Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: A CFB Super League, Hopes for the Spring Game, Concerns, and More

April 22, 2021

It’s time for another mailbag, and the Hail Varsity staff is back to answer all your questions. Let’s dive in.

“Fly” by Sugar Ray came on Lithium today and it made me actually smile. I turned it up and enjoyed the music. What song(s) actually make you smile when you listen? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Greg Smith: Every time I hear “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande I smile. It’s just so catchy and fun. “Helpless” from the Hamilton soundtrack is up there. Oh and “In Da Club” by 50 Cent.  

Erin Sorensen: Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, Justin Bieber’s Sorry, Twenty One Pilots’ The Hype, The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, The Beatles’ Lady Madonna, Kacey Musgraves’ Oh, What a World, Jack’s Mannequin’s The Resolution . . . Those are off the top of my head. There are certainly many more. I’ll spare the mailbag from me listing 100 songs. 

Mike Babcock: Eyes of the WorldUncle John’s Band and pretty much anything else by the Grateful Dead; The Way We Were, Barbara Streisand; Singin’ in the Rain, Gene Kelly; Goin’ Away Party, any version; In the Garden, Alan Jackson; Ants Marching, Dave Matthews Band; anything, pretty much, by Elton John; Wake Up Everybody, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes; and so it goes . . . 

Jacob Padilla: You know the song, Richard. 

Derek Peterson: Oh boy, here we go. OK. . . Candy Paint by Post Malone, Heat Waves by Glass Animals, No Problem by Chance, Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra, Hypnotize by Biggie, Dreaming by Smallpools (because it reminds of FIFA 14 and a very, very simple time in my life), Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, Paper Rings by Taylor Swift (because every guy loves at least one of her songs and just doesn’t want to admit it, and because it’s my wife’s favorite to jam in the car), Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye, Carry Out by Timbaland, I’m Still Standing by Elton John. I’m gonna stop now because I could keep going. I have a “Vibes” playlist created for summer driving with the windows down.   

Do you see more schools going the route K-State is taking keeping a percentage of their scholarships back for transfers? (@Corn_Huskers)
AND
Since Kansas State is going to save 10 out of its 25 scholarships for portal transfers, what do you is an appropriate number for Nebraska for portal transfers? (@dmhusker1) 

GS: I took a look at this topic in the recruiting notebook on Tuesday. I do think schools will bump the number of transfers. It’s already happening though. Scott Frost has mentioned saving spots since the 2019 recruiting class. I think three-tofive, which is what the Huskers have been taking, is the right number. 

MB: To point out the obvious, the game continues to change. I can remember when Tom Osborne saved three or four scholarships so that walk-ons would have an opportunity to earn them. Now, the limit is reduced so that’s difficult. Then Bill Snyder built his program by recruiting junior college transfers. Coaches adjust to the rules, another obvious point. Husker baseball coach Will Bolt was asked about it yesterday. “It is what it is,” he said. As long as things were handled up-front, he was fine with it and said he’d consider transfers to fill in but not as a foundation. 

JP: I wonder if the announcement about saving 40% of their classes for transfers might be more of a public ploy to push to change the class size limits. Ten out of 25 is a big number and is probably pretty scary if you’re a high school recruit looking for opportunities. I’ve heard some raise the idea of adding extra spots to that 25 specifically for transfers, and perhaps that’s what Chris Klieman is hoping will happen. 

DP: Jacob’s point about an ulterior motive is exactly where I was going to go. I wonder if coaches don’t push to try and get rid of the cap.  

Are things actually looking up around Husker athletics, or am I just setting myself up for disappointment? (@falcongirl5) 

ES: Are you just talking about football, or athletics as a whole? If it’s just football, I always say to be cautious at this time of the year. Spring is the time for hype and that’s not specific to just Nebraska. If you’re talking about as a whole, I think you have a lot to be happy about with Nebraska Athletics. The bowling team just won a national title, golfer Kate Smith just competed at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, baseball is 18-6 so far on the season and first in the Big Ten, volleyball just made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, the men’s gymnastics team just finished four at the NCAA Championships . . . And I’m missing a number of other things, of course. Women’s basketball, for example, had a pretty strong 2020-21 season and seems to be set up to continue that momentum, while men’s basketball looks like it can make some moves in 2021-22 with its roster. I think it’s easy to get caught up in football as the benchmark of how Nebraska Athletics is doing, but it’s certainly not the only thing to focus on. There are a lot of athletes kicking butt for the Huskers. 

MB: As Erin says, spring is a time for optimism in football pretty much across the board. And football still sort of sets the tone for Husker athletic, though John Cook (building on Terry Pettit’s foundation) has made volleyball a signature sport, for sure. Will Bolt, Rhonda Revelle, Fred Hoiberg, Amy Williams, all are good coaches, capable of getting the job done. So some measure of optimism is reasonable (including the bowling team and Kate Smith as Erin points out). It’s better than too much cynicism.  

