This week, one valued reader won the mailbag.
Let’s get to the questions.
Which group of players has more catches, yards receiving, and receiving touchdowns this season: tight ends or running backs? (@Corn_Huskers)
Brandon Vogel: This is a good thought experiment. If Nebraska’s offense is operating the way it wants to, I think the answer is tight end, but it’s close. The 2017 UCF team, which is the best look we’ve had so far of premium Scott Frost offense, got 55 catches for 758 yards and five touchdowns from its tight ends. The running backs had 65 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns. Close race when you factor in that tight ends are getting the ball downfield more often. The 2020 Huskers are a little more proven at tight end than running back, so, in combination with the above, I think the tight ends could sweep all three categories.
Jacob Padilla: It’s hard to compare the results in 2019 between the two position groups because we only have half a season from Maurice Wahington and it’s impossible to separate Wan’Dale Robinson’s receptions out of the backfield from his receptions at receiver. But the tight ends had 33 receptions for 326 yards and one touchdown. Washington, Dedrick Mills, Wyatt Mazour and Rahmir Johnson combined for 33 receptions, 342 yards and two touchdowns. Add in Robinson and the running backs win all three categories. That being said, and looking at the personnel, Nebraska needs the answer to be tight ends. Making them a legitimate part of the offense has to be a priority, especially with the addition of Travis Vokolek to Jack Stoll and Austin Allen with the improvements they’ve made. Nebraska also needs to start using its tight ends if it wants to land highly-touted recruits like Thomas Fidone.
Derek Peterson: The tight ends will take the yardage category if only because the wideouts will eat into their catches and scores. The running backs will take the receptions category; the screen game is going to be a more productive part of the offense. The touchdown category is a toss-up, Brandon and Jacob both make good points there.
If your walls could talk, what would they say? (@RandallKolman)
BV: Nothing, sadly. I’ve tried. Every time I leave my office for 15 minutes or more, I treat it as a new day and, upon return, say: “Hello, Walls. How’d things go for you today? Do you miss it? Since sports up and walked away?” I never get a response. (Was this all just an excuse for me to remind everyone, including myself, that “Hello Walls” is a song about a heartbroken man seeking empathy from the structural elements of his house? Yes, because that makes this buoyant, hummable tune one of the saddest country songs of all time, and the competition for that title is intense. But you can’t really get sadder than “Hello, Ceiling. I’m going to stare at you awhile.” when you really stop and think about it. That’s a person whose will is broken. I’m never not amazed that such a piece of art exists.)
Erin Sorensen: My house was built in the 1930s, so I’m sure they’d have plenty to say if they could. They’ve seen a lot over the near-century they’ve existed. Although the walls of my neighbor’s home would probably say more. Rumor has it his basement had a speakeasy in it at one point.
Greg Smith: Probably nothing too exciting. Maybe “change up your routine because you do the same things every day.” Perhaps they’d talk about all the changes that have occurred in the house since we bought it a few years ago because we’ve renovated something in just about every room.
Mike Babcock: Wish they could say something, encouragement related. My office walls are covered with framed posters (Grateful Dead, pro wrestling), photos of Memorial Stadium (one which hung in the Journal Star office), an Al Maxey print of his concept of important places in Lincoln, long-strip Husker team photos, some personal plaques, photos of the grandkids … and except for the grandkids, they all speak of things now past, evoking a certain melancholy that might reflect a need to pull it all down. Blank walls might be more accurate of where things now stand. So for me, the walls should say, “Let’s get this thing figured out and play on.” The movie “Groundhog Day” is something of a cliché. Still …
Who starts at kicker? (@DavidHusker31)
BV: I suppose the favorite is LSU graduate transfer Connor Culp given that he’s hit field goals in front of nearly 100,000 fans in places like the Swamp, Bryant-Denny Stadium and Neyland Stadium. But if I wanted to try and beat the favorite in this horse race, and I almost always want to do that, I’d back Chase Contreraz. He was good last year at Iowa Western, which is different than kicking in Ohio Stadium, sure, but his recent form is strong. And Culp hasn’t kicked in a game since 2017.
