Another week, another mailbag.
This week’s edition focuses on football, as well as men’s and women’s basketball. Who should be the captains for the Huskers on the football field in 2021? Will the men’s basketball team win a conference game? How far will the women go on the hardwood?
We tackle all of that, and more.
Who are some names to look for as captains next year? What positions or players are potential portal entrants? (@lredeugene)
Jacob Padilla: That first question is excellent and one I haven’t thought about at all until now. The last few years it seems like they had more viable, obvious candidates than they had positions to fill (Ben Stille not being a captain is an example of this). That’s not the case this year. I have no idea who the leaders on this team are going to be. They don’t have a lot of seniors who are multi-year starters and seem like the out-spoken leader type. Perhaps Travis Vokolek is one; Sean Beckon has consistently praised his leadership. Garrett Nelson could be an option as a junior. Perhaps one of Luke Reimer or Nick Henrich earns the honor? Could Casey Thompson or one of the other newcomers come in and earn the respect of his new teammates in one offseason? I suppose we’ll start to see leaders emerge in the spring once we get a chance to hear from the coaches and players again. As for potential attrition, quarterback is the obvious one depending how the rest of the offseason and spring ball play out. Nebraska is pretty deep at linebacker, so we could see someone in that room look elsewhere. Defensive back and wide receiver are options as well depending on how the depth chart shakes out.
Greg Smith: Going to echo Jacob on Vokolek and perhaps Thompson making a move. This is a great question because right now we have no clear-cut names that immediately come to mind. It’s probably a good time for Garrett Nelson to slide into a captain role. I wonder about which offensive lineman could be in a leadership role next yet. Perhaps Ethan Piper or Turner Corcoran? This will be an interesting subplot to spring ball.
Steve Marik: Great questions. As for the captains, Garrett Nelson is a no-brainer for me. You get the sense that no one works harder or cares more about Nebraska football than Nelson does. I can see Travis Vokolek, Turner Corcoran and, like Jacob said, either Luke Reimer or Nick Henrich. Whoever wins the starting quarterback job might be a good one to make a captain as well. As for potential portal entrants, quarterback is the spot to keep an eye on in my opinion. If the Huskers take a second transfer quarterback this offseason, there could be movement.
Will the Kubik sisters have as much of an impact in volleyball as the three Edwards sisters did in Husker softball? (@dmhusker1)
Jacob: It’s hard for me to make the comparison because I don’t have a firm grasp on the true scope of the impact the Edwards sisters made beyond knowing they were really good. Right off the bat, they get the advantage because there are three of them and only two Kubik sisters. Madi Kubik took a big leap this season and was one of the best players in the Big Ten through the first half of league play, but she wasn’t quite able to sustain it. She has a full season of being the No. 1 option under her belt now, and Nebraska needs her to improve her efficiency significantly next season. Little sister Hayden — the No. 18 recruit in the 2022 class according to PrepVolleyball.com’s updated rankings — will join a talented outside hitter group that returns everyone but Lexi Sun. She averaged 5.2 kills per set on .296 hitting as a senior this season. Playing time might be difficult to come by early on, but she’ll certainly get her chance to make her own mark at Nebraska down the line, and they’ll get a chance to play together for at least one year (and maybe two).
What can be done in Husker men’s basketball this season to give fans hope for the future? (@dmhusker1)
Jacob: A good first step would be to actually finish off one of these games where they’ve had a second-half lead against a good team. They’ve actually been incredibly competitive in four of their six league losses so far this season, and I think the feeling around this team would be significantly different if they had managed to pull out one or two of them. But just like the football team, they keep finding ways to lose in the last 10 minutes no matter how well they play in the first 30.
Piggybacking off this (previous question): Do they (Nebraska men’s basketball) win a Big Ten game this year? (@tchristensen43)
Drake Keeler: Yes, I think so. I won’t say the Huskers will top their Fred Hoiberg-era high of three conference wins from last year, but I think they can pick up a few. Nebraska has played well in its last two home games against ranked teams, despite falling apart down the stretch. You’d think that eventually translates to a conference win or two. Trey McGowens returning should also help.
Jacob: I’ll echo what Drake said: yes, they’ll get a win eventually, and Trey McGowens’ return should bolster their chances. The schedule lightens up (as much as possible in the Big Ten) in the second half. Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State all look a bit more beatable than most of the Big Ten teams Nebraska has or will play in the first half, and that group makes up five of the Huskers’ last eight regular season games.
What are some offensive line names from the transfer portal that the coaching staff is interested in? (@TylerSPedersen)
Greg: The injection of talent into the offensive line room is ongoing. The Huskers have a pair already in Lincoln. I think the team wants at least one more offensive lineman to add to the mix. The leading contender for me is East Tennessee State transfer Tre’mond Shorts.
Overall feeling on the women’s basketball team? Next stretch is pretty tough, then gets easier. Where do they rank in the Big Ten? (@GeneralChaoz01)
Drake: Generally, I’m optimistic that this team can at least reach the tournament. They can compete with most, if not all teams on the remaining schedule, the only possible exceptions being Indiana and Maryland. Those are the only two Big Ten teams I’d put in a tier above Nebraska right now. The Huskers are still firmly near the top though, proving it through a big win over Michigan and showing an ability to compete against Iowa. This next stretch is important, especially considering the Huskers should try to avoid losing a second game to a somewhat struggling Hawkeye team, but it’ll be important to watch the “easier” section of the schedule as well. Nebraska hasn’t finished with a winning record in conference play since the 2017-18 season, so a slump later on is a fair thing to be worried about.
Steve: I feel pretty good about it. Like Drake said, they handled Michigan after playing poorly at Michigan State (though Nia Clouden is really, really good), then hung with Iowa before mistakes in the fourth quarter sealed the loss. After the Indiana game and rematch with Iowa, Nebraska faces Rutgers, Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State. Those five teams have a combined conference record of 4-15, so they will be games the Huskers have great chances of getting out of with a win. Win those games, gain confidence and get ready for a road trip to Maryland.