Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Nebraska Football Will Exceed Expectations in 2021 if…?

July 29, 2021

It’s time for another mailbag, so let’s dive in.

The American Olympic team needs you to participate in one summer game, what do we get to see you compete in? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Jacob Padilla: First, if they need me the United States is in a very dark place. I can’t swim, so that wipes out anything in the water. I’m slow, so forget about any of the races. I can’t jump, so wipe out all those events. Gymnastics…. ha. I don’t even understand the rules for a lot of the other events. I’ll go with 3×3 basketball. I’d get crushed playing against Olympic level athletes, but at the very least I could set a few screens, give a few fouls and perhaps even knock down a shot if they leave me open. 

Erin Sorensen: I swam competitively for a little while, so I suppose I could give it a go, but I’d be absolutely crushed by everyone else. I’ve long said if there was one sport I’d love to get better at it’s curling, but that’s a winter sport so I’m out of luck here. 

With the Big Ten TV contract expiring in 2023, how many years do you expect the new contract to last and will it be with different partners? (@dmhusker1) 

Brandon Vogel: This one is particularly tough in a world where Oklahoma and Texas are now (likely) SEC members. When the SEC signed its massive new deal with ESPN last year—which doesn’t take effect until 2023—it was for 10 years, but I imagine that has to be renegotiated now because the conference is more valuable and has more inventory. (Or, seven months ago, that original $3 billion deal was valuing the league as if it already had additions. And ESPN twists the corner of its mustache in the shadows.) The Big Ten’s most-recent deal was for six years. In the old world (way back in 2018 or so) I would’ve preferred a shorter deal as it offers more flexibility. It’s a bit of a gamble because the bidders get that flexibility, too, and if your conference is suddenly less attractive, a league might have left money on the table. But based on what we know now, I’d say no more than 10 years for the next Big Ten deal. Most of the real sports media watchers seem to think Fox could snap up all of the Big Ten rights in this next round, which is a whole other can of worms if you’re looking at ESPN—the network that covers the sport the most—being the exclusive home of the SEC/ACC while the Big Ten is over here on Fox. 

How likely is the Premier model in regard to realignment in CFB? Would it be 32 teams? 40? Would NU be relegated to the 2nd tier of teams looking in? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

BV: Oklahoma and Texas leaving, and all of the fallout that comes from it, probably buys us, the college football public, about a decade before we start hearing rumblings of a Premier League model. It does seem like the next step, however, because there’s really nowhere else to go with expansion. If the whole game is making yourself the most attractive to potential TV partners—and all the evidence so far indicates that is the whole game—it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we’ll get to a point where, history be damned, the SEC is looking at Vanderbilt and thinking, “y’know, Clemson would be a whole lot better.” If one league gets to that point, not just expanding but cutting, the others almost have to follow. Then at that point the top halves of each league are aligned naturally. It’s not a huge jump to get to a Premier League model from there. If that is a decade or so away, who knows where Nebraska will be at that point, but I think its historical standing and the resources it devotes to football probably gets it in. If this college football super league were to use a promotion and relegation model, I’d be fine at 32 teams. Since that will never happen, I’d feel better at 40 teams. 

DP: I think this kind of path is the most likely scenario. How about some amalgamation of the NFL’s 32-team permanence, the Super League’s deference toward the rest of European clubs, and the Premier League’s promotion/relegation system? Let’s say it’s the Big Ten (or ACC, I guess depending on what Notre Dame does) and the SEC at 16 teams each, with those 16 teams not necessarily being current membership plus the difference, but rather the 16 best teams they can get into the league. I’d imagine Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Illinois-types wouldn’t make the initial cut. Then there’s a third 16-team league that has rotating members based on performance. You’d have 48 teams in the top-flight league competing at the top for a chance to get into the Playoff, whatever shape that takes, and at the bottom for the rights to stay in, with 32 as permanent participants. The rest of the FBS is playing each other to get into the top flight. The SEC is happy because programs it deems are “beneath” it don’t have access to the Playoff and ESPN is happy because it has broadcast rights to the only games that matter—which is, I believe, the driving factor in everything happening now. I think it’s eventual at this point that football’s conference structure will be completely independent of what other sports are doing.  

