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Mailbag: Looking Ahead for the Huskers
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Mailbag: Looking Ahead for the Huskers

November 29, 2016

It’s that time of year when the regular season has ended, the football team has a little break and all we can do is wonder about the future. From bowl games to the next quarterback, it’s all a bit of a guessing game. Sure, we have our predictions but it’s never a sure bet until it’s written in stone. Regardless, this week’s mailbag centered heavily around the future and what fans can expect in a few different areas.

Brandon Vogel, Jacob Padilla and Erin Sorensen answer your question’s in this week’s Hail Varsity mailbag.

Q: Where would Nebraska’s seniors like to play their final game? Nashville, NYC, Orlando, San Diego or Tampa? – B.P., Tucson, Ariz.

JP: I’m not one of Nebraska’s seniors, nor have I gotten the opportunity to ask them. I will report back once I do.

ES: If I were a Nebraska senior, I’d be rooting for Nashville. That’s mostly where I want to go personally, so it’s really just a selfish thing.

Q: How many recruits will early enroll? – C.H.

JP: I know that is the plan for Tristan Gebbia, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Jaevon McQuitty.

ES: Avery Roberts and Broc Bando are as well. You can keep track here.

Q: Reality is Mike Riley isn’t getting younger. What would you like to see as a potential succession plan? New head coach or same staff? – 3.L.C.

JP: In an ideal world, Nebraska will be in a good enough place at that time that they can offer an enticing situation for some of the top coaches in the country. I’d like to see them look nation-wide to find the right fit. Unless of course one of the young coaches already on the staff proves to be worthy of the job in the coming years.

BV: Jacob pretty well described the perfect situation, I think. A lot will depend on how the remaining Riley years, however many there are, unfold, but given that this staff has been together a pretty long time at this point, I don’t know that there are a ton of no-brainer succession candidates. Maybe Danny Langsdorf? Trent Bray is probably the best option. I think he is an ascendant coach but still a long way from becoming a Power 5 head coach.

Q: Why was Bruce Read let go prior to the bowl game? I don’t disagree with the situation but timing was weird. – M., Omaha, Neb.

JP: It needed to be done, so why wait? I too was caught a little off-guard by the timing, but I respect the move. However, doing so now allows Mike Riley to appoint Tavita Thompson as his replacement for the duration of the season if he chooses to go that route, allowing Thompson to hit the recruiting trail.

BV: This is just my read, but the timing of it doesn’t say a whole lot in Read’s favor as a recruiter. This is a critical recruiting period, and Nebraska was still willing to part ways. You don’t do that if the guy is a key part of the plan for securing this 2017 class.

Q: To create a true, deep-seated rivalry with Iowa, is it the fans’, team/coaches’ or university’s responsibility? – C.S.

JP: I think it starts with the teams. Both sides need to win and they need to win when it costs the other team something. Time will help too as Nebraska and Iowa continue to play against each other every year.

BV: Historically, Nebraska’s rivalries have usually been defined by the stakes. It’s how Oklahoma gave way to Colorado for a period there. Texas was something else (a lot of behind-the-scenes motivation there alongside a bizarre ability to lose in excruciating fashion), but I think that’s ultimately what elevates Iowa-Nebraska, and, given the past few results, a lot of the onus is on Nebraska. Iowa has more than delivered.

ES: I agree with both Brandon and Jacob, because I think the fans have already made this more of a rivalry than I think they’re willing to admit. Nebraska fans disrespecting Iowa and Iowa fans treating Nebraska like its irrelevant? It makes for some hostile emotions back and forth. However, the true rivalry won’t be built until it happens on the field. All in due time.

Q: Will there be any more staff changes before the end of the recruiting cycle? – T.J.K., Glenwood, Iowa

BV: Wouldn’t surprise me if Bruce Read’s replacement was announced, but beyond that I’m guessing the staff would like to avoid any more disruption to the end-of-cycle recruiting process.

Q: What are we to expect at the QB position next year? Providing the blocking upfront gets better. – C., Lincoln, Neb.

JP: Tanner Lee’s stats at Tulane are pretty underwhelming. As a sophomore, Lee completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 1,639 yards (5.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games. As a freshman, he completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 1,962 yards (5.8 yards per attempt) with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 10 games. In the two years, Lee had negative-287 yards rushing on 59 attempts.

Now, the talent Lee has around him at Tulane probably isn’t comparable to what he’ll have at Nebraska. Coaches have raved about what they’re seeing from Lee on scout team and he’ll have had a whole year of practice to sharpen his skills and hone his game before he suits up for the Huskers.. As the rushing numbers show, Lee is a very different quarterback than what Nebraska has had recently. He’s a pocket passer, and as such, the offensive line is going to have to perform far better than it did this season. Lee isn’t going to be running away from any sacks.

There’s also the possibility that Patrick O’Brien wins the job, but it sounds like Lee is the guy and O’Brien is closer to Lee than he is Armstrong anyway.

BV: The staff loves Lee. Of the numbers Jacob mentioned, I think it’s the completion percentage that will matter the most. If — through maturity, better supporting cast and a better-fitting scheme — Lee is able to improve those numbers by 10 percentage points (or so), I think he’ll be doing the thing this staff wants most right now. If it turns out that O’Brien is the player better equipped to do that, he’ll very much be in the race. Given that neither of those options is nearly as mobile as Armstrong was, the offensive line’s ability to pass block will be a big, big part of things, too.

ES: For what it’s worth, I was told Lee is “the future” by someone close to the program that would know. Does that mean O’Brien can’t win the job? Of course not, but it sounds like the staff knows who they want at the helm next year.

Q: Do you think having two long term quarterbacks in a row hurt Nebraska in the long run? – K.B., Omaha, Neb.

JP: No, I think not having any quarterbacks capable of beating out those long-term quarterbacks, and for the second of those long-term quarterbacks, not being able to recruit and develop a back-up capable of beating out Ryker Fyfe is what has hurt the program.

Q: Could Lincoln realistically host a bowl game (knowing it won’t be a top tier one)? – R.C., Grand Island, Neb.

BV: Sure. It seems like anyone can get a bowl game these days because live sports are still one of the surest television bets out there. (Technically, the NCAA has said “no new bowl games” for now, but you get the point.) My question then becomes, would people show up for a mid-December matchup between the MAC and Sun Belt? That would be interesting, even though these bowls are all about the TV audience.

Q: When will Nebraska play Duke in football? – L.K., Neb.

BV: Well, there’s nothing on the regular-season schedule and the postseason options are limited. Barring a playoff meeting, based on the current bowl setup you have the Orange, the Pinstripe and the Quick Lane Bowls that all pit an ACC team against a Big Ten team. None of those look like they’re in play this year. It would be ideal if Nebraska and Duke could reprise their 1955 Orange Bowl meeting (34-7, Duke) at some point in the near future but, based on where both programs are at currently, it seems like the most natural meeting place would be the Pinstripe Bowl.

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