Back in the spring, Scott Frost did a unique thing for a college football coach––he acknowledged the clock is ticking. A specific clock.
Adrian Martinez's eligibility clock.
"We feel like we’ve got a really good quarterback and we’re in a hurry to surround him with the type of weapons that we need in order to have a really good offense," Frost said in an interview with 590AM in Omaha in April. He was asked about that "clock" again last week in Chicago.
"I don’t think the [players] need to feel that clock, I think it’s just our responsibility as coaches to make sure we field the type of team we need to take advantage of the assets that we do have. I’ve talked about a couple of guys that I think are going to help us from a skill position standpoint, we need a couple o-linemen to step up, we’ve talked about Cam Jurgens and the need for him to be healthy, I think he’ll make us better," Frost said.
If the depth chart on offense shakes out as most project it will it's not just possible that the Huskers don't have a senior starter on that side of the ball, it might be likely. The best bet for senior contributors on offense are all at wide receiver, and the best bet could be Cal transfer Kanawai Noa. Put a pin in that position for now.
Defensively, the Huskers are loaded with key players in their final season: the Davis twins, Mohamed Barry, Lamar Jackson and the outside linebacker combo of Alex Davis and Tyrin Ferguson. Put that to the side for now, too.
It might be somewhat foolish as we gear up for the actual start of the 2019 season next week to start thinking about the long game, but the mind wanders where it wanders. And my mind wonders if this clock-ticking view influences how Nebraska deploys its resources this season. Is there an impetus to get younger players on the field earlier because everyone seems to agree that Martinez's ability at quarterback offers a window for Nebraska to be really good? The Huskers have the chance to be pretty good in 2019 and if they are, and return almost everything on offense, next season's hype could make this season's look like nothing.
With last year's 0-6 start there wasn't a ton of incentive for Nebraska to get creative with the new redshirt rule. It became apparent early on that Nebraska had big issues to address and if a true freshmen wasn't ready to go from the opener, Nebraska mostly held those guys until the end of the year and then worked them into four games. Maybe that's going to be the default strategy for teams going forward, but how much are those four games preparing players to contribute a year later?
We don't know yet. There are a couple of spots on offense this year that might test both theories. Running back isn't one of them. The Huskers are going to need at least two guys who haven't played at Nebraska before to contribute. Offensive line could be one of those spots, at least for one specific player. I'm starting to think the notion of Bryce Benhart contributing as a true freshman isn't just idle offseason chatter. He might have a shot based on what I've heard in the last week. That's one where if the guy is close and you think he raises the team's ceiling in 2020, maybe you give it a longer look than you would if you're, say, starting over at quarterback.
Receiver, however, is the best test case on offense. Nebraska can be experienced with upperclassmen, or it can be young. The only real certainty there is JD Spielman. Wan'Dale Robinson is going to play, but what about the three other freshmen wide receivers?
Frost said the primary hurdle for freshmen often isn't talent, but maturity.
"Every kid we recruit we hope has enough talent to come in and compete as a freshman," he said. "Usually talent isn’t what determines if they play, it’s maturity and whether or not they really get after it. I’ve seen really talented freshmen come in and dip their toe in the water and take their time learning Xs and Os and scheme and as talented as they are, they don’t play. And I’ve seen other guys, the first time they step on the field as a freshman, they’re full-speed attacking, they handle their business like pros and those are usually the guys that play."
Typically that should be easy enough to assess. But if there's a countdown for this coaching staff, and that countdown is no longer than three years, does the math change a bit? Do you play, say, Darien Chase, if you think it doesn't hurt you this year nor help you significantly, but might offer a bigger gain in 2020 or 2021?
Given the experience on defense, this might be an even bigger question on that side of the ball. Back to the hypothetical example where Nebraska is clearly good at the end of the 2019 and the program trajectory continues upward for 2020, what could lower the overall ceiling next offseason?
How much the Huskers will likely have to replace on defense.
There might be even more of an incentive there to get the next wave of players ready quickly, while, of course, not harming your prospects for a good season in 2019. Is Noa Pola-Gates (again, just an example, pick any freshman you like) further along in 2020 if he plays eight games or four in 2019?
That's still the key question here: How valuable is a redshirt year under the current setup? We haven't had enough time to see, but with the acknowledgment that Martinez's ability has raised the Huskers' ceiling already, every other decision has to flow from that. It definitely won't mean a youth movement in 2019, but I do think it will mean we see more young players on the field than we did a year ago.
The Grab Bag
- Which Huskers have been impressing their peers this offseason?
- Nebraska basketball could have a glue guy in Haanif Cheatham writes Derek Peterson.
- Tackling offseason hype, football facilities and Runzas in this week’s Mailbag.
- Greg Smith looks at the young talent on Nebraska’s offensive line.
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.