Hello and welcome to a story where I write 1,000 words worth of predictions, the likes of which will almost definitely be all wrong when the season comes to an end but I will do it again next year and the year after that and people will keep reading it because controversy. This is why Colin Cowherd still has a job.
Except I’ll probably have a better hit rate on my takes.
I don’t really know.
But that’s part of the journey. Let’s get started.
#1: Scott Frost is Not Just a Top-10 Guy by the End of the Season
A fun thought experiment — who are the 10 best college football coaches right now with the season in its newborn stage? How I define best is probably different from how Joel Klatt defines best which is probably different from how Bill down the street who mows his lawn that cool diagonal way but wears socks and sandals to do it and kind of negates the cool mowing technique defines best. But whatever. Who are the 10 best?
Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are one and two, in whatever order you want to put them in. I’d put James Franklin and Gary Patterson and Chris Petersen in my top 10. Jimbo Fisher has to be in because of the bling on his finger. Lincoln Riley and Kirby Smart are in, too. That’s eight. I think 10 through seven gets pretty interesting depending on who you talk to.
Want to include Jim Harbaugh? I’ll listen to that argument. Stanford’s David Shaw? Sure, let me hear it. Nebraska’s Scott Frost? I don’t think he’s there yet but I wouldn’t need much convincing to include him in the back half of the 10.
That will change by mid-December. Frost won’t just be a fringe top-10 coach, Frost will be widely accepted as a top-10 coach in college football and knocking on the door of joining the five best.
I think his play-calling is that good. I think his ability to adjust week-to-week is that good. I think his ability to adjust quarter-to-quarter is that good. I think his ability to lead a young team is that good.
The boldness here comes from his challenging of the top five. It didn’t take long for Lincoln Riley to become the darling of the coaching world, but Riley inherited Bob Stoops talent on offense and a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was already groomed to dominate. Frost inherited Mike Riley talent.
From an Xs and Os standpoint, how much different from Lincoln Riley is Frost? Frost is recruiting top-25 classes on the heels of bowl-less seasons. If the two swapped places, Frost would absolutely be a top-five guy. He just needs that team success.
Which he will taste this year. And he’ll have the quarterback to grab headlines. Just wait.
#2: Deontai Williams is Breaking Out
The vibes I got from Mohamed Barry last season, I get from Deontai Williams heading into this season.
Before 2018 began and Barry became the first Husker to hit 100 tackles in a year since 2014, I warned people to keep an eye on the inside linebacker replacing a senior captain. No one will ever question the dude’s heart or intensity or will to dominate his opponent. He’s dialed in at practice, dialed in at meetings, making damn sure his teammates do the same and then trying to embarrass whoever lines up across from him on game days.
I went and watched Barry train in the offseason on his own — just he, Tyrin Ferguson and Williams. Williams was a sophomore newcomer playing behind three senior safeties, so the opportunity for him to do what Barry would go on to do wasn’t the same, but I saw the same drive. He still had 14 solo tackles on defense, two picks, two more pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 12 games despite playing in a utility role.
Now Williams has his opportunity.
He’s the unquestioned No. 1 safety for the Blackshirts and he hits like he’s still the No. 6 and trying to get coaches to notice him.
Williams probably isn’t going to log 100 tackles in 2019, that would be insane, but Williams will be a guy who gets talked about after the year like one of the best safeties in the Big Ten. He’ll earn All-Conference recognition right there alongside Barry.
#3: Nebraska Beats Ohio State
This doesn’t need much explaining.
Nebraska is going to be 4-0, Ohio State is going to be 4-0, ESPN’s College GameDay is going to be in town, Lincoln is going to be rocking like it’s 1997 again and Nebraska is going to beat the Buckeyes.
They had a chance last season. They win by double-digits this season.
#4: A Milton-like Leap in Efficiency
In 2016, Central Florida’s McKenzie Milton posted a season-long Total QBR of 34.9. That was 115th among 120 qualified throwers. He threw seven picks against 10 scores.
In 2017, Milton threw 60 more balls and bumped his touchdowns to 37 and his yardage from 1,983 to 4,037. His completion percentage jumped 10 percentage points, he only threw two more picks and he ended the season fifth nationally in QBR (84.1).
Milton went from an inefficient thrower who missed progressions to a guy who carved up defenses on a weekly basis with surgeon-like precision.
Adrian Martinez finished his first year 54th in QBR (63.1). He threw more touchdowns, completed a higher percentage of his throws, averaged more yards per throw and only tossed one more interception than Milton on nearly the same number of attempts (347 for Martinez, 336 for Milton).
I don’t expect Martinez to hit 4,000 yards. I don’t expect him to hit 40 touchdowns. But I do expect Martinez to be a more efficient quarterback.
He’ll be top-10 in rating. He’ll be top-15 among quarterbacks in yards per play (he was No. 46 last year). And he’ll be among those in contention for a trip to New York City at the end of the season.
I’ve been around the eight, nine-win mark all offseason. This is a team with eight wins total in the last two seasons so going double-digits with a number of questions still left unanswered just feels wrong.
However, going so far as to say nine wins will win Nebraska the Big Ten West crown? I’ll do that.
Nebraska finishes the season No. 1 in the West. Wisconsin finishes No. 2. Iowa ends third, Minnesota fourth, Purdue fifth, Northwestern sixth and Illinois seventh.
The crossover games for Wisconsin (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State) keep the Badgers from winning the division and the Huskers have the title locked up before even stepping foot on the field with Iowa on Black Friday. The Hawkeyes have a month-long stretch from Oct. 5 to Nov. 9 that sees them face Michigan on the road, Penn State at home, Purdue at home, Northwestern on the road and then Wisconsin on the road after a bye. That’ll knock Iowa out of the title race.
The Huskers will win the West. Start planning your trip to Indianapolis.