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Mailbag: Nebraska Football in 2020?

July 17, 2020

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s once again mailbag time. Let’s get to it.

Last season the Huskers averaged more points than they gave up, but the record didn’t match. How many points do you think the Huskers need to average per game compared to allowing per game to provide a plus-3-game margin in the win column? (@Corn_Huskers)

Brandon Vogel: Eight points a game (difference) should get you eight wins unless something crazy happens. Over the past three seasons, there were 13 teams with a points-per-game differential between 7.5 and 8.5. Eleven of those teams won at least eight games and nine of those 11 won exactly eight. If the number we have to hit is eight, I’d say Nebraska needs to outscore its opponents by eight points per game on average. Based on what the Huskers have to replace defensively, I don’t see the scoring average dropping drastically on that side. That means about 30 points allowed per game and means the offense, which does return a good amount of production probably needs to be at 38 points per game. That should get Nebraska eight wins. That said, there’s always a little wiggle room. Last season was bizarre in that eight-win teams had an average scoring differential of four points per game. That’s low. You had five teams—Louisville, Pitt, Arkansas State, Cal and Miami (Ohio)––win eight games in 2019 while being outscored on the season and that makes my head explode. I wouldn’t recommend that path for anyone. If Nebraska wants to win eight, get eight points better per game. While I already mentioned what I think is most likely, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Six on offense, two on defense; four and four as long as it adds up to eight it should work most of the time.

What is your best guess regarding the college football season? Simply, will it happen? I can handle changes, but I couldn’t handle no season at all and neither could these universities. (@Go_Big_Red)

Mike Babcock: I’ve been skeptical all along and now with cases spiking across the country, I’m even more depressingly skeptical that any sort of season will/can be played. Once a student-athlete is diagnosed positive, he (or she, volleyball’s in the same situation) has to quarantine for 14 days. If more than one student-athlete is diagnosed, then, well . . . So you need two teams that have avoided losses of significant numbers, coaches included. In football, we’re talking about lots of players on teams to monitor. Then, one team has to travel for the game. What happens if someone is affected significantly by the virus? Is the university then accountable? Would signing a waiver hold up? I’m probably overly cautious, given my age. And I hope someone answers this in a much more positive way. Because I want some semblance of a football season—with everyone safe.

Greg Smith: I really think that a season will begin on time. Whether or not a season is finished is the question. I don’t know how we can reasonably expect the virus to be contained on college campuses so there are going to be many positives around the country. The question for college football (and all sports) will be what is the threshold to stop play? No one is going to come out and define that because keeping it vague allows wiggle room. It feels like we are just hoping for the best in a lot of ways. I just hope as many people as possible are taking precautions.

Jacob Padilla: I agree with Greg. Like you said, the universities are in big trouble if there’s no football this fall. I think they’re going to do everything they can to make sure some sort of season happens. The question is what happens when players test positive during the season, and whether or not programs can prevent the spread. If it gets out of control, they’re going to have to shut things down. But for the most part, I think players want to play and schools certainly need to, so they’re going to do all they can to limit risk and make a season possible. A huge part of this is how responsible the players and coaches can be throughout this whole process.

Frost’s recent comments suggested 2AM may have been “slacking” a little last season (along with other outside factors). Does this speak more negative to Martinez? The coaches for not holding him accountable? Both? Neither? (@Sal_Vasta3)

MB: I’m not going to hold either accountable for this reason. Martinez did what he could do under the circumstances, probably thinking at the time he was doing all he could. In retrospect, it seems, he could’ve done more. I emphasize “in retrospect.” I don’t think at the time, he thought “I could do more, but I’m not.” As for the coaches, they look at those they coach as people not robots to program. So I doubt they felt he was slacking, given circumstances.

Derek Peterson: Not often I find myself disagreeing with Mike, but here we are. It just seems to me such an easy narrative to pen after the fact. We weren’t there, so we just have to take it for what it is: he wasn’t working then, he is now, things will be different. I think a number of things contributed to last season’s offensive output, a lot of them outside Martinez’s control, and I’ve said that many times in many places. Frost has said the same; a misfiring 2019 offense wasn’t all Martinez’s fault. Let’s say he wasn’t attacking fall camp the way he should have been, though, and that’s what contributed to an early-season malaise before injuries ran their course. That’s more than reasonable. Still, the blame for that would rest with both parties, wouldn’t it? If he wasn’t being pushed, why wasn’t he? Perhaps that’s the reason coaches have been so vocal about having a true competition this offseason.

If student health is priority, and having a full football season is the goal, shouldn’t NU consider/proceed with reduced attendance for home games? (@Sal_Vasta3)

Erin Sorensen: I have a hard time seeing a scenario where Memorial Stadium is at capacity this fall. I have a hard time seeing a scenario with fans at all, but maybe a socially distanced option will present itself and some fans will be able to be present. That will create a whole slew of other challenges (who gets to be in the stadium and who doesn’t, for instance) but it’s hard to say now. I’m sure Nebraska—like others—is considering a plan for no or limited fans. As for proceeding with it, I’m going to assume most will want to wait until the absolute last minute to make that call, especially when considering how much money is involved in a college football Saturday.

