Hot Reads: Nebraska and Its National Title Prerequisites
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Nebraska and Its National Title Prerequisites

June 28, 2019

Add "national title contender" to the list of descriptors you can use with the 2019 Nebraska football team. Maybe add it with an asterisk.

Technically speaking, any team that competes in FBS football and is thus eligible to be in the College Football Playoff is a "national title contender," in the same way that any college player is able to win the Heisman Trophy and is thus a "Heisman Trophy candidate." Practically speaking, however, those descriptions are generally reserved for teams and players with a quasi-feasible shot. You will not, for example, read the sentence, "Oregon State, a national-title contender in 2019 . . ." this offseason though technically it's true.

No, for those words to pass even the friend test––ask your friend, "is team Team X a national title contender?" and he or she will likely have an immediate answer; that gut response is usually a pretty good reality check––a team probably needs to have better than a 1% chance at it, though not drastically better. Better than a 1% chance is enough to land a team on the board in Vegas, which is how Nebraska ends up in a story titled "How each top CFB contender can win the national title."

That story is by Bill Connelly, his first for ESPN after coming over from SB Nation. The premise is pretty good. Take all of the teams with better than +10000 national title odds at Caesar's Palace and start tallying up all of the things that have to go right, the questions that must be answered, for each team to win it all. Connelly calls these the "ifs." For example, Clemson could win the title if there's no hangover from last year's 15-0 run and if replacing five defensive linemen, four of them NFL draft picks, goes OK. The Tigers and Alabama are the only two teams with just two "ifs," and the idea is that the fewer questions a team has the better chance it has to win the whole thing.

Nebraska is a six-if team in 2019, though that needs an asterisk, too. The first "if" is "If . . . the Scott Frost Second-Year Miracle Leap happens twice."

Let's face it: In the game of "One of these things is not like the others," Nebraska is the standout on this list. The other 16 teams we're talking about in this piece averaged 10.8 wins between them in 2018. Nebraska went 4-8. And while the Huskers certainly showed upside and improved late in the year, so did division mate Minnesota, which finished with a better record (7-6) and S&P+ ranking (45th vs. 49th) and returns more of last year's production than NU.

So really, the only reasons for Nebraska being given even semi-friendly title odds are (a) it's Nebraska (we always leap to proclaim a blue blood "BACK!!"), and (b) Scott Frost pulled off a second-year leap at UCF. That's not a lot to go on, but hey, anything's possible. Even if this isn't all that possible.

That's a pretty good way to set the stage. It's not all that possible, merely relatively possible. The cutoff point for making this list was +10000 odds to win the national title. Those odds offer a break-even percentage of just under 1%, meaning if you were to bet $1 on a +10000 team 100 times that team would need to win just once for you to break even. (99 losing bets for a loss of $99 dollars and one winning bet that returns $100)

Nebraska, at +4000, has implied national title odds of 2.4%. Not "all that probable," but better than some teams with fewer "ifs" on the list. The Huskers' odds are better than Texas A&M (+5000, 2%), Wisconsin (+5000, 2%) or Miami (+6000, 1.6%). Sort of underscores Connelly's point about our natural tendency to favor blue blood programs coming off a period of much sadness.

You can head over to ESPN to read through the rest of the "ifs" but, just so you know, the last one ends like this . . .

You know what? We'll stop at six ifs, but I think you get the idea here. Barring another second-year miracle, this is not a national title contender.

. . . and that's not an unfair assessment. In name only, however, go ahead and use the words "national title contender Nebraska" now. If nothing else, see the reaction you get.

Iowa Reaches Its Apex

Speaking of getting a reaction, Iowa football unveiled new alternate uniforms on Thursday. The Hawkeyes will be wearing these against Penn State on Oct. 12.

If that design feels vaguely familiar to you, congrats, you remember the brief but unforgettable era of Apex football uniforms.

Given that Apex outfitted Iowa in that and Minnesota in this and Arkansas in this, it makes me wonder if there are some truly out-there Nebraska designs in some file somewhere that, of course, Tom Osborne immediately said no to during the Huskers' brief run with the supplier.

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