I’m going to come clean with you all. I (BRT) haven’t watched a single minute of college football this year. Not in the sense that you expect out of your “writers,” but literally haven’t watched it. It turns out, I really do not care about any CFB that doesn’t directly involve or impact my team! I’m also way too busy stress eating my fingernails and chocolate Pop Tarts, because 2020, to be bothered with wondering what Alabama and Florida are doing (cheating and being arrested for weird crimes, respectively, if I had to guess based on stereotypes.)
Anyway! I guess we’re going to have football in a few weeks. Instead of late October being the moment where I’ve given up hope and am just kind of waiting for the thing to be over, it’s now the moment where... checks schedule, sees we begin with Ohio State and Wisconsin ... ah, ok. Looks like in a year of extreme upheaval, the late October/early November football-related despair can remain unchanged.
Jesse came up with five BURNING questions for your Nebraska contingent. We assume you’re very interested too, which is just like a Husker fan, isn’t it?
#1: Is any of this worth it? Nebraska, they of “imma take my ball and go home” and “we just want to play” pushed for this season, and whether everyone is happy about it or not, we’re gonna have some football. The schedule was already awful and continues to - unsurprisingly - be a point of consternation, but all that aside, let’s get things out of the way. Why are we doing this? What does Nebraska get out of this?
Dead Read: That is the multi-billion dollar question. Apart from the purely economic, I guess I can see the idea that restoring the rhythm of normalcy might have some positive effect. Did we not still play games during WWII? Yeah, but the Axis wasn’t killing people in the stadium. Nebraska had a record day of infections on Friday. While there will be no fans in the stands, football games will encourage people to gather to eat, drink, cheer, and sing together. I am not an epidemiologist, but that doesn’t sound great.
What is Nebraska getting out of this (this could still boomerang and not happen)? A sense of purpose, I suppose. A potential source of pride. Maybe. We definitely have earned some scorn and bad press. Winning friends and influencing people, it’s what Nebraska does.
BRT: Is it worth it? I mean, no, probably not, but we’ve already been told this year to be ready to sacrifice Grandma “for the economy,” so why not for some football games too? I completely understand the desire to play, and the desire to watch... I guess I’m just thankful they didn’t try to do something involving letting fans into the stadium.
As for the benefits, there will still be viewers, if not in the stands, so it makes some financial sense. Everything else I want to type is angry and political, so I’m going to refrain from further commentary.
Jesse: The worst part of this whole thing - to me - is that I was somewhat initially heartened by the notion that either (a) players would be able to unionize/organize and gain some sort of bargaining power from all this, and / or (b) Universities - terrified of that notion - would do the smart thing and not subject unpaid workers (who obviously want to play but should not really get to make that choice if it’s not in their best interest) to risk.
But, you know, here we are. If it means we save some athletic departments and scholarships, I truly am not totally against it, but I don’t really feel great about it. And, look, if you’re Nebraska, you sure got a lot of ridicule until you didn’t*, so I guess there’s that.
*Rant: Both the ridicule and praise have been kind of silly to me. I do not think it’s ridiculous that Nebraska broke ranks and said, “hey, we really wanted to play”. The vilification for speaking your mind in the most Midwest bullshit in the world and probably has a lot to do with cultural differences between us and even like, Iowa. Also, the notion that Nebraska ‘saved’ the Big Ten by speaking its mind is also absurd. This decision was a business decision that was made somewhat independent of any one school. Did Nebraska maybe make it more palatable? Maybe, but you can probably thank the boardrooms, other conferences, and the NFL for why we are about to play.
#2: Nebraska has been nothing if not unspectacular under Scott Frost. On paper, this team looks deeper than its been, but the experience is unproven and we really have no idea how this team will look. What is a reasonable expectation for the team going into this wild 2020 ‘season’?
Dead Read: Why taint any of this with “reasonableness?” Honestly? Last year the offense was all over the place in terms of play calling and game plan. I have to think it will be more cohesive this year. I also believe the running back situation will be better, and that we will see good returns this year. I have no idea what to expect from the defense - but it did lose two DTs that are on NFL rosters this year (Davis twins). Best outcome? One over .500. Worst? Three wins.
BRT: I agree with DR, let’s not pretend we’re a people known for our reasonableness. We’re winning it all!
Sorry, I admit I kind of missed the “unbridled optimism” phase of the season.
Everyone is up in arms about having to start with OSU, but I actually think that’s to Nebraska’s benefit. That was always going to be a giant L, so may as well get it out of the way early. I’d rather do that than have a more evenly matched opponent out of the gate that we lose to simply because we’re not used to playing yet. It’s not fun to start out 0-2, but we just have to keep our eyes on the Northwestern and Illinois prizes in weeks “3” and “5.” Best case is five wins, but that’s quite a stretch. Worst case, obviously, is no wins.
