In a given season of college football there will be about 40 teams that improve by two or more wins from the previous year's total. Nebraska in 2018, is obviously hoping to be part of that group.
Nebraska, according to this list from Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com, is one of the five teams most likely to make that two-win improvement this season. The Huskers are listmates with Florida State (7-6 last year), BYU (4-9), Baylor (1-11) and––dramatic evil music sting––Florida (4-7).
Here's part of Fornelli's quick write up on Nebraska:
The good news is the non-conference schedule isn't a bear. All three games against Akron, Colorado, and Troy are in Lincoln, and all are certainly winnable. Big Ten play provides a swift kick to the teeth, however.
Nebraska will play Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa on the road this year. It's not crazy to think the Huskers could go winless outside of Lincoln with that schedule, which means winning at home will be key.
That would mean a 3-0 start to the season is imperative, as it would allow Nebraska a little more wiggle room in home games against Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State.
This is a quietly interesting way to view the Huskers' 2018 slate. I've always been a big proponent of the "win your home games" approach to schedule navigation. If it seems simple, that's because it should be for a traditional power. It came up a lot during the Bo Pelini era. He did it once, 2012, and when the Huskers seemed stuck on nine wins and up against a division-title ceiling, simply defending the home turf became the easiest path to get over the hump. Only happened once, though, between 2008 and 2014.
Mike Riley managed it once, too, in his one aesthetically (if not actually) pleasing season, 2016.
So let's throw this out there as a thought experiment: What if in Scott Frost's first year Nebraska goes 7-0 at home and 0-5 on the road?
I know you would want context before deciding if that's a successful first season––such things as the scores, how the games went, how good the opponents actually were at game time rather than how good they look now––but we can't have that in April. The deal on the table is you can lock in 7-5 right now, which would include wins over Akron, Colorado, Troy, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State and losses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa. ESPN FPI win probabilities currently give the Huskers better than a 50-percent chance to win six-of-seven home games and no better than a 30-percent chance in any road game.
Do you make that deal?
In my mind I'm hearing a chorus of nays because football seasons aren't much fun if you know how it's going to go at the start, and people will always want to hold out hope for the truly special season (particularly in year one under the new head coach). But if you look at how those home games are spaced out on the schedule, imagining the narrative at various points becomes sort of fun.
We'll do that now.
So Nebraska starts 3-0. Frost has won 16 straight games dating back to the start of the 2017 season, and the national media is hyping up the trip to Michigan, which is pitted as the "Next Big Thing" in the conference versus the "Old Next Big Thing Who Really Can't Afford to Lose the Conference Opener." Old Next Big Thing doesn't lose, but the Huskers beat upstart Purdue to finish the first month of the season 4-1. Probably not ranked based on the opponents, but certainly receiving votes.
The Wisconsin loss the next week doesn't hurt too much, but the loss at Northwestern the following week does. Nebraska is 4-3 (1-3 Big Ten) and people are starting to come to grips with "it's just Year One." That doesn't change much as Nebraska splits the next two, win over Minnesota and loss at Ohio State.
The Huskers avoid serious fan fretting by beating Illinois. When Nebraska beats Michigan State, which looks like the best team on the home schedule right now (note: I'm not totally ready to buy on the Spartans, but that's another story), hope rises again as 2018 has a chance to be an unqualified success and pleasingly symmetrical just like UCF's 0-12 to 12-0 was. Just beat Iowa, those increasingly hated Hawkeyes, and Nebraska goes 8-4 in Year One under Frost; 4-8 to 8-4. You'd hear those numbers so much you'd grow to hate them even though they're very encouraging.
But that doesn't happen. Nebraska falls in Iowa City and finishes winless on the road in 2018 and 4-5 in Big Ten play. It's a record that forces Husker fans to remember that most of them came into this season simply hoping for the best and 7-5, a three-win improvement over 2017, is far from the worst.
Overall, it would be a perfectly acceptable Year One, and here's the thing: It's really not that unlikely. The only unexpected result in there is the win over Michigan State and maybe the loss to Northwestern (though FPI doesn't think so). Would you take it?
Now that I've mapped it all out, I don't think I would. Give me the scenic route, the twists and turns, the wide-open road.
And some road wins. Those are important, too, particularly against this schedule.
The Grab Bag
- This is worth a read: How Penn State dominated pre-draft workouts.
- Something worth watching as Nebraska hopes Breon Dixon will be eligible in 2018: Ole Miss has objected to fellow transfer Shea Patterson's waiver request for immediate eligibility at Michigan.
- Ole Miss is currently No. 1 in the 2019 recruiting rankings, which, ummm, weren't we just here?
- ICYMI: Nebraska got back on the board in 2019 recruiting with the commitment of Thomas Grayson. Greg Smith shares five thoughts on the commitment.
Today's Song of Today