Been awhile, but Nebraska football made a top 25. No, not one of those way-too-early deals, but Athlon’s “Top 20 Teams on the Rise for 2018.”
What would land the Huskers on such a list when they’re coming off a 4-8 season and have to find a quarterback, a handoff run game that’s been gone for three years and a defensive identity? Well, you know:
. . . The Cornhuskers only lose three out of their top 15 tacklers from last season, and the front seven returns intact. With three home games to start 2018, Nebraska has an opportunity to start fast in Frost’s first season. And with Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois visiting Lincoln next fall, a bowl game should easily be within reach. Frost’s first season is all about building a foundation for the future. Looking ahead into the future, Nebraska is clearly on an upward trend with the Frost at the controls for 2019 and beyond.
So it’s a Frost play, of course. And, really, it’s the most satisfying explanation. Nebraska football is “on the rise” because it now has a coach whose career trajectory hockey sticked last season. That should have a multiplying effect on a roster that has some holes (and a roster that has to face a bear of a schedule at that), and it did here.
I did find it interesting that Nebraska’s four wins was tied with Louisiana-Monroe for the fewest of teams on the list. Such is the power of Frost. And the Huskers will get better in 2018. I have little doubt about that. Not arguing their spot on the list, just noting that there's really only one way Nebraska ended up here.
There were a few teams, however, that did give me pause. As you may know, I like my Pythagorean expectation and there are a few teams on here that I’m not sure are going to be better in 2018 than they were in 2017.
Michigan State is the big one. The Spartans were nearly two wins above expectation last year, which is reason (for me at least) to take a minute and ask if an upward trajectory will continue next season. Michigan State won't be bad. It gets two of three key East Division games at home. But don't be surprised if the Spartans are basically the same.
South Carolina was 1.3 wins better than its point differential would indicate, which will likely give the Gamecocks slightly inflated top-25 expectations in 2018. Miami is a borderline case. The Hurricanes were just over a full win better than expectation last season. They’re not going to fall off by any means, but replicating 2017’s magic is going to be tough, exceeding it even tougher.
There are teams on the other side of the ledger here, too. Based on points, Florida State was closer to an 8.5-win team than the seven-win team it actually was (though that number might be inflated a little by two routs over ULM and Southern Miss to end the year). I think Willie Taggert will do his thing with the Seminoles in Year 1, though my long-term expectation isn’t quite as bullish.
Purdue definitely belongs on any “on the rise” list. Based on the numbers the Boilermakers should’ve won one more game last year, and that one game could’ve easily been either Rutgers (a 14-12 loss) or Nebraska (a 25-24 loss one week later). In fact when you throw in a touchdown loss to Louisville in the season opener and a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin you realize just how close Purdue was to being a 10-win team last year.
The Grab Bag
- A Kansas fan went to the players' dorms to offer free-throw advice following the Jayhawks loss to Oklahoma this week. Police were called, but the fan was already gone.
- ESPN released its updated ranking of the top 300 prospects in the 2018 class. Nebraska signees/commits Adrian Martinez (103), Cameron Jurgens (249) and C.J. Smith (272) made the list.
- Here's a preview of the college football offseason. Yes, really, and it's pretty enjoyable.
- ICYMI: Nebraska men's and women's basketball both picked up wins last night.
Today's Song of Today