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The 2019 Nebraska Cornhuskers Preview: Football is good again in Lincoln

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-or- That time we used S&P, some hand-waving, a little mental gymnastics, and UCF as reasonable proof that Nebraska is winning a title this year

Minnesota v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

With a slight hesitation left, Devine Ozigbo cut right around the formation and before you knew it, he had run 40 yards for what would be the first of four rushing TDs the Nebraska Cornhuskers would score that day. The team mobbed him in the endzone and with less than two minutes off the clock, there was a feeling that this would be a good day for Scott Frost and company. Roughly two and half hours later, Nebraska had thoroughly destroyed Fleck and his boat-rowing Gophers, and all was sort of well in the world.

Of course, that this was the first win of the season under wunderkind Frost, and that it came a little over halfway through the season was - to put it mildly - disappointing to the hoards of fans that believed Nebraska was on its way back to prominence.

While we will have much more to discuss this week about what brought the Nebraska program to the point of breaking, it is worth taking a step back and remembering that the expectations were sky-high in 2018 and yet, the team finished with the exact same, disappointing 4-8 record they did in 2017. So what gives? Today we will look backwards, forwards, and probably a little sideways to figure out what we should see in 2019. A preview? A whole lot of Adrian Martinez.

The 2018 Season - A tale of two halves, but not really

Adrenaline is a helluva drug. You couldn’t blame most Nebraska fans for being excited about the first game under Scott Frost. His style of football is fun, his new true freshman QB was going to be on display, and this was Akron! What more fun could this all be? Everyone predicted a blowout - unnecessarily in hindsight - and the only thing that could kill this high was unending rain and an argument over how to replace the game. For the rational ones, we should have seen this as an omen for things to come, but the real pain didn’t set in until Nebraska rattled off its sixth loss in a row. Lowlights included not belonging on the field against Michigan in a 56-10 rout, getting ran out of the building against Purdue and falling way short on a comeback, three one possession losses to teams Nebraska was perceived as better than, and somehow getting gutted by Wisconsin in a really bad ‘well that looked like a blowout that actually wasn’t’ game.

You could forgive some fans for wanting to punch the overly optimistic fans in the face at that moment. But, both sides were probably right. Nebraska was underachieving at that point, and if you looked at things like S&P for predictive performance, even at 2-6 a close loss to Ohio State gave everyone at least a look at what Nebraska could do on offense. Though, as has been tradition lately, the defense continued to let them down. A final stretch of wins over Illinois and Michigan State and a fun, but awful-for-Nebraska-fans-to-watch, game against Iowa resulting in a loss, gave Frost a 4-8 mark.

Not unlike Nebraska all year, it would always start ugly, but you gotta hand it to them in the back half. They kept fighting, did not give up on their new coaches, and if you squint hard enough, you see a Big Ten West contender in their somewhere.

The Offense: It’s Adrian Martinez’s Show

Look, Heisman hype aside, Adrian Martinez might be the best QB we’ve seen in Lincoln since Frost himself. As a True Freshman in the Frost Offensive Machine™, he put up some great numbers. He was fourth in QB Rating, Yards per game, yards per attempt, and completion percentage. Additionally, he put up over 600 yards on the ground, averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and scored 8 TDs. He was electric as the season progressed and there is reason to believe he can be better in 2019. Namely, look at what every other QB Frost has coached does between year one and year two.

But, there’s always a catch. Last year, Martinez was blessed by Seniors Stanley Morgan and Devine Ozigbo who leave craters of yards and leadership. Mr. Does-everything JD Spielman will be back after a late season injury, and should see any of a number of talented speedsters step it up. Look for Wandale Robinson to quickly step into the role of the ‘Duck R’ position where he can lineup everywhere and cause problems. Not sure who he is? Well...

There’s some fairly justified hype. He will need to be joined by something new in the run game. Nebraska has had well documented problems with the absence of Ozigbo and with legal troubles for Maurice Washington, production is going to be more or less coming from new avenues. There are a lot of names we could list, but looking at Frost’s track record, I feel like it’ll be okay. Hopefully.

The line will also need to step it up, although there is some consistency there with the likes of Matt Farniok, Brendan Jaimes, and Boe Wilson who all have been important to this line for a while now. Center is a little iffy with TE now C Cam Jurgens learning the position as we speak, but if he can step into that role quickly, this could be a really strong offense that keeps the defense in winnable situations.

The Defense: Can Adrian Martinez play both ways?

Obviously I’m kidding, but defense was not great at times last year. Or the year before... Or the year before that... Or, well, anytime after 2010. Well, that might be hyperbole, but it sure does feel like it. Nebraska fans should be encouraged by what they saw out of DBs Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson late in the year. The name of the game will be the trenches, though. Oklahoma State Grad Transfer Darrion Daniels wanted to play with his brother for his Senior year and looks to help anchor an impressive-looking D-Line. Damion Daniels, the younger brother, along with brothers Khalil and Carlos Davis, Ben Stille, and some newcomers look the part. But like, it’s definitely a prove it sort of thing. Honestly, I’m not going to spill too much ink here. If they all get better and maintain average stability, this team can be good. If not? Well, it’s going to be another really long year.

So what’s the schedule like?

Untitled

Date Opponent
Date Opponent
Aug. 31 South Alabama Jaguars
Sep. 7 at Colorado Buffaloes
Sep. 14 NIU Huskies
Sep. 21 at Illinois Fighting Illini
Sep. 28 Ohio State Buckeyes
Oct. 5 Northwestern Wildcats
Oct. 12 at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Oct. 26 Indiana Hoosiers
Nov. 2 at Purdue Boilermakers
Nov. 16 Wisconsin Badgers
Nov. 23 at Maryland Terrapins
Nov. 29 Iowa Hawkeyes

On one hand, Nebraska could be undefeated with the prospect of Gameday in town when Ryan Day and the Buckeyes come through. On the other hand, Nebraska could be 2-2 with some spectacular losses on the way Ohio State forward. Right now, I’m thinking 7-5, but you could talk me into 8-4 probably. Also, replacing the Michigans with Indiana and Maryland feels like a lightening of the strength of opponent and I’m cool with it.

So how do we summarize this all up:

When talking to a Nebraska fan, do mention: Adrian Martinez, JD Spielman, Scott Frost, Scott Frost’s accomplishments while not at Nebraska, going bowling again, five national championships including the one Frost got, and those recruits Fred Hoiberg has been getting

When talking to a Nebraska fan, do not mention: Literally the entire Riley era, a not-insignificant portion of the Pelini era, the laughable defense for the better part of.. wait, why are we talking about the bad stuff? GBR NEBRASKA IS WINNING THE WEST AND THE WHOLE THING AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND YOU CAN’T STOP US.

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