Maurice Washington. Defensive newcomer will be Will Honas.
Jon: Offensive newcomer will be running back Greg Bell. Defensive newcomer will be safety Tre Neal. Offensive MVP will be JD Spielman. Defensive MVP will be Tre Neal.
Andy: Offensive MVP: Stanley Morgan - NU has its first 1000-yard receiver
Offensive Newcomer: Adrian Martinez/Maurice Washington - both will electrify
Defensive MVP & Newcomer: Tre Neal - coming in knowing Chinander’s system makes him the defensive QB and the most important player on the field. Regardless of stats, his presence will be invaluable.
Jill: I hope the newcomer is Adrian Martinez, but I also think a true freshman QB needs to be protected by a rugged running game. So, I’m going to say one of the running backs is the newcomer of the year. I don’t care if it’s Bell or Washington. I’d be happy if both were. If that comes to pass, it means our offensive line if the real offensive MVP but I’ll still pick a receiver, probably Spielman, because the OL never gets respect.
Defensive MVP? If Tre Neal does play the role of QB on the defense and can keep everyone on the same page, that will help prevent utter meltdowns like we saw last season. I go back and forth between Neal and Luke Gifford as defensive MVP because I like what I’m hearing about Gifford.
After all that, If Chinander can find a pass rusher, that will be my defensive MVP pick. Ask me again after game 4 or 5.
OK, show your cards. What’s NU’s final regular season record?
Nate M: No idea. Absolutely no idea. The guys at Unsportsmanlike Conduct have been running the same poll throughout the summer and I could be wrong but at the beginning of the summer the majority of husker fans believed that Nebraska would win 6 games this coming season. Now as we creep closer to the season the poll (being reissued) is at 7-5 and getting closer to 8-4. Just because I know we all start drinking more and more kool-aid as we get closer to the season, I am going to go with the sober people and say 6-6.
Huskrboneyard: Going through the schedule with what we know about our team right I would say the best case scenario is 8-4 and worst case scenario 6-6. The middle road being the ole 7-5, which is what I am going to go with. Loses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Northwestern. On the other hand, I can totally see us going 15-0. WOOOOOO! GBR!
Mike: I’ve said 6-6 most of the year, and I stuck with it until this past weekend. I think it’s going to be really, really tough to get past 8-4, because Nebraska has potentially four top ten opponents on the schedule. You have to figure that a young team like this is going to slip on the banana peel once or twice. But then I started researching Iowa and realized I’m still selling this team short. It’s the most talented team in the west division, so why am I still assuming two banana peel games? I’m now at 7-5. My worst case scenario is still 4-8, unfortunately. My best case scenario is actually 10-2, winning the west. Wisconsin and Ohio State both have distractions, while Nebraska gets Michigan State at home. It’s not out of the question that this team rebounds strongly after last season’s pratfall. I’m not betting on it; but it’s something that the optimist inside me is pondering.
Paul D: Jesus himself couldn’t live up to the expectations being laid on Frost’s feet. Given that, 6-6 would lead to a lot of criticism of Frost. I think that 7-5 is most likely, with an outside shot at 8-4, with 6-6 at worst. Last year should have been a 6-6 season but the team just gave up on Riley. That won’t happen this year.
Uglydog56: I’m trending strongly to 6-6, but hoping for an upset against Iowa for that seventh regular season win. The line’s at 6.5, I wouldn’t bet the over OR the under this time. Wins at Akron, Colorado, Troy, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois. Toss-ups at Northwestern and Iowa. Losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wife Beaters. I’d love to get one or both of Iowa and Northwestern, my two favorite teams to beat.
Salt Creek: I’ll ask the question of which teams on Nebraska’s schedule are arguably more talented: Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. (Wisconsin is a wash - Mike Riley almost beat them in 2016.) Based on that, give me 9-3, because I’d argue our coaching should be able to maximize our talent, and outside of Purdue, the coaching for the less talented teams leaves something to be desired. Nebraska drops games to Michigan and Ohio State, but survives Michigan State, while dropping one to either Purdue or Wisconsin. Other than OSU, Nebraska doesn’t lose after Wisconsin, including a nice bowl game, and looks ahead to big things in 2019. (Wisconsin meanwhile represents the West in Indianapolis at 7-1, where they fail to knock off Penn State. Everyone writes about those plucky Midwesterners who overachieved, despite their early season ranking.)
Jon: As the resident curmudgeon I feel obligated to bring everyone down a notch. Losses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State because they are all better teams than us right now. Add in a loss to Iowa because we're young. Add in a another loss because we have a brand-new starting quarterback who won't make all the right decisions all of the time. That puts us at 6 – 6. Many of you said during spring that you would be happy with a record like that as long as the team was competitive. Do you still stand by that?
Andy: Last year, I felt like 6-6 was a top end because the 9-4 in 2016 was a sham and the scheduled toughened considerably. I talked myself into 7-5 then completely chickened out and said 8-4 because I got caught up in the optimistic wave and quite frankly didn’t want to come off as the grumpy asshole that I quite clearly was about the whole Riley thing.
As for this year? I find myself getting caught up in the hype again, but I’m going to stick with my original instincts and say 7-5.
Unlike Riley, who was gifted two of the easiest Husker schedules in memory, Frost is getting a buzz saw out of the gate. If this was 2015’s schedule, I’d say 11-1 and say it confidently. However, I am calling for a 3-0 start tacking on victories against Purdue, Minnesota & Illinois and an additional win against either Northwestern or Iowa with losses on the road to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio St and home to Michigan St.
Even though there’s no predicted upsets there, I still think that is optimistic enough since it involves beating Purdue (2017 last gasp win), flipping Northwestern or Iowa (OT loss and ass-whipping loss) and flipping Minnesota (another ass-whipping).
7-5 and just be competitive and fight to the gun again. That’ll be good enough. (but I’ll take all the upsets you want to give me )
Greg: I haven’t made any predictions on the Five Heart Podcast (cheap plug) yet because I feel like it’s too early to tell. I like to make my season predictions around the middle of November, when I have a really good feel for the team. BUT SINCE YOU ASKED.............
Jill: I tried really hard to dial down expectations last year but still ended up picking 8-4 (I think, I didn’t want to go back and look at Mike’s link.) This wasn’t a 4-win roster (talent-wise) last year, however, the coaching gap was too enormous to overcome. The talent gap between Nebraska and the upper Big Ten teams is still hard to ignore and when you look at the schedule, those teams are all there. We’ve likely closed the coaching gap, but probably not enough to pull off too many road upsets. A 6-6 or 7-5 season with a couple of “moral victories” (scaring a top team or two) added in would be a really good start to the Frost Era. I want a team that’s fighting hard, competitive and watchable. Last season, my attitude go to be “I’ll head outside and just put the game on TuneIn” and took out my frustrations on weeds, fences, or the landscaping.