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2023 Husker Football Midseason Roundtable

Nebraska v Illinois Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We’ve hit the midway point of the 2023 football season, so with the bye week, we thought it was a great time to pause and assess where Matt Rhule’s first season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers is at.

Who are your offensive and defensive players of the year (at least at this point in the season)? Also who are your newcomers of the year on either side of the ball?


  • Offense - Billy Kemp IV
  • Defense - Issac Gifford
  • Newcomer Offense - Thomas Fidone
  • Newcomer Defense - Cameron Lenhardt


Offense: Bryce Benhart - brunt of everyone’s jokes for the last 3 years. We barely mention him now. That’s a good thing.

Defense: Jimari Butler - leads the team in TFL and Sacks

Newcomer Offense: Can I pick Heinrich Haarberg here?

Newcomer Defense: Cameron Lenhardt


Offense: Thomas Fidone

Defense: Nash Hutchmacher

Newcomer Offense: Heinrich Haarberg

Newcomer Defense: Omar Brown


Offense: Thomas Fidone

Defense: Nash Hutchmacher

Newcomer Offense: Heinrich Haarberg

Newcomer Defense: Cameron Lenhardt


Offense: Heinrich Haarberg

Defense: Nate Hutchmacher

Newcomer Offense: Billy Kemp

Newcomer Defense: Cam Lenhardt


Offense: Heinrich Haarberg (by attrition)

Defense: Nash Hutmacher

Newcomer Offense: Billy Kemp

Newcomer Defense: Cam Lenhardt (Unless John Bullock counts. Then Bullock by a mile.)


Offense: That is a hard one. I’d probably also go with Fidone or Haarberg

Defense: The Polar Bear

Newcomer offense: Also Fidone or Haarberg

Newcome defense: Lenhardt


Offense: Thomas Fidone

Defense: Nash HUtmacher

Newcomer Offense: Thomas Fidone

Newcomer Defense: Cameron Lenhardt (though if we’re considering Omar Brown as a newcomer, I’d go with Brown.)

What is your biggest disappointment of this season thus far?

Patrick: I would say the biggest disappointment so far this season would be the running back room based on the fact that it has turned into a MASH unit.

Jon: That the offensive line has improved, but hasn’t improved as much as I’d like. We seem to have problems getting more than maybe 6 guys involved. Where the hell is the rest of the roster?

Brian: Injuries. The offense alone is without two of the three best receivers and running backs. Defensively they’ve lost Cam Lenhardt, Luke Reimer and DeShon Singleton have all missed time as well.

Nate M: Disappointed in the Nebraska fans calling for the jobs of the coaches.

Jarek: I think for me it has to be the overall play of the offensive line. It can look decent in the run game from time to time, but it lacks consistency. It is consistently inconsistent in the passing game, particularly at left tackle. No one can seem to protect the blind side of any Nebraska quarterback.

Todd: My biggest disappointment is that they did not win the game in Minnesota. That was a game they should have won and gave it away. A win over the Gophers would have been a big confidence builder and position them better in the West and for a bowl game. Honorable mention disappointment: having to play a game on Friday night. That’s BS!

Andy: Easy. To this point, 0% improvement has been made in getting rid of the “curse”. The losing mentality was finely honed in Mike Riley’s tenure and perfected during the Frost regime as Nebraska set a national standard for giving away one-score games. It’s an offense problem which has reared its head full-force this season against:

Minnesota (the old turnover on the winning drive for an opponent game-winning field goal)
Colorado (popped in earlier as the defense finally caved to a slew of offensive mistakes and a 13-7 game became 36-7 in about a 16 minute stretch of the 3rd and 4th quarters)
Illinois (a 4th quarter featuring a three consecutive turnovers, three red zone penalties bonanza on which, thanks to the Blackshirts, the Illini could not capitalize.

Turnovers will happen but should not at this alarming frequency in the same situations non-stop. The penalties should not happen. And yet it continues at the same rate under the new staff.

Many folks seem to be pocketing the next three games as wins already. Right now, one of two things must happen for that to occur: 1) that multi-year trend better start fixing itself immediately or 2) we better have two-score-plus leads and plenty of Tums and/or booze going into the 4th quarters.

Jill: That we aren’t already back in the college footbal playoff conversation?

Okay, not really. Disappointment has been the turnovers. I mean, blech.

Mike: I’m going to say the whole offense. Let’s start with the preseason notion that Jeff Sims was a “passing quarterback” who can run. The offensive line being more of the same of what we saw last season. Receivers and I-backs suffering season-ending injuries. And turnovers.

What has been the best and worst moment of the first half of the season?

Patrick: Best moment for me would be beating Illinois. Worst moment would be the last second field goal loss to Minnesota.

Jon: Watching the defense come to age against Illinois. The worst would be the low energy run the fuck right over us game against Michigan.