What position are you most concerned about? Because of lack of experience, depth, injury or some other reason? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: Running back. I feel like at this point we have no idea what to expect from the position. It’s a mixture of injuries and lack of experience. So many of the scholarship running backs have had injuries either at Nebraska or before arriving. There really isn’t any production at the position at Nebraska. Things can turn around quickly but that will be my number one concern until we see it against Illinois.  

JP: Running back is definitely the right answer, for all of the reasons Greg said. This staff has also seemingly had a hard time truly committing to a ball-carrier that isn’t Devine Ozigbo during the second half of his last season. Even Dedrick Mills’ usage was somewhat limited the last two years, and he was the clear leader of that group. I’d put offensive line in that discussion, simply because it’s so young and we just don’t know. I think it has a chance to be pretty good, but how quickly will that happen? The line underwhelmed last season based on what we thought it would be able to do. And until we actually see it on the field consistently, I think wide receiver will continue to be a questionable position. 

MB: I’ll join in with running back. The offense can’t depend primarily on the quarterback for the rushing game. Last season the quarterbacks accounted for something like 57 percent of the rushing yards as well as a significant percentage of the 20-plus-yard runs. Certainly, the offensive line has responsibility there, too. But is someone going to step up and make an impact at running back? I thought Stepp might be the answer. But he’s sidelined for the spring. 

Committee members are considering a reduction of full-padded camp practices (from 21 to eight), the complete abolishment of collision exercises (such as the “Oklahoma” drill) and limiting a team to two scrimmages per camp (lowered from three and a half). My question is how in the world is 8 padded practices going to work? Might as well put on flags. (@Go_Big_Red) 

Brandon Vogel: It will be fine. The Ivy League coaches voted to ban tackling in practice five years ago. League member Dartmouth did it voluntarily six years before that. Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens’ has gone before Congress to talk about the approach and the positives his team has experienced.  I watch a good amount of the Ivy League in the fall, and it still looks and feels like football. 

JP: I think the key is everyone will be dealing with the same rules, so nobody is going to get a leg up on the others. I’m sure there will be an adjustment period, but coaches and players will figure it out. 

MB: John Gagliardi, long-time coach at St. Johns in Minnesota, was successful over the years and had no-contact practices, as I recall. He was regarded as a curiosity, of course, but his teams were very successful, if I’m not remembering wrong. 

Do you expect more departures after this spring/summer from the football team? (@dmhusker1) 

BV: I think you could safely expect it for most teams, and we’ve seen in the past that the spring game (but really the conclusion of spring drills) is something of a natural point for players to really evaluate what they think is best for them. It might even be a little higher than normal as this year all transfers are getting a blanket waiver to not have to sit out under the new NCAA policy. But next year, we’ll have something of a hard cutoff date. A football player, for example, has to inform his coaches by May 1 if he intends to transfer and wants to take advantage of the no-sit-out rule. Transfer after that date and the player does have to sit out. This time a year from now, things might be interesting but at least there’s some sort of framework in place so everyone isn’t constantly worrying about summer departures. 

DP: I’d agree with Brandon in saying assume at least a little bit of attrition after the spring. Typically that’s when you have those hard conversations, and I think this staff is one not to shy away from those conversations just because the threat of the portal is there. I’d speculate that the culture of the program is in a place where most of the team prefers that kind of no-nonsense approach, but if a guy whose clock is ticking finds himself buried (and you could reasonably find a couple of those scenarios on the roster) I wouldn’t fault him for making a move.  

Do you think Stivrins or Sun plays next season for the volleyball team? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: I could see both returning, but that would also be Lauren Stivrins sixth year at Nebraska. For her, she just may be ready to move on to the next chapter of her life and career. No one would blame her. Lexi Sun seems more likely to me. While it would be her fifth year in college, it would be her fourth at Nebraska and I could see her wanting one more chance with the Huskers after the bizarre season that 2020 made for the team. With that said, the fact that a new season is only three or so months away might be convincing to anyone. I’m still not sold on anyone, but Sun gets my vote. 

JP: I agree with Erin. Perhaps the way the season ended with the injury and the loss left a sour taste in Lauren Stivrins mouth, but I’m not sure how interested she might be in a sixth year of college. Lexi Sun seems a bit more likely, especially if she doesn’t want that Texas match to be her last memory in a Husker uniform. However, I’m heading into the offseason expecting all four to move on and will view any of them returning as a bonus. 

