This week marks the beginning of watch-list season in college football, yet another signifier that the games are mercifully getting closer. So as not to miss out on the fun, Hail Varsity is announcing its Suh Line Watch List.
In 2019, I decided to make up a metric called the Suh Line, which requires a player to reach 7.0 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks. That’s what Ndamukong Suh put up against No. 3 Texas in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game. It’s foolish to make bold proclamations about every potential outcome that has yet to happen, but I’m going to do it anyway: I can’t imagine I’ll ever see a Husker football player put up a better individual performance.
The Suh Line exists as a way to remember that dominance, but it is also somewhat telling about talent level and pass rush ability on Nebraska’s defense. Since Suh put up his 7.0/4.5 against the Longhorns (who were 14-point favorites), just 11 Huskers have hit those marks in a season. Here’s the list:
|Jared Crick, DL||2010||14.5||9.5|
|Lavonte David, LB||2010||12.5||6.0|
|Lavonte David, LB||2011||12.0||5.5|
|Eric Martin, DL||2012||16.5||8.5|
|Randy Gregory, DL||2013||16.0||8.5|
|Randy Gregory, DL||2014||8.5||7.0|
|Maliek Collins, DL||2014||10.5||4.5|
|Ross Dzuris, DL||2016||11.0||5.5|
|Luke Gifford, LB||2018||12.0||5.5|
|Khalil Davis, DL||2019||11.0||8.0|
|Garret Nelson, LB||2021||11.5||5.0|
Some pretty good players there.
The watch lists for awards of actual historical import are all long, but this is one is necessarily short. Only Huskers are eligible to cross the Suh Line, and, given that Nebraska is averaging just about one Suh Liner per year over the past 11 seasons (throwing out 2020 for the obvious reason), there often aren’t many candidates you can even project to be in the vicinity.
This year might be different, however. Nebraska has a returning Suh Liner and a couple of other candidates who might have a chance.
In another departure from traditional watch-listing, I’m going to put odds alongside these candidates, too.
EDGE Garrett Nelson (3/2) – The junior from Scottsbluff, Nebraska, crossed the Suh Line in Nebraska’s 11th game of the season last year, a 35-28 loss at Wisconsin. Nelson hit the TFLs threshold in just five games in 2021, but didn’t get his fifth sack until that trip to Madison. But the buzz around Nelson continues to build with Athlon projecting him as a first-team All-Big Ten linebacker. Should Nelson make it in 2022, he’ll be the Huskers’ first double-crosser (so to speak) since Randy Gregory in 2013–14.
EDGE Ochaun Mathis (5/2) – You know how I said you could basically throw out the 2020 season when thinking about seasons where a Husker could have hit the Suh Line? Well, don’t throw out Mathis’s 2020 when he qualified by the numbers but was ineligible on account of being a Horned Frog. He had 14 tackles and 9 sacks in just 10 games during his breakout season. Opponents noticed, adjusted, and Mathis came up a half-sack short (7.0/4.0) in 2021. That’s actually a danger––more attention––for Nelson in the season ahead, but Mathis could make teams pay if they do. Or he could just get there on his own merit. Done it before. Nebraska has had two Suh Liners in a season twice—2010 and 2014—but never from two outside linebackers (sorry, I can only take so much EDGE).
EDGE Caleb Tannor (20/1) – Now we’re into darkhorse territory. Before the arrival of Mathis, Tannor was probably the second-choice on the roster. He fell two sacks short in 2021, which would’ve pushed him over the TFLs threshold, too. But with Nelson and Mathis having already hit the mark in their careers, and uncertainty about how Nebraska can utilize all three to maximize its total QB pressures possible, Tannor’s easiest path to the Suh Line is by being the “make ‘em pay” guy for paying too much attention to Nelson and Mathis. Possible, not probable.
DL Ty Robinson (20/1) – Nebraska’s first Suh Liner was Jared Crick in the first year, 2010, this measure could exist. Maliek Collins got there in 2014. The honor itself is named after an interior defensive lineman, so don’t dismiss Robinson out of hand just because he has to fight through the muck in the middle some of the time. The sophomore is basically the Huskers’ only known quantity on the defensive line entering 2022, and he ended up two sacks-plus-one TFL short last season. If you’re looking to play an exacta and bet on two players to cross the Line, Robinson plus one of Nelson or Mathis feels more likely to me even if my own odds say it isn’t more likely than Nelson and Mathis getting there in tandem.
ILB Luke Reimer (50/1) – The only Kentucky Derby I have attended in person was won by a 50-1 shot (Giacomo, 2005), so I’ve seen it happen before. The TFLs probably won’t be a problem for Reimer, he had six in 2021, but that included just one sack. It’s not often his primary responsibility to get to the quarterback, but Reimer’s really good and might force the issue just by being so. Lavonte David is Nebraska’s only other double-crosser in the Suh Line era and did it as a middle linebacker.
The Huskers have some pretty big holes to fill on defense, particularly on the line, but the fact this watch list could get to five could be considered a good sign.
And remember, as all the other watch lists roll out this week, the Suh Line is the only one where we’re looking for players to achieve in a season what one player did in a single game.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.