It seemed Trev was specifically talking about FB when he said “we need to take care of the details.” Everyone knows that’s true. SF has had a hard time reconciling his wide open, exciting, but sloppy style of FB (see CF) w/ the BIG. Will Trev be the guy to help SF make it happen? (@thawildbunch) 

BV: Good question. If the reason Nebraska hasn’t been able to play buttoned-up, mistake-free football—in the division that might require that to the greatest degree—is because of messy infrastructure off the field, I have no doubt that Alberts will clean up the messes he can. He said as much last week, mentioning it’s hard to fairly evaluate coaches until you know you’ve removed all the obstacles you can remove as the AD (very much paraphrasing here). I have no doubt Alberts will make that a reality and, in that way, I do think he can help football. That said, I doubt Nebraska’s recent propensity for false starts and fumbles (to name a few bugaboos) is solely because the athletic department as a whole was perhaps more chaotic than it needed to be. 

What should the expectations be for Nebrasketball this season? NIT? The Dance? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: It’s hard to set expectations at “NCAA Tournament or bust” coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons, but I’ll tell you the players certainly feel like they’ve got what it takes to succeed this year. In order to move this program forward I do think Fred Hoiberg has to capitalize on this returning core and talented recruiting class because I’m not sure I see Trey McGowens and Derrick Walker using their extra year of eligibility and Bryce McGowens certainly doesn’t look like a four-year player. You have to walk before you can run, so I think setting the NIT as a goal is a good place to start. We can reassess after we actually see these guys play. 

Fill in the blank for a Husker team in the upcoming seasons: they will exceed expectations if ________. (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: Nebraska football will exceed expectations if it averages 6.4 yards per play or more. That’s really hard to do in the Big Ten, but the Huskers need some big plays and, more importantly, the five- and six-play scoring drives they can provide. It’s a high number because at 6.4 I think Nebraska, barring a defensive collapse, exceeds all expectations, no matter if you’re thinking five wins or thinking seven. 

DP: Nebraska football will exceed expectations if it wins the season-long turnover battle. Nebraska hasn’t posted a season-long turnover margin greater than zero since 2016. The Huskers have had a positive turnover margin at the end of a season only once since 2010.  

What one storyline are you most looking forward to from fall camp? (@InDaWilderness) 

ES: The quarterback competition. I’m just kidding. I think the story line to watch is what happens at running back. I’m excited about this spot too mostly because of what running backs coach Ryan Held said about his group in the spring. He really wanted them to approach summer as Rocky IV, so I’m eager to see how everyone did. The Huskers have six running backs on scholarships but every single one of them is inexperienced. We also don’t know how healthy Markese Stepp is after foot surgery in the spring. With that said, you could make the story line broader and focus on all the competition that remains on this team. What can we expect at wide receiver? What about the spot opposite Cam Taylor-Britt? How does the defensive line’s rotation look come Aug. 28? There are so many spots on this team with question marks that you could really choose any one of them and have a good story line to follow. We should be in for an interesting fall camp, to say the least. 

Greg Smith: Erin’s answer might be the most important but I’ll go a different route. The pecking order at wide receiver will be interesting. The only player that is a lock in my mind is Samori Touré. Everything else is up for grabs. Who steps forward and can give Adrian Martinez reliable weapons on the outside? 

DP: What kind of state is the team in from a health standpoint as fall camp opens and as we go through? Nebraska’s injury luck has been tough, to say the least, for some time. I’m not smart enough to answer how a program goes about “fixing” that, but I do think it’s going to be interesting as the season draws near. They play eight games in eight weeks to start the year before a bye week offers a slight reprieve ahead of the three toughest/biggest games on the schedule. Nebraska needs to be healthy to start that stretch. It already has a major linebacker on the shelf, a promising pass-catcher on the shelf, some running backs who missed spring time, and some other stuff. Is Nebraska starting the season as close to 100% strength as possible? If not, how does the coaching staff approach fall camp intensity? 

