Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Assessing the Huskers Through Fall Camp, Realignment and More

August 05, 2021

Nebraska is in the thick of it with fall camp, so there’s plenty to assess for the Huskers. The Hail Varsity staff is back to talk through some thoughts from fall camp so far, realignment and plenty more.

Let’s get to it.

Who is a player from each phase of the game who isn’t getting much, if any run right now, who we’ll be talking and reading about after the first 3-4 games? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Erin Sorensen: There are a number of players to choose from on offense, so I’m going to cheat a little bit and pick two. They’re both running backs though, so it’s not completely cheating. Give me Gabe Ervin Jr. and Jaquez Yant. It’s not that neither is being talked about. In fact, offensive coordinator Matt Lubick mentioned Ervin in his rotation of players at running back so far through fall camp (and we talked about him quite a bit in the spring). I just think we’ll start to hear more about both Ervin and Yant throughout the season. On defense, I’m particularly interested in the defensive line. I think we have heard a lot about players like Ben Stille, Casey Rogers, Damion Daniels and Ty Robinson. I’m intrigued by Deontre Thomas and think we’ll hear more about him as we go through the season (as long as he remains healthy, of course). There will be rotation on that line, so I think we’ll quickly have stories about some of the players just behind those first four that I mentioned. For special teams, I hope we aren’t talking about really any of them because that means they’re doing their jobs. Much like the center position, it’s usually not a good thing when you’re garnering too much attention as the punter or kicker. If we’re talking about Connor Culp, William Przystup or Daniel Cerni, I hope it’s because one just wore a Beef Jurgy hat or something. 

Jacob Padilla: Gabe Ervin Jr. was the talk of the spring, so I’ll go a different direction with running back and toss out Sevion Morrison. We heard from Matt Lubick on Wednesday that Morrison is getting reps with the ones and twos. Health has held Morrison back so far, but now that he’s healthy it sounds like he’s going to get a real shot to factor into that running back rotation. Deontre Thomas is a good one on defense, and I’d put Jordon Riley in that discussion as well. Garrett Snodgrass might be another one who should factor heavily on special teams and could even force himself into that rotation at inside linebacker. Hopefully we’ll hear a lot about Daniel Cerni (in a good way) a few games into the season because Nebraska has to get a lot better in the punting game, and him winning the job might be the easiest way to achieve that. It’s been pretty quiet on that front so far.

Frost said he wants to have the two-deep hammered out earlier than normal this year. When do you think that will actually be, and when will we know? (@InDaWilderness) 

Brandon Vogel: I’m guessing the coaches will have a pretty good idea by the end of next week. We’ll find out on April 23, the day the first game notes are released. Probably. That assumes there is an accurate depth chart included, but we won’t see anything “official” before then. 

Greg Smith: I could see knowing by the end of next week too. We won’t know until the Huskers kick off on Aug. 28 though. If the last two years are any indication, we won’t see an official depth chart until then. And they still might not update that depth chart after that even if the starters change. 

JP: Frost did mention that he wants to have a lot of those position battles sorted out at least internally, so it’s very possible we won’t know when they do get it figured out. But I agree with Brandon and Greg, I think they’ll want up to two full weeks to work with the top couple of units which means they’ll have to identify those unites by the end of next week.

Have any of you changed your minds yet on the person you thought would be RB1 after fall camp? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: I have a little bit. Having Matt Lubick say today that Markese Stepp is healthy and practicing daily so far gives him a better chance to contribute. That running back room is going to be interesting right up until the first game.  

Mike Babcock: I was wavering on Stepp because of the injury-recovery uncertainty. But now it appears he’s competing for the job. I was surprised to see Morrison working with the 1’s and 2’s. However, I’m back on Stepp as the No. 1, assuming he’s OK physically. 

JP: Yeah, we can’t always read too much into coaches rattling off names in a press conference setting because it’s not like they’re reading off a set of notes up there in front of the camera, but I do think it says something that Stepp was the first name he mentioned (followed by Sevion Morrison, Gabe Ervin Jr., Marvin Scott III and Rahmir Johnson in that order). They recruited Stepp to Lincoln as a transfer for a reason, and if he’s healthy I think they’ll give him plenty of opportunities to win the job.

Something always happens during the season that no one was talking about in the long offseason beforehand. What’s an interesting, unpredictable, not talked about storyline that could happen this year? (@NonvirtuousRon) 

MB: There is some concern, apparently, about the number of Huskers who have gotten the COVID vaccine, right? An unpredictable would be having a home game canceled for COVID reasons—lost revenue, whether the Big Ten decides on forfeiture or not..  

ES: I feel like a lot of the unexpected storylines come when a player is injured or unable to play. That brings another player into the spotlight, and we get those unexpected stories we couldn’t have predicted at this point in the year. I am obviously not going to speculate or predict anything regarding injury or illness. To Mike’s point though, the pandemic is not over, and it seems likely there will be disruptions throughout fall in one way or another. That may mean players unable to play and someone else will step up. 

