Phil Steele Has the Huskers Winning the Big Ten West
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: What All the Buzz Is About

January 07, 2019

It's the last day of the 2018 college football season, a sad day indeed, but spirits are still high in Nebraska. The Huskers return to school today and that brings the start of offseason workouts, which means that part of the narrative we'll be talking about a year from now is being written at this very moment.

When I think back on the first day of the 2018 season –– let's say the first Saturday of the season –– it feels almost like a time warp. On that first day, enthusiasm around Nebraska's football team was as high as I've encountered during my time covering the team. There weren't a ton of expectations –– at least not publicly stated expectations –– but a ton of hope for the future of the program.

Here on the last day of the season, I think you can say most of the same emotions still apply to Nebraska football. If anything, the excitement and hope are only heightened. It's almost as if 4-8 never happened. It certainly hasn't hurt the Huskers when it comes to the way-too-early projections (and we'll get a bunch more of those in the days ahead).

Nebraska landed on another such list over the weekend as 247Sports included the Huskers among the "most-hyped" teams for 2019. It's pretty good company to keep. The other teams on the list: Texas A&M, Oregon, Clemson, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Texas.

The only team with a losing record inside our Top 10 Most-Hyped Teams list for 2019, Nebraska was one of college football's hottest programs exiting the 2018 season and seemed to gain its footing under first-year Scott Frost after a disappointing 0-6 start. The overtime loss at Northwestern, a game that seemingly slipped away late, was the turning point. Nebraska won four of its final six games, the setbacks coming by five points at Ohio State and three at Iowa. The Huskers, who return almost everyone of importance, are already garnering Top 20 love according to one Way-Too-Early ranking and have a somewhat favorable slate by Big Ten standards (projected two games vs. Top 25 teams).

Two things about that group:

One, Nebraska is the least-talented team in that group based on recruiting rankings and it's not really close. There are probably a few reasons Nebraska is here despite that: Scott Frost and Adrian Martinez. I don't know that it's much more complicated than that. If a team has a top-line quarterback and a good coach it can be pretty good. Certainly good enough to earn some "hype," which is technically all we're measuring here.

Two, while we know record isn't everything, particularly when we're looking at predicting the future, I do wonder if there was a breaking point for all of the offseason buzz Nebraska seems poised to generate in the months ahead. What if the Michigan State game goes the other way and the Huskers are 3-9? Say the Illinois game somehow goes sideways and Nebraska's 2-10? Is there a 2018 record that represents a breaking point for the offseason hype?

Or is it all based on context? While I'd prefer that to be the case, I don't think 2-10 Nebraska is landing in early top 25s for 2019 even if all of the stats for this team were exactly the same. A 4-8 record, with how it happened, was probably pretty close to the floor for building 2019 buzz. At 4-8, with Martinez and Frost in place, you could have a national outlet list Nebraska among teams where the buzz, at least of late, feels perpetual, and few would question it. You could include Nebraska alongside the two teams that have dominated the sport to such a degree of late that some are actually put off by tonight's rematch.

Take out the records, however, and Nebraska's first year under Frost isn't drastically different than Nick Saban's first year at Alabama or Dabo Swinney's first year at Clemson. The Huskers ranked 56th in S&P+ after all of the bowl games had been played. Saban's first team at Alabama (7-6) ranked 57th at the end of the 2007 season. Clemson, after Swinney's half season as interim head coach in 2008, was also 7-6 and 39th in S&P+ (though that team started the season in the AP top 10, so it had a lower floor and higher ceiling than either 2007 Alabama or 2018 Nebraska). The 2009 Tigers went 9-5 in Swinney's first full season as the full-time head coach and finished 21st in S&P+.

Those were the beginnings of the two current dynasties in the sport. Now, that's not to say that Nebraska is next in line simply because one predictive ranking had Frost's first team almost exactly as good as Saban's first Alabama team, but it certainly does help to explain the buzz that is only just beginning for the Huskers in 2019.

It would be inaccurate to say you never know where the next college football dynasty might come from because in this sport you always have a good idea that it will come from an established member of the ruling class. But which one (or ones)? We’ll see the finished product in two cases tonight, and hopefully we’ll get a classic championship game, but I might be thinking more about just how Clemson and Alabama got here.

Feels more relevant around here.

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