I hate that my team is consistently bad enough now that I have to at least consider that as a possibility.
Jesse: Uh... I think 4 wins is reasonable as a target, and I don’t love that this is my best guess right now. The schedule was not stacked against us in some great conspiracy unless you think that playing OSU every year is some great conspiracy (um... now that you mention it...). That said, I think this team has as much talent as I’ve seen on a Nebraska team in about a decade. We will see if that matters at all - it probably won’t because most are RS Freshmen or younger - but I think the direction of the team is still good.
#3: Adrian Martinez was pretty average most of the time last year, and devastatingly bad at other times. He’s still the same guy who showed up two years and scared defensive coordinators everywhere. Can he be better than that? Is there any chance we see Mr. McCaffery?
Dead Read: I expect that the quarterback play will be better this year - I thought we could watch Martinez overthink things in real time last year. Decisiveness will be a key. Grip it and rip it. Martinez will be pushed, and if he does not respond we will see McCaffrey - and we could see him early.
BRT: I’m curious to see how this season mentally affects players. Theoretically, they could feel more pressure because it’s such a short season, and every game matters more. On the other hand, these guys thought they weren’t going to play at all this year, so perhaps they see this all as gravy. If the latter, perhaps we see some looser play from Martinez. I’m guessing we’ll see McCaffrey—I’m not sure the staff sees this season as low-stakes, but there is a certain experimental air about it. I think that might change the leash lengths and decision-making timelines.
Jesse: I’m with my fellow Nebraska writers here. It felt like last year was the year of overthinking. Coaches, players, etc... They all couldn’t get out of their own ways and continued to try to do things they either weren’t capable of, or definitely shouldn’t be capable of. There are more playmakers up and down for Martinez, but I think the real push is that McCaffrey looked the part last year and now he has no redshirt to protect. Competition is a helluva drug. Here’s hoping it either pushes Adrian to be better or pushes him out of the way.
#4: So uh, kickers. We got like 40 of them now. Nebraska could have been a bowl team if they had a legitimate kicking threat - and by threat, I mean can kick further than 15 yards and hit XPs consistently - but they did not and were bolstered by walk-ons and prayers for most of 2019. I don’t expect an honest opinion on the strength of any of the kickers because lolol who knows, but are you hopeful here? Bonus points for any insights on punters.
Dead Read: If you have 40 kickers, you do not have “a” kicker. Find one and stick with him. For no solid reason whatsoever, if we have a homegrown punter I think we’ll be fine. This is pure superstition on my part.
No, I have not been following Nebby special teams through the press, primarily because nothing truly informative can come from that.
BRT: It is the final quarter of 2020, what the hell is hope, Jesse? Of course I don’t have any hope!
Good lord. This is getting dark.
I don’t know, I keep hearing that thoughts and prayers can solve a multitude of problems, so perhaps all of the 2019 prayers are finally ripening into something great on the kicker front.
Jesse: This is what they get for letting us go first, y’all. Anyways, real football talk. I like the Kickers for what it’s worth. Connor Culp is no joke and has the chance to be good, but will be pushed by Iowa Western transfer Chase Contreraz. Both were accurate enough, but are so much better than whatever we watched in 2019. Additionally, Culp is known for kicking the ball out of the endzone on kickoffs. Turns out we miss that...
Oh, and we have an Aussie Punter - Daniel Cerni for those who like names and whatever. Aussie. Punter. Sure, we brought over Willian Pryzstup from Michigan State, but I think it’s clear who my new favorite Husker is.
#5: Last question, Nebraska is going to sell “cutout tickets” to fans that they can have printed out, put in the stands, and then you can pick it up later. This is the dumbest idea that they didn’t come up with, so whatever, but if you were in charge of ‘raising money’ what is your dumb sellout idea? There are literally no bad ideas here.
Dead Read: The “best fans in college football” should have a contest to find the biggest and best Nebraska fan. Charge for nominations and have a bracket. Be Best. Monetize the sanctimony.
I would argue that there might be no good ideas for this. Holy shit, I’m really cranky.
BRT: Is it dumb? Yes. Will it appeal to Boomers with spare cash and a lot of investment in the sellout? Probably. So, I think it’s a good idea—know your audience and get that cash, yo.
Jesse: I’m excited for when they let people buy video space for the giant screens in Memorial Stadium because really, if there’s any takeaway from 2020, it’s that there is nothing stopping anyone from making a buck.