Late last week, post-Hot Reads on Friday, SB Nation's Alex Kirshner turned his attention to Nebraska and provided "6 reasons Nebraska will get (not totally ridiculous) 2019 hype." As you may have guessed from the headline, this is structured as something of an explainer for non-Nebraska readers who may be somewhat surprised to see the Huskers show up in all of these way-too-early top 25s.
This piece serves that role well. It's a pretty level-headed look at why there's some Husker hype for those who aren't already deeply embedded in the details of 2018 and what it means for the upcoming season. But even if you are deep in the details, there were a few things in this story worth noting.
Derek Peterson pulled out the slice of the story on tight end Jack Stoll for additional examination in his Friday column, adding some context to the (somewhat quietly) good numbers Stoll posted late in 2018. The part that jumped out to me was Kirshner's fifth point, which had to do with defensive improvement:
Wisconsin and Purdue had top-20 offenses by S&P+ last year. Nobody else in the division was higher than Iowa’s 65th in Offensive S&P+ in 2018. If there’s a side of the ball Nebraska can most afford to figure out on the fly, it’s defense.
My sense is people prefer to avoid this margin-for-error kind of approach, particularly when talking defense. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence when assessing a defense to note that the division it plays in offers a relatively gentle learning curve.
But that doesn't mean it isn't at least partially true. Combine that with continued growth on offense, and Nebraska's defense should have plenty time and multiple chances to bring along some new players on defense, to keep seeking the answers that aren't easily known here in the offseason.
Can that be a factor in the offseason hype? It can be if you look closely enough. Credit to Kirshner's story for going there.
Speaking of balanced approaches, if we're going to start considering Nebraska as a potential top-25 team in 2019 that means the schedule comes under additional scrutiny. Right now, that part of the equation looks pretty good for the Huskers. It is a favorable schedule, based on how things look in January. That's almost always different than how things actually look come mid-October, but you do the best you can with the information you have at the time. The information we have now says Nebraska has a schedule that's conducive to an improved record.
One of the key turning points on that path to more wins is Ohio State's trip to Lincoln on Sept. 28. NCAA.com has already listed it as a game with playoff implications, drawing a comparison to Ohio State's road losses to Purdue and Iowa the past two seasons, and I've already written how I'm not sure I see the resemblance.
But what about the Ohio State perspective? Do Buckeyes view that trip to Nebraska as similar to those high-profile failing in Iowa City and West Lafayette? Andrew Ellis of Eleven Warriors tackled that question head on over the weekend.
The Sept. 28th matchup is bound to cause a bit of uneasiness around the fanbase. The road trips to Iowa and Purdue were hardly recognized as the past seasons' biggest challenges, and the same can be said for this year's game at Nebraska. Recent history is likely to change that perception a bit, however.
The Buckeyes' most dangerous non-conference game is likely the Sept 7th showdown with Luke Fickell and the Bearcats. A Friday night Big Ten game on the road against Northwestern is going to have a weird feel to it, and that one could certainly present a challenge as well. Ohio State gets Wisconsin and Penn State at home and the season culminates with a trip to Ann Arbor in late November.
But the journey to Memorial Stadium could be the one to watch closely early on as Ryan Day looks to avoid a third-straight season with a conference road loss that could be a back-breaker for the team's playoff hopes.
I'm officially classifying that as a "maybe," though I still think the potential danger for Ohio State as it prepares for that trip will be more apparent than it was in the examples it is being compared to.
The Grab Bag
- It’s decision day for 3-star linebacker Dylan Jordan, who will announce his choice Monday afternoon. Greg Smith caught up with Jordan yesterday as he left his Nebraska visit. (Premium)
- Recruiting mailbag: Answering the biggest Husker questions as the 2019 recruiting cycle winds down.
- Tough loss at the buzzer for Nebraska women’s basketball on Sunday.
- Jacob Padilla breaks down the Creighton Prep-Lincoln North Star game featuring two future Huskers. (Premium)
Today’s Song of Today
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.