With Nebraska’s season opener only a day away, Drake Keeler debuts a new weekly column that will tackle sports—both off and on the field—as well as any other topics that may come to mind.
Nebraska vs. Illinois is here, and so is chaos, probably.
Nebraska football returns this weekend, and I am very ready for what the first game will bring.
The Huskers have built up a history of shaky openings under coach Scott Frost, and they need to break that streak against Illinois, a team that went 2-6 last season but beat Nebraska 41-23.
If there’s one position group I’m interested in watching, it’ll be the wide receivers. Nebraska needs a consistent group of wide receivers, including a Stanley Morgan Jr.-type downfield threat that the team has been missing the last few years. It seems that the team is banking on Samori Toure to be that top guy, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can step up.
The running back performance will attract attention too, but I’m not sure that will be as critical to long term success this year. As long as whoever runs the ball holds onto it semi-consistently, the Huskers will have a serviceable ground game.
Most importantly, I’m looking forward to the possibility of more chaos. In last year’s blowout, Luke McCaffrey opened the game with an awkward sideways pass to Wan’Dale Robinson that was ruled a fumble, there was the awkward-but-successful fake punt and Illinois thanked Nebraska for bringing back Big Ten football in a hilarious postgame tweet.
In the last two years, the Huskers have turned the ball over nine times against the Fighting Illini. They still won that 2019 game, however.
But, the chaos won’t be limited to what happens on the field. Since this is a Week Zero game, and the other matchups taking place aren’t too appealing, Nebraska may have a few more eyes on it than usual.
Fair or not, Nebraska has been an internet punchline for a lot of people nationally over the past year. And if it loses this game, the jokes may fly like never before. Of course, that doesn’t actually matter much. One game, especially an opener, doesn’t define a season, and Twitter talk almost definitely won’t impact the program’s decisions.
That being said, the result of this game will set the narrative for the rest of the year. This is a game that the Huskers should win. If they do, things will calm down a bit, and the team will have a great chance to start 3-0 for the first time under Frost.
If they lose once again, the popular narrative may become that Frost is coaching for his job the rest of the season. That idea has already gained steam among some. My thoughts this offseason were that at minimum, he has two more seasons to show real improvement, provided he gets four or five wins this year and keeps most games close.
The recent NCAA investigation and general offseason drama has shaken that idea a bit, but that could be the offseason talk getting to me.
Regardless, this is a team that desperately needs to get away from drama of any form. Keeping Saturday’s game chaos-free and taking care of business will stop that for at least a few weeks.
I’m trying to be excited for football.
I’ll be honest — last year around this time, it was a bit difficult for me to get excited for college football games, and sports in general.
That season took place in a pandemic, and a lot of things were shakily handled, to say the least. I also remember feeling frustration at how talk of the season’s reinstatement completely overshadowed important athlete activism from athletes.
On the pandemic end of things, the football team is 90% vaccinated, according to Trev Alberts. While that figure isn’t quite 100, that should hopefully be enough to prevent any significant outbreak within the team.
Still, I can’t help but feel a little bit of discomfort at the fact the pandemic is worsening again. I just hope that as many fans are vaccinated as possible and take necessary precautions. Being able to go back to normal is in sight, but we can’t act like we’re already there.
To keep it positive though, I’m happy to see that a lot of good things are happening with regards to college sports. The passing of name, image and likeness policies means that athletes will finally get to go through a season while having the chance to profit. We’ve seen a bunch of that this offseason, and I can’t wait to see the opportunities that come as a result of play on the field.
College sports are changing for the better, and I hope that positive momentum remains throughout this year.
A slow approach heading into the weekend.
Okay, there’s maybe one thing I didn’t hate about last year’s sports schedules. We went right into the good stuff.
In the NFL, there was no preseason. As an NBA fan, the delayed end to the 2019-20 season made the summer of waiting for football to restart feel better. Schedule restrictions and conference-only schedules made it feel like we had more good matchups all the time.
I’m not necessarily a proponent of everything I just noted. I’ll value player health above all. This point is not to applaud how things went down last fall, but more to lament how slow it feels things have been moving prior to this year’s sports seasons. I also don’t want to do away with nonconference games, even the laughably one-sided ones.
However, having NFL preseason back and a weaker Week Zero college football schedule just makes me want to get to the games that matter. The intrigue of Nebraska-Illinois does help that.
I don’t want to make many changes to the typical schedules, but this wait for the season to start has gone very slow. There are other Nebraska sports this weekend that deserve your attention though, as the volleyball team starts its season and Husker soccer looks to continue a strong 3-0 nonconference start.