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B1G 2021 - Nebraska Cocktail Party Preview

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SSDD

Nebraska v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

The more things change, the more they stay the same.*

Each year, Nebraska Cornhuskers fans gird themselves for the next football season, embellishing any positives while simultaneously repressing memory of any weaknesses manifested the previous year. Hope springs eternal, etc.

The once-mighty Huskers are now coming off a fourth consecutive losing season. Will this be the year that things start humming for Scott Frost and the Big Red? Nobody really knows. On one hand, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. On the other hand, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Is a return to glory possible? Sure, lots of things are possible. Is it likely? No, Not anytime soon. Have a winning season and we’ll talk.

Every year of the Frost era began with sky-high expectations, yet each ended with similarly lackluster results. So what gives? Today we will try to divine what we might see in 2021. My hope? Not more of the same.

* Things are so much the same that I used the same format, structure, and even some of the same words Jesse used in 2019

The 2020 Season - Blown Out by Lovie....Also, a Plague

Entitlement is a helluva drug. You couldn’t blame Nebraska fans for being excited to see progress under year three of Scott Frost. Like most everyone, fans looked for something to dull the pain from the miserable year that was 2020. In so doing, Nebraska football parents sued the Big Ten, and many fans and administrators did not handle the initial cancellation terribly well. So, things were not off to a particularly good start. It can be argued that Nebraska influenced people to play the season, but did not win any friends in the process. It was not Nebraska’s finest hour.

The season started with a road trip to Columbus, with predictable results. Nebby managed to hang with the Buckeyes for about a quarter and a half, which was good, but the gulf between the two teams was evident. The second game, against Wisconsin, was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak in Madison. Some people accused the Badgers of dodging Nebraska. Those people were, of course, morons.

With the exception of one game, the remainder of the slate was competitive, with games decided by ten points or less. That is progress, and a legitimate step forward.

Oh, the one exception? Nebraska was defeated by Lovie Smith’s Illini, 41-23. At home. Nebby was -5 in turnovers, gave up 491 yards, and lost time of possession by 14 minutes. Also, there was dazzling Special Teams ineptitude, a recurring theme throughout the season.

To wit:

We had to watch stuff like this nearly every week.

The team played ugly all year, but they kept fighting, did not give up, and if you squint hard enough, you see a Big Ten West team in their somewhere.

The Offense

If you look through the box scores from last year, you will see that a lot of production transferred out. Backup Quarterback Luke McCaffrey transferred to Louisville, and is now transferring out of there. Running Back/Receiver Wan’Dale Robinson transferred to Kentucky, and will be closer to home. Those are not the only ones. For example, Wide Receiver Kade Warner transferred to Kansas State. It is not a good sign when a team captain (Warner) wants to leave. Exodus ain’t just a Book of the Bible, is what I am saying.

We know who Adrian Martinez is - a very good player who is the focus of the offense. If the offense is going to be successful, it will need to find ways to get everyone involved. Apart from Martinez, Nebraska’s leading returning rusher had 62 yards last year. Frost has not consistently developed a power running game with a go-to back. That needs to change - quarterbacks were two of the three leading rushers last year. This will keep Martinez healthy, at the very least. Word has it that there is some young Running Back talent in the wings, but like most things out of the Husker Industrial Complex, it is best to await actual results before issuing praise.

There is potential in the receiving corps and the offensive line, as well. Center Cameron Jurgens was initially recruited as a Tight End, and he is near the top in the all-time state shot put charts. The athleticism is there to be outstanding. He needs to master the QB exchange before anyone starts giving him trophies, though.

It is time for the team to put up or shut up.

The Defense

The defense was not great at times last year. Or the year before... Or the year before that... Or, well, anytime after 2010. This is hyperbole, but sometimes it feels that way. Nebraska fans should be encouraged by the stiffer resistance offered last year. Talent levels at Linebacker and Defensive Back are improving. The name of the game will be the trenches, though. A lot of guys look the part, but we will not really know until the games start. If they all get better and become at least an average unit, this team can be good. If not? Well, it’s going to be another really long year, and we will be talking about hot seats.

Special Teams

The putrescence of Nebraska Special Teams cannot be overstated. By my reckoning, Nebraska won the third phase in only one game last year - against Purdue. Nebraska won that game by double digits. The inability, or unwillingness, to improve in this part of the game is stupefying. Become even “not terrible” at this part of the game and Nebraska will add two wins a year.

Check the Special Teams performance in the early season, it could be telling.

So what’s the schedule like?

Huskers 2021

28-Aug at Illinois
28-Aug at Illinois
4-Sep Fordham
11-Sep Buffalo
18-Sep at Oklahoma
25-Sep at Michigan State
2-Oct Northwestern
9-Oct Michigan
16-Oct at Minnesota
23-Oct Idle
30-Oct Purdue
6-Nov Ohio State
13-Nov Idle
20-Nov at Wisconsin
26-Nov Iowa

The first game is highlighted for several reasons (I couldn’t figure out how to fix it is one of them), but the primary reason is that it provides a litmus test up front: Is Nebraska better in Frost’s fourth year than Illinois is in Bert’s first? If the answer to this question turns out to be “no,” then this is going to be one ridiculous ride. If the answer is “yes,” then this might be a year where some progress can be made.

I understand that Sooner Nation is upset about the 11am kickoff — for a game commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Game of the Century (1971 version). I, too, am disappointed. While Oklahoma Sooners fans may be upset that they are not playing on a bigger stage, I lament the likelihood of having to watch highlights of Oklahoma scoring on my team through the telecasts of every other football game broadcast that day, all day.

Truly, the paths of these Big8 titans have diverged.

So how do we sum this all up:

When talking to a Nebraska fan, do mention: Adrian Martinez, Husker Baseball, Scott Frost, Scott Frost’s accomplishments while not at Nebraska, going bowling again the Nebraska Bowling team, five national championships including the one Frost got, and the radiant future the Athletic Department insists is just over the horizon.

When talking to a Nebraska fan, do not mention: How the radiant future year by year recedes before us. Literally the entire Riley era, a not-insignificant portion of the Pelini era, the laughable early part of.. wait, why are we talking about the bad stuff? NEBRASKA IS WINNING THE WEST AND THE WHOLE THING AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND YOU CAN’T STOP US.

GBR. Dammit.

Poll

How would you describe Dead Read’s attitude toward this season?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    The glass is half full.
    (74 votes)
  • 16%
    The glass is half empty.
    (82 votes)
  • 24%
    The glass is the wrong size.
    (119 votes)
  • 39%
    The glass sucks.
    (193 votes)
  • 4%
    Pete Mote
    (21 votes)
489 votes total Vote Now