NU really needs to establish a running game to protect Martinez from another injury this season. As far as a one-two punch, who do you think NU can count on at RB to alleviate pressure off of Martinez to rack up yards consistently? (@CarnesRegg) 

MB: It’s a good question, but without an answer at this point because of injuries and running backs apparently rotating in and out as available. As I said in answer to an earlier question, I thought Markese Stepp might be one on whom the Huskers could count, but he’s sidelined for the spring by injury and as a transfer, he really needed the spring. You could probably build a case for any of the scholarship players, and I suppose Jaquez Yant, who got props this week. But did he get props because he’s available or because he figures in come fall? Right now, I’d guess the former. 

DP: I still think Markese Stepp is the favorite to land the top job at running back because, no, I’m not terribly concerned about him missing spring ball. I am however a little concerned about the other guys missing time throughout the spring, because Nebraska is realistically going to need two others behind Stepp. I still like Sevion Morrison but he needs to be healthy. Ronald Thompkins is a guy, if available, to keep squarely in mind. I might be higher on the overall room than most, so I still like Nebraska’s ability to have a competent one-two punch at tailback, it’s just getting to a point where I don’t know who the second guy will be. Yant has been a nice story, but I get 2019 “Brody Belt is winning the spring” vibes from this particular scenario, which has a lot of the same circumstances (i.e. scholarship guys being unavailable to Ryan Held). We’ll see. That’s not said to discredit Belt, who has been a good guy for that room, and I’ll acknowledge that Yant physically looks the part. 

What do you most hope to see at the Spring game? Improvement at a position, a particular player, a hint at the depth chart of a positionetc? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: There is a lot to pick from here but I’ll go with seeing the defensive backs against the wideouts in game action. Both groups have talent but the wideouts have more to prove. That could make some fun spring game battles.  

MB: Can the defense get pressure on the quarterback, which affects the matchup with defensive backs and wideouts. Too much time puts pressure on the defensive backs. Looking at individual players, newcomers, in the spring is always fun. But I’ve seen players look good in the spring game and then not be factors in the fall, for various reasons. 

JP: Greg nailed it: the wideouts versus the corners, especially because that factors in the quarterback play as well. The depth chart tidbits depending on how they split up the teams is always interesting as well, even if a number of relevant players won’t be available. 

DP: Hmm. Surprised no one said offensive line. Nebraska’s defense is nasty and should be really good come the fall. So put that front seven up against Nebraska’s o-line in a game setting and show me what happens. I’ve written a lot about finding explosives in the passing game and finding more opportunities for wideouts to make an impact… the quarterback needs time from his line to set those plays up and the passing game needs production from the running game to set those plays up. It all starts up front. The line will be young no matter what the personnel grouping is, and it needs to solidify a guard spot. The way that top group looks in the spring game will tell me a lot about how close the offense is to being what Nebraska needs it to be.  

Super League for CFB? Would Huskers be included? (@BraskyMannn) 

BV: They would be in mine. I would have a hard time leaving out any of the 10 winningest programs of all time. In fact, that’s the easy part. It’s the remaining slots where choices get tough. 

DP: If Tottenham makes it into the actual Super League, there’s no scenario where the Huskers—with 900 wins, 56 consensus All-Americans, 46 conference titles, and five national titles—get left out of a college football Super League. Anyone who would argue otherwise started paying attention to college football in 2011. City had no history until money started flowing in, and United started tarnishing history once Woodward started siphoning money out. The Super League field wasn’t exclusively decades-long powerbrokers of the game, but rather a blend of trendy and historically significant sides, so yes Nebraska would be included in a college football one.

Nebrasketball going to 21-22 Final Four, 22-23 Final Four, or both? (@Simba_Simms) 

JP: Just looking at the roster now, I think I’d probably target the 2022-23 season for when all the pieces might come together enough for Nebraska to make a run at becoming relevant nationally. Any time a 5-star prospect enrolls in college “one-and-done” seems to be the thought heading into the season, but Bryce McGowens seems to me like a guy with whom Nebraska could get at least a couple of seasons. The Huskers will have seven freshmen and sophomores on next year’s roster, and everybody except for Kobe Webster and Trevor Lakes will be eligible to return. I think if the Huskers can establish themselves as a competitive team this year, continue building cohesiveness among the core group and develop the young guys, the Huskers will have a chance to be pretty good in 2022-23. 

MB: Final Four? Neither season. 

Grade the DJ for the open practice. (@HuskerX) 

GS: I’d give a solid A-. I was pleasantly surprised by the old school soul music early in practice. The heavy hip-hop focus works for practice too. There was a very sleepy song or two in there when they strayed away from hip hop so that keeps the grade from being higher.  

ES: I wasn’t there but I’ve seen the videos, which means I’ve heard some of the music. They played a lot of songs I know are popular with the players, and that’s ultimately the goal. Fans may not always like what the players like, but it’s about getting the players hyped up so A- for me as well.  

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