DP: Yes. You’d incur a financial hit, but you’d get hit even harder if you put fans in the stands for the first month, something bad happened and then suddenly your season gets canceled because of it.

BV: I would consider the test cases we’ve seen so far of sports returning over the past month have been encouraging, mainly European soccer. Now, none of them are a perfect stand-in for American football, they’re all professional leagues and they were all launched under different circumstances, but they do have one thing in common—no fans in the stands. Everyone would want fans to be there, of course, if it were possible but it’s looking less and less likely as cases continue to rise. I think the hope was that things would be subsiding to a degree by the fall, but it doesn’t look like we’re on track for that. There’s a severe financial hit that comes with reduced (or zero) capacity, of course, but what business hasn’t been through the pandemic. These are extreme circumstances and at some point the time for wishful thinking has to make way for reality.

Over/Under: 50% of college football games will be played this season. (@Sal_Vasta3)

MB: Under. See negativity above.

GS: Over.

DP: Over.

JP: Over. (Fingers crossed.)

Should NU play SDSU (or any other school) that doesn’t test for COVID-19? If no, how quickly should admin start changing the schedule? (@Sal_Vasta3)

ES: I am going to sound like a broken record (since I use this exact line two questions above) but I have a hard time seeing how you could. If you’re taking a certain level of precaution but an opponent is not, can you risk it? It’s not like the opposing team only encounters your players and coaches. There are support staff members, bus drivers, etc. If that means schedule changes have to be made, I’m not positive how quickly you do that. Again, I feel like many are waiting it out. Maybe things will move quicker if the Big Ten as a conference makes a decision.

JP: Like I said above, I think schools are going to do all they can to limit risk and make sure a season happens. Therefore, I don’t see how that game can happen unless something changes with South Dakota State. I’ll be curious to see how other members of the MVC approach this. If other schools do get a testing program up and running, schools like SDSU might be forced into developing their own in order to have a season, and perhaps that’s one thing Nebraska is waiting on. If South Dakota State starts testing and proves itself safe enough to play, I’m guessing playing the schedule as is would be easier than finding a new game or just having a gap in the schedule.

Not NU-related, but with everything going on at Iowa right now, what needs to happen to make a school and team like that a better environment for the students? Do they just fire the whole staff & athletic department or what? (@InDaWilderness)

ES: Representation matters at all levels. If any program looks around and doesn’t see enough diversity within its staff (and I’m talking outside of just coaches), then they need to address that. Varying perspectives won’t necessarily eliminate all potential problems, but it helps more than anything else. When someone can say, “Hey, I think this rule you put in place is unfair to your Black athletes/women athletes because of this experience I’ve personally witnessed,” you’re better for it. Without that voice, you’ll just keep operating like nothing is an issue until someone calls you out. It’s constantly living reactively versus proactively. With that said, Iowa doesn’t necessarily need to fire its entire athletic department. What Iowa—and let me be clear, ALL programs—need to do is take a hard look at their hiring practices and work toward diversifying their staffs (again, outside of just coaches).

Do you think the controversy around Iowa will affect recruiting/current commitments? (@bethanyadw)

GS: I think it’s unavoidable that it affects them. That doesn’t mean a huge run of players leaving the class though. It could just be that Ferentz will have to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions from parents now. I imagine that parents have inquired about this quite a bit during their Zoom calls and virtual visits. How he handles those questions privately will likely go a long way in showing how much of an impact this will have on Iowa.

True or False: Three of these six 2021 recruits are silently already in the boat. Rollins TE, Williams CB, Burkhalter LB, Fidone TE, Mbow OT, Neville WR. And how many will ultimately sign with Nebraska? My take: true and 6. (@Shortguy1)

GS: False. Weird things happen in recruiting so I’d hesitate to call all six as ending up in the class. I’ll say that more than 50% of this list will end up part of the 2021 recruiting class.

If the football season happens and let’s say it’s reduced to any number of games, let’s go with 8, do you think the bowl games will happen, and would they even have a win requirement? (@TwinTwisterDad)

ES: I don’t think bowl games are happening no matter what, so I’ll say no. If they did happen, I don’t even know how you make win requirements when we don’t even know how some programs will play a full schedule at this point.

JP: When we were first asked about bowl games a while back I said I thought those that run bowl games would try to do what they can to make them happen, but if programs have to cut their schedules that dramatically I don’t see any way bowl games would be allowed. That kind of defeats the purpose of limiting the number of games, no?

With COVID-19 I can see football being canceled because of the total numbers affiliated with it. What’s your take on volleyball? Can we have a season even if it means no fans? (@19D4LIFE)

ES: Volleyball has a smaller roster, which is more manageable. However, they are still people and people can go places and do things. That’s where it gets tricky. You can have a season without fans. That’s not an issue. You can’t have a season if half your roster is in quarantine.

JP: Yeah, a lot of what happens with college sports this season will depend on how the athletes choose to spend their time outside of practice/games. If they’re responsible, wear masks where recommended and limit their partying/social interaction to smaller groups in safer venues, we might be able to pull this thing off. If they live their lives like there isn’t a pandemic, it could be a disaster. Either way, if sports do happen depth could be more important than ever before.

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