There are some good reasons to have elevated expectations for Nebraska's offense in Year 2 Scott Frost. There are also some reasons to potentially walk those expectations back a little bit.
None of the latter are larger than running back right now. Maurice Washington's ongoing legal case changed that outlook in the spring. Nebraska's leading returning rusher at running back was largely unavailable through spring drills and his status with the team is as unclear now as it was when charges emerged. That meant two things to this offseason to date.
One, the spring roster had two scholarship backs available, sophomore Jaylin Bradley and senior Wyatt Mazour (a former walk-on). Current walk-on Brody Belt made the most of the suddenly available reps during the spring sessions and could be a contributor. Walk-on Moses Bryant, a record-setting running back at Elkhorn South High School, started his Nebraska career as a defensive back but made the switch to the offensive backfield during the spring. It was all hands on deck.
Two, because of that spring scramble in the backfield most people were waiting for reinforcements to arrive in the form of the three running back signees in the 2019 class––Dedrick Mills, Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins. All three are talented but most of the attention immediately went to Mills. The junior college transfer has FBS experience under his belt, leading Georgia Tech in rushing in 2016 while playing just nine games as a freshman. But Mills has yet to qualify to enroll at Nebraska according to a report from the Lincoln Journal Star. When our staff did our post-spring depth chart projections, we all had Mills and Washington listed as the top two at running back. It’s possible neither might be available this fall.
Here's what you can say for certain about Nebraska's running back at this point: The Huskers have two true freshmen, two other scholarship backs, two talented walk-ons and, depending on how the rest of it all shakes out, the ability to use players like Wan'Dale Robinson and Miles Jones in the backfield at times. On its own, that's not the optimal setting for offensive growth.
And I'm starting to seriously wonder if Nebraska won't start looking hard at the transfer market. But who?
The Grad Transfer Tracker lists a handful of running backs in the portal. Taj Griffin, a former 5-star recruit, is out there and had his most productive season at Oregon as a freshman in 2015, Scott Frost's final season in Eugene. But there was some question this fall if Griffin would even be eligible in 2019 as a grad transfer.
Brandon Stephens, a 4-star recruit from Texas who rushed 277 total yards over three seasons at UCLA, is out there. Sihiem King, 630 career yards at Kentucky, is available. Those are two of the better options available in a group that's fairly limited.
But the best option for a team looking for a running back is clear. Tavien Feaster, a 5-star recruit and the top-rated all-purpose back in the 2016 class, is officially leaving Clemson. His stats––1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns over three seasons––speak for themselves, but his head coach says even more.
"I certainly was disappointed. I just think he’s a great player and definitely wanted him to stay," Dabo Swinney told The State this week. "But it’s a decision that he felt like was best for him, and man, he’s been a model student and player and gonna be a graduate, so I think that’s the number one thing that I always focus on is guys getting their degree."
Swinney added that Feaster ranks second all time in yards per carry (5.99) at Clemson. Just so happens that the player ahead of him on that list, Travis Etienne (7.79), is also ahead of him on the depth chart right now.
There'll be no lack of interest in Feaster given his ability and the market for running backs. Even so, given how things have gone for Nebraska this spring at that position, I'll be surprised if the Huskers don't at least give a long look at entering the sweepstakes for someone.
The Grab Bag
- Athlon Sports ranks all 130 of the FBS coaching jobs.
- Lettermen Row lists Nebraska as perhaps the primary challenger to Ohio State’s Big Ten title hopes in 2019.
- Taking stock of Nebraska’s offense.
- Nebraska’s recruiting presence in Mississippi is on the rise. (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.