Kansas coming to the Big Ten: probable or long shot? Do you think Iowa State from the Big 12 would come with them or another team from another conference? (@CarnesRegg) 

BV: I think that’s best bet from the Big 12, but it doesn’t feel probable to me at this point. There are just too many moving parts as the Big 12 evaluates its options to think KU coming aboard is more likely than not. That said, if the Big Ten offers, Kansas would be crazy not to jump. If I were picking another team from the Big 12, it would be TCU, but neither would be my top choices if we’re considering other conferences. (See below.) 

MB: Long shot at this point. As Brandon says, too many moving parts. But tomorrow’s another day, so who knows? 

ES: I am apparently one of the only people that want Kansas and Iowa State to come to the Big Ten. I’m not going to even explain why because most people disagree. That’s fine. I just think that’d be fun. 

If you could add two teams to the Big Ten, who would it be and why is it Miami and Notre Dame? (@TylerSPedersen)  

BV: First, if Notre Dame is available and willing to come, the Big Ten takes them. It’s non-negotiable. It’s the only perfect fit out there for the Big Ten. I like the idea of one of the Florida schools, maybe both, plus Georgia Tech and the league gets a southern foothold. None of that seems very likely, and this will sound crazy by conventional realignment/expansion logic, but I think that’s out the window already anyway. It’s not about TV markets anymore and there aren’t many no-brainers truly available. So, let’s get weird. Boise State’s not happy in the Mountain West and a Pac-12 invite doesn’t seem to be coming, so how about the Broncos? Would be remote, which is a problem, so we’ll also add the next-best option that’s “closest” to Boise State—North Dakota State. Both are the biggest draw in their (admittedly small, in terms of population, states), but I think both would boost the level of football in the league. 

MB: Notre Dame if willing; but right now, apparently it isn’t. Still, it’s Notre Dame, first and foremost, before any other. Plus, the fit is logical. And I like Brandon’s suggestion, Boise State (with the stipulation it replaces that blue turf). 

ES: I just said it above. Kansas and Iowa State. I’ve already decided this is what I want even if it’s a dumb idea. In the era of realignment, who cares how dumb it is though? 

I’m getting increasingly worried about something very bad happening to the college football season COVID-wise in the next 3.5 weeks. How worried should I be? (@KobiRugby) 

BV: I’m getting worried, too. The NCAA released its guidelines for the fall on Wednesday, but they’re merely guidelines. Coaches know what’s at stake here, but it’s hard for many of them to go beyond encouraging vaccination. But the biggest concern for me is that in the spring, there was such a rush to get back to “normal” — The stadiums will be full! It will be like old times! — that it became easy to miss that we weren’t there yet. And we’re still not, but it’s just hard to see the ship turning around at this point and it’s going to take on water at some point. I’m very interested to see what the Big Ten puts forth as its policy for the fall.

MB: I’m freaked out by the potential for problems, and safety.

ES: I am also concerned. I’m starting to believe it’s not a matter of if something happens, but when. It will be a miracle if this college football season goes uninterrupted. Brandon says it all better than I could so I’ll direct you back to his answer, but it does feel full steam ahead at this point.

Are any schools doing anything special/unique for college football fans on finally being able to attend in person? (Special deals, new concessions, etc.?) (@marcus_scheer)  

GS: This is a really interesting idea. I haven’t heard of anything specifically, but I’d guess schools are looking into it.

Will they sell beer during games since they are for Garth Brooks? (@402SKUNX) 

GS: Nope, I don’t see that happening just yet.

MB: No beer at Husker games yet, and hopefully not for a while. Garth, by the way, isn’t selling tickets for any of his shows after Nebraska’s right now, considering the COVID situation.

If Bryce McGowens has a good year, what’s the chance he does one and done? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

 JP: McGowens finished at No. 26 in the final 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2021 class. Last year, 22 of the top 30 recruits went one-and-done or went pro in some way straight out of high school and then entered the 2021 draft. The No. 26 recruit in last year’s class, D.J. Steward, entered the draft despite having a good but unspectacular season at Duke, and he went undrafted. In the 2019 class, 15 of the top 30 went one-and-done or straight-to-pro with another five players entering this past draft after two years of college. The No. 26 recruit in the 2019 class was Patrick Williams, who went fourth in the draft after one year at Florida State. In 2018, 18 of the top 30 went one-and-done or straight-to-pro. The No. 26 recruit was Emmitt Williams, who had a quiet freshman year at LSU, broke out a bit as a sophomore and then went pro, going undrafted before playing in the NBA G League. I provide you with all of this data to show that McGowens being one-and-done isn’t a foregone conclusion, but it’s certainly probable and maybe even likely based on some of the early feedback from Lincoln. McGowens has great positional height and length, he’s a pretty smooth athlete and he is an incredibly gifted scorer. The biggest thing that might hold him back is his frame as he’s rather slight, but he knows that and said a couple weeks ago that he’s already gained seven pounds since he got to campus. If McGowens adds enough strength to handle the physicality of the college game well enough to do what he does, his stay in Lincoln very well could be rather short.

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