ESPN ran through its picks for the "game to beware" for each of the teams in its preseason top 25. Two things about that.
One, after back-to-back 4-8 seasons, it's still a little bit strange to see Nebraska in the top 25. Two, ESPN's pick for the Huskers was the visit by Indiana on Oct. 26.
The Huskers will be emerging from a potentially season-defining stretch against Ohio State (home), Northwestern (home) and Minnesota (road). After Indiana's visit, Nebraska returns to West division play with key games against Purdue (road) and Wisconsin (home). Nebraska will be better in Year 2 under Scott Frost, but it cannot overlook any opponent, including an Indiana team with offensive threats like running back Stevie Scott and a talented new coordinator in Kalen DeBoer.
That game does come at end end of a big October for Nebraska. The Huskers, however, have their first bye week prior to hosting the Hoosiers. A Scott Frost team hasn't had a planned-for bye week since October 2016. Last year's opening game cancellation led Nebraska to add Bethune-Cookman during what was supposed to be the Huskers' bye week. In 2017, UCF had its Week 2 game (Memphis) postponed and its Week 3 game (Georgia Tech) canceled. The Knights then bought out Maine, scheduled for Sept. 30 that year, so it could make up the conference game against Memphis and, similar to Bethune-Cookman last year, added Austin Peay for its scheduled bye week.
Point being, we don't have any information on how a Frost team performs off a bye other than that the 2016 team lost it's only such game 26-25 to a Temple team that ended the season ranked.
Indiana is a bit of a wildcard for 2019. The Hoosiers have a ton of experience returning, a starting quarterback back (though that competition may be open) and a recent history of playing teams tough. Indiana has gone 5-7, 5-7 and 6-7 the past three seasons. It tends to hang around in games with some of the league's best––a 31-20 loss to Michigan last year, a 33-28 loss to Penn State––but the Hoosiers' eight conference wins over that span have come against Rutgers (thrice), Maryland (twice), Illinois, the 2016 Michigan State team that went 3-9 and pre-Brohm Purdue.
All of that could make Indiana a "trap game" for Nebraska, but I'm going to hold off on that designation because of the bye week. However Nebraska comes through that early October stretch of Ohio State, Northwestern and Minnesota, the Huskers should know exactly where they stand and what they need to do in the Big Ten race.
The bigger "game to beware" in my mind might be Maryland on Nov. 17.
Surviving the Summer
Little good happens to a football team in the summer. At least little good that makes the news cycle. A team could get a transfer or a positive eligibility ruling, but that's about the top of the "good news" scale in the summer.
Meanwhile the "bad news" options are almost endless–injuries, arrests, citations, attrition, etc. Tuesday was one of those in-the-red days for Nebraska. Maurice Washington, still facing a felony charge in California, was cited by campus police for possession of drug paraphernalia. A little bit later in the day news broke that CJ Smith, the first commit of the Frost era at Nebraska, was transferring.
Those are two very different things, of course, but they have the same practical effect: If you woke up Tuesday morning thinking 2019 Nebraska might be this based on your assessment of the players available (and all of the other factors that go into a season) the news of the day indicated that assessment might have to change. It's always that way in the summer. Things can change quickly.
But when these things happen, at Nebraska or elsewhere, I always find myself thinking that good teams survive this stuff. In all but extreme cases, if a potentially good season gets derailed by something that happens in the summer you have to wonder how strong the original assumption––i.e. "this season should be pretty good"––actually was.
The Grab Bag
- USA Volleyball, featuring three former Huskers, beat South Korea in the first match of Volleyball Nations Leage in Lincoln. (Photos)
- Greg Smith looks at some of the official visitors the Huskers have lined up for June. (Premium)
- The Big Ten announced a new commissioner and new bowl lineup on Tuesday.
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.