Brian: Best moment was Nebraska winning ugly at Illinois. The past several years Nebraska would have found a way to lose that game. Losing to Minnesota in typical Nebraska fashion had to be the worst memory. This team should be 4-2 on the season.

Nate M: Best moment was the goal line stand against Illinois. Could be the biggest moment of the season. The worst was the second half against Colorado.

Jarek: Best moment for me has to be the overall defensive display, particularly against Illinois. The offense commits multiple turnovers but only gives up 7 points. The worst has to be the game against Colorado. Multiple turnovers and the defense got tired, it led to many a bad thing.

Todd: Best moment was the defensive line manning up and stopping three first down attempts with less than a yard to go against Illinois. That was toughness I haven’t seen on either side of the line for quite a few years. The worst moment was the 4th quarter fumble by Grant vs. Minnesota.

Andy: The best for me was also the opening drive goal line stand against Illinois followed by the 86-yard drive for a field goal. It was bittersweet as I’d spent the first several minutes watching them get gashed by Illinois’ inept offense, but that flipped 180 degrees as we got to see what this team - on both sides of the ball - is capable of when they dial in.

Jill: Best moment is probably watching Fidone get tackled and get back up. After two years of injuries, I held my breath when he got on the field. Also, the goal line stand vs Illinois.

Worst = everything about the Minnesota game. Especially the ending.

Mike: Best moment has to be the goal line stand against Illinois. And while the two fourth quarter turnovers against Minnesota are easy choices, I’ll point out the Sims ignoring a wide open Nate Boerkircher just before halftime for an easy touchdown, only to throw a devastating interception. That changed the entire dynamic of that game.

What are Nebraska’s strengths on this roster, and where are the holes?

Patrick: Strengths are the defense. The holes are in the offense. I don’t know if I could break it down anymore without writing a book.

Jon: Defense, specifically the guys playing line. All offseason we were worried about the depth at this position and it really hasn’t been an issue. The holes are the entire offense. Dear lord,

Brian: Biggest holes are having a playmaking receiver and an edge pass rusher.

Jarek: Biggest strength is in the interior defensive line. Biggest weakness is playmakers on offense.

Todd: Surprisingly, the strength is the defensive line. I expected them to be improved, but they have been dominant at times. Biggest hole is quarterback. Nebraska is average at a position that needs to be at least good.

Andy: The strength is the defense overall. The line and linebackers have started to become a force and the defensive backfield is underrated for its ability to cause coverage sacks. Please let Tony White’s coaching aspiration be greatest defensive coordinator in the country. Biggest weakness - offensive consistency. Even with the slew of injuries, these guys show flashes, heck, even against Michigan. But consistently putting touchdown drives together has eluded them.

Jill: The biggest strength is having adults in charge of the program. The Blackshirts are keeping Nebraska in games, so they deserve a shoutout too.

The biggest weakness - giving the ball to the other team. And having so many playmakers unavailable due to injury.

Mike: As everyone points out, the defense is the strength. There are playmakers on this roster, and Tony White has molded the raw talent the previous staff assembled into a pretty damn good defense. The biggest weakness is the offensive line which hasn’t seen much improvement from last season.

In filling the holes on the roster, where should Nebraska’s coaches look first? High school recruiting, junior colleges or the transfer portal?

Patrick: I’m guessing it will be a mix of high school and the transfer portal. I have yet to see a coach out side of the top 5 or 10 teams in the country really come close to figuring that dichotomy out. Hopefully Rhule and his staff has a plan that will get us on the right track.

As for Jr. colleges, they have kind of gone the way of the dodo with the transfer portal out there. The amount of kids coming out of them the past two years and into the FBS has plummeted.

Jon: Go find an experienced quarterback in the transfer portal. If you can nab a pair of tackles, get them from the transfer portal. Everything else - recruit and JUCO.

Nate M: I think it will be hard for Haarberg or Sims to convince the fans that the coaches shouldn’t go find a transfer quarterback for 2024.

Brian: Going into the portal is going to be the norm going forward and finding guys like Omar Brown will always help. Maybe they can get another receiver like Samori Toure or Trey Palmer. However Rhule’s mantra is developing players and we’ve seen some true freshman come in and be contributors. So high school recruits should continue to be the focus.

Jarek: When it comes to improving the roster right now, it has to come from the transfer portal. High school kids are great for developing, so if the right balance of players can be found then guys who may redshirt can help reduce the dependency of incoming transfers down the road.

Todd: It’s been said, Nebraska needs to get a quarterback out of the portal and if they can find OL depth and wide receiver depth, get it there as well. Hit the high schools for everything else. If you can find a difference maker at a juco, grab him, but don’t try to build depth from that direction.

Andy: For the future build, recruiting is always essential, but the new area which will define the dynasties is retention. Teams that can grow old instead of constantly loading up in the portal will rise to the top - see Georgia, Bama, Michigan. For right now, areas of portal need are left tackle, running back (I’m assuming Kewan Lacy is gone) and possibly wide receiver.