JP: I’m taking Contreraz as well. Culp wasn’t great when he started as a freshman and then got beat out by two different guys the last two seasons. Obviously, he has more Division I experience than Contreraz so the Iowa Western transfer could theoretically struggle even more. But I think Nebraska would probably be better off if Contreraz wins the job and has it locked down for the next three seasons.
DP: It’s becoming something of a trend where Jacob says a guy wasn’t great and then I scratch my head. Maybe I just want to play contrarian, but the addition of Culp this late in the game says something about the guys in the room he’s joining, doesn’t it? Culp went 11-for-16 in 2017, at one point making eight straight kicks over a span of victories that featured 17-16 and 27-23 scorelines. Brandon’s last line is a legitimate cause for consternation, but Cole Tracy was fantastic as a senior in 2018 and Cade York was just as good in 2019. If you have three good options at kicker, two of them are still sitting on the bench. I’m high on Contreraz, but for place-kicking I think Culp now becomes the leader in the clubhouse. I don’t think we know nearly enough to say who Nebraska is better off with.
What did you think of the video? Is there more to follow? (@Go_Big_Red)
ES: I thought it was a nice video that served a purpose and that was to get people excited. Could there be more? Sure, but I don’t have any insider information telling me so right now. Some people have pointed out the balloon (which first debuted in the teaser videos and then again in the actual video) and have said it looks like something VR-related. Could there be a virtual tour? An app? All possible, but I don’t think I gained any clear insight to say for sure. For now, it’s probably best to just enjoy it for what it is.
JP: The video was fine. The build-up to it was odd if that’s all it was going to be, though. That being said I’m not sure I would have watched it without the teasers so… I guess it worked?
GS: It was a good hype video. The purpose of those things is to get people excited and it accomplished that goal. It sure felt like the buildup was for something bigger though which puts a damper on the whole thing even if the video was good.
JD…coming back? (@navymousel)
GS: I think it’s best if everyone just lets JD go and be shocked if he comes back. I think his on-field life would be much easier this year if he did return but I don’t see it.
MB: Agree with Greg. If he were to come back, it would be a major shock. The pandemic only adds to the likelihood his time at Nebraska is at an end.
Gas or wood-burning fire pit? (@Corn_Huskers)
DP: I’m with Mike on this one.
What are your favorite television game shows? What game show did you or do you really want to be on? (@Corn_Huskers)
BV: Press Your Luck was my favorite growing up. I’ve never had a strong desire to be on a game show—it's so much easier to just play along at home and maintain the belief that you would easily win if you were actually on the show—but Jeopardy! seems like the obvious answer here. That’s the Academy Awards of game shows. Everything else is the Golden Globes or worse.
ES: Price Is Right was my jam growing up. The ultimate luxury was watching it during the day any time I was home from school. I’d still like to be on it.
JP: Price is Right was definitely my favorite growing up. It was appointment television on sick days and during the summer. I went through Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Family Feud phases as well. Deal or No Deal? was cool at one point. My grandma’s favorite has always been Jeopardy, but I’m not smart enough to do anything but embarrass myself on that show so I wouldn’t pick that one to be on. I’d go with Wheel of Fortune. I was much better at that, and I actually participated in a “Bible Bowl” thing in middle school that was basically the same thing without the giant wheel, video board or Vanna White. Anyway, I did pretty well at that, so I have some experience to fall back on.
MB: Jeopardy, which Barb and I still watch. We also watch (from back in the day) Sale of the Century, Classic Concentration (yes, Alex Trebek was a host) and Supermarket Sweep on BUZZR TV. Never an interest in being on a game show.
DP: Old-school Nickelodeon game shows like Legends of the Hidden Temple, GUTS and Double Dare are some of the best to ever grace TV. Currently, I find myself watching Survivor as much as I possibly can. This last season, the 40th (!!!) one, was some of the best reality TV I’ve ever watched. My brother and I would like to play a Blood vs. Water season some day.
Of our current commitments, who do you see having the biggest immediate impact on the team and why? (@HerbieHype)
GS: What a tricky question. Of the current commits I don’t see any making an impact in their first year on campus. I view that as a good thing because I am generally not in favor of having to rely on freshmen to be the saviors of the program right away. All the current commits have good potential for the future but will need some seasoning or body development. I’d go with linebacker Randolph Kpai though as someone to watch early in his career at Nebraska.
What would be your projected records for Nebraska this year (without JD)? (@ZaneSerhan)
BV: Most of the stat-based models have Nebraska somewhere around 6-6. I know some don’t like looking at it that way, but check the tape, it has been a reasonable starting point for projecting win totals if you accept that simple randomness might swing a season by 1.5 wins. Thing is, most of those models are including Spielman in their six-win projections. With Spielman in the mix, I’d say 7-5 for Nebraska. Eventually the Huskers must progress to the mean in one-score games—they're 3-9 in those games in the first two years under Frost—and that could be enough to go higher than six. Without Spielman, I’d probably be at 6-6.
MB: With him, 6-6. Without him, 6-6. As talented as he is, I don’t think he could push the Huskers past .500, regardless of what statistics might suggest.
DP: I’ll say 6-6 and happily tip the cap if proven wrong.
Would you prefer to have the football season start at the regular time in the fall if it meant only a partial schedule and some conferences not playing, or would you wait for February or spring if it meant all schools would be playing? (@Cty2CtyLyle)
ES: Both scenarios offer a number of complications. If fall means some may play and some don’t, that’s obviously a nightmare to sort out for eligibility for players. If spring means everyone can play, it doesn’t mean all problems are taken care of. You’d have to consider what that would then do to the 2021 schedule timeline, as well as those that had planned to be done in December/January so they can start training for their futures. I’m oversimplifying both because there are a number of concerns \and I’d need a lot more time and space to break it all down. So let’s just answer your question: My preference would be fall for purely selfish reasons. Hopefully the rest can be figured out.
JP: I’ll take the fall as well because I think spring football would cause more long-term issues than a limited season in the fall and the sooner we can get back close to normal the better.
MB: Fall, hopefully generating some revenue for the athletic department so that more dramatic changes involving other sports wouldn’t have to be made. There will be some already.
DP: I think people are glossing over what a February-May football season would do to the players. Player health and well-being is at the forefront of the conversation right now, but getting lost in translation later. Making college athletes play, at minimum, 24 football games between the 2021 months of February and December would be really irresponsible. You’d be taking away recovery time for guys suffering injuries and putting some serious strain on the bodies of anyone making it through. Pushing the season back would have to mean pushing the start date for the next season, and I don’t see that happening. I say get in what you can this fall, cut your losses, and prepare for 2021.
How much of a difference does having JD or not make? I know you're high on some of the incoming kids but he and Wan’Dale seem to be the only guys that have proven themselves to be able to ball on a consistent basis. Nothing else, it seems like it would help early in the season. (@InDaWilderness)
BV: “Adrian Martinez is the only player on offense whose departure would have a bigger impact on the numbers than losing Spielman,” I wrote in March, when Spielman’s leave was announced. That’s still true, but it’s also still true that Nebraska would have an encouraging amount of production returning without Spielman, just not nearly top-of-the-charts good as it is now. There are two reasons beyond the obvious that Spielman’s availability this season matters. One, returning quarterbacks and receivers matter more than returning running backs and both matter more than returning starts on the offensive line when it comes to improved performance. I’m not sure this analogy totally works, but I’m going to try it out: running the ball and offensive line play are like the workings of a quartz watch, while the passing game is more like that of a mechanical chronograph. Both require smart engineering, one’s just more complicated than the other. Two, I think the lack of a traditional offseason might only underscore the importance of familiarity in the passing game. Say Spielman doesn’t return. It’s not like Martinez had an entire spring and summer to develop that chemistry with someone else. Losing your top receiver would be a blow to any team, but it might be an even bigger blow given the circumstances around this season. And, I think you’re right, it might be most noticeable early on.
MB: Agree with what Brandon wrote about Spielman being the second-most important player on offense, behind Martinez. But losing a quarterback is considerably more serious than a wide receiver. The one hitch to this is the lack of spring ball to allow the inexperienced receivers to get practice reps. Not having JD can be an excuse, I guess. But other considerations are equally, if not more, important—such as the development of the offensive line.