Jill: Yes.

Mike: While the majority of the next recruiting class will come from the high school ranks, I think there will be a handful of high impact transfer portal additions to fill holes on the offense. Think offensive line, quarterback and probably wide receiver.

Will Nebraska have a net inflow or net outflow with the transfer portal over the next year?

Patrick: Eh, no real clue but if I were to guess it would be more in than out.

Jon: Probably about even.

Jarek: I would say maybe slightly more in than out, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. As many guys that are being used on defense, there probably won’t be many transfers there.

Todd: I’d guess it will be about even. Rhule has to manage the roster and keep the total number where he wants it.

Andy: I would think inflow as, due to injury, a lot of guys are seeing the field who normally wouldn’t have. I do wish there was a way to find out who’s entering the portal of their own accord and who’s been asked to leave. Everyone assumes the portal is all players running off for playing time and derides them as quitters, but a good chunk are those who’ve been told they’re no longer in the plans.

Jill: I’d guess there will be more in than out. It probably depends on how the season finishes and whether Rhule feels like he has the pieces he can build with or not.

Mike: I’m going to be the contrarian and say we’ll see more of an outflow as players who gave Rhule a chance only to not see the field will depart to find opportunities elsewhere.

Predict the rest of the season: Does Nebraska make a bowl game, and if so, where?

Patrick: Can Nebraska make a bowl game? Yes, the schedule for the month of October allows that. However, the Huskers are still trying to figure things out with injuries and lack of depth so we will see what happens. I honestly have no idea right now if we make a bowl.

Jon: Yes, Nebraska will make a bowl game. Pin Stripe Bowl in New York City in winter. And you’ll be damned glad you went there.

Nate M: Nebraska will be playing in the College Football Playoff.

Brian: Yes they will make a bowl game. I think 7 wins on the season is not out of reach.

Jarek: I believe they make a bowl game, as the entire B1G West is garbage. Any bowl game is good, so I don’t really care where they go, as long as they get there.

Todd: I believe they will be in a bowl game.

Andy: A repeated line in the show Archer is “Can’t or won’t??” “Does it matter?”

It does. If you pose “can they” or “will they” make a bowl game, that’s two wildly different things right now. Can they? Yes. Even with the injuries, they are still among the most talented teams in a garbage division. Will they? Ask me again after three very winnable games. I believe at least one of them will be a one-score game late and will tell us what we need to know.

Jill: Making a bowl would be an over-achievement in Nebraska’s recent history as well as Rhule’s typical first year. I think there is a chance, but if there are any more significant injuries, all bets are off. Okay, I will be cautiously optimistic and rely on the shittiness of the Big Ten West to propel the Huskers to some low level postseason game on a streaming service I didn’t really want to subscribe to.

Mike: I think Nebraska beats Northwestern and Michigan State, and so a split between the Purdue and Iowa games gets NU bowl eligible. Win them both, and seven wins shows clear progress. If they only get six wins, the Huskers get shunted to Detroit or Yankee Stadium, and we’re all happy about it. Seven, and Nebraska ends up in Vegas or Phoenix, much to the joy of Husker fans and tourism folks in either metro area.

And a bonus question on the new media contract: Is the Big Ten’s new deal with NBC/Peacock and CBS an upgrade or downgrade from their previous deal with ABC/ESPN?

Patrick: As long as it brings in more money, I don’t care. That’s just where we are at right now. CBS will be nice as I have always enjoyed their coverage. NBC/Peacock I assume will be just fine. These things never really bothered me and my fandom.

Jon: It’s an upgrade. I can say this because rotten son has a subscription to Peacock to watch the EPL. Yay!

Jarek: Clearly an upgrade. Any time you can get the university more money to improve things, I’m all for.

Todd: I don’t pay any attention to that stuff. As long as I can watch them play on YouTube TV I really don’t give a crap. That said, I’ve always enjoyed listening to the game on the radio so if I can’t see a game or two because I won’t subscribe to Peacock, I’m okay with that.

Andy: Isn’t Fox in there too? I don’t know, but don’t care, I’ve always found their college coverage well below par. But personally? Getting to hear the CBS college theme more is HUGE upgrade for me. Best theme music in CFB broadcasting hands down, no else is close.

(Hmmm - can I make that my ringtone? Today’s new goal.)

Jill: I don’t know. I’m probably not subscribing to yet another streaming service, so that part may be a downgrade for me. I keep wondering when the TV money bubble will burst, but we all keep watching, so I guess that is still in the distant future.

Mike: I think the new deal is a home run. NBC clearly invested in their primetime broadcast, though I’ll probably get upset when Nebraska ends up on a Peacock broadcast. I’m hoping that Peacock is merely picking up the games that CBS can’t handle this season. And, of course, CBS is waiting in the wings for the next season.