Are there any updates on injured players before fall camp begins? (@tchristensen43) 

ES: I mentioned Stepp above, so I’ll just continue here. By the time this mailbag publishes–or you read it—Frost may have provided updates on specific injuries. I know people are curious about Thomas Fidone, for instance. The hard part is that prior to Frost sharing those updates, we really don’t have much to offer (and it’s best not to speculate with health and injuries, so I prefer to report solely on what the coaches say) but we should soon. I would keep it locked on Hail Varsity because we’ll have all of the updates as fall camp gets underway. 

Ohio State/Clemson/Notre Dame: who, if any, will return to the CFP & who will not? (@@jdub_wolf92) 

Mike Babcock: Wild guess, Notre Dame will not. 

GS: Notre Dame would be my guess from those to not make it. Clemson feels like the most certain of the bunch.  

DP: Jack Coan starting at quarterback for Notre Dame this season?  

Who is somebody that we didn’t hear a lot about in spring that comes to light in fall camp? (@jdub_wolf92) 

MB: Tough to say because we hear a lot about almost everybody, the coverage is so competitive and extensive. 

JP: I think it would be huge for Nebraska if the answer is Zavier Betts. He’s got some older guys ahead of him at wide receiver, but his ceiling is incredibly high. Add him to the mix with Samori Toure, Oliver Martin and Omar Manning and Adrian Martinez might finally have some serious weapons down field this year. 

GS: Does Bryce Benhart qualify here? Cam Jurgens get the headlines for the offensive line. Turner Corcoran is the next big thing. Benhart still has a lot of growth left in his game to show.  

Nebraska will only be as good as its _______ this year. (@jdub_wolf92) 

BV: Offense. 

MB: Offense, specifically the line. 

GS: Offense.  

DP: Offensive line play. I’m with Mike on this. 

Who will start at OLB with Domann? I’m sure it will be a Payne, Tannor, & Nelson rotation. But who will be out there majority of the time with Domann? (@jdub_wolf92) 

MB: Nelson. 

JP: I think it will be whichever of those three is ready to make the leap. All three of those guys have shown flashes, but Nebraska can’t wait on flashes any longer. They need somebody to emerge. Based on the information that we have, Pheldarius Payne seems like the best bet simply because we’ve seen the least from him to this point. Heading into year four, is Caleb Tannor suddenly going to live up to his high school hype? Garrett Nelson will be a big part of that rotation, but will he provide the pass rush Nebraska needs? Payne has a full year of Big ten football under his belt now and knows what to expect, so I think him making a leap is expected more than a pipe dream. The other thing worth noting here is that the answer might be two of those guys if Nebraska sticks with what it did last year of playing two down linemen with an outside linebacker in place of the third. 

GS: Right now, I’d say Nelson starts and plays the most snaps opposite Domann. He’s a solid player who improved last season. Whoever steps for between Payne and Tannor would be the next man up. I’d lean towards Payne.  

What is your confidence level with BIG leadership and the current events of college athletics (expansion particularly) and making moves that will improve? (@jdub_wolf92) 

MB: Probably more confidence in B1G leadership than most. The problem is, the conference isn’t hooked into ESPN as tightly as the SEC (and ACC), and ESPN is a factor in expansion, playoffs and so forth, in some (maybe many) ways over-riding the NCAA. Show me the money. 

GS: It feels like I’m in the minority but I think Big Ten leadership is strong. Kevin Warren is the right leader for this conference right now. His communication can improve but there is a lot to like about how he handles business.  

What is best for the BIG 12 you think? Or will they implode completely? (@jdub_wolf92) 

MB: Not sure what the Big 12 can do to right the ship, especially if some remaining schools are looking into the Pac-12.  

DP: Tough question because what’s best for the Big 12 isn’t the same as what’s best for its members. Of course the conference will want to hang on rather than be picked apart; all those administrator types want to keep their jobs. But I think programs like Oklahoma State and Iowa State and TCU are best served looking elsewhere. The ACC will stay the more profitable league because of its ties to ESPN, but if, for example, the Cowboys and Cyclones joined the Pac-12, that league becomes the third-most attractive league. The ACC is buoyed by Clemson to an insane degree. I’d bet the Pac-12 with some of the Big 12’s parts could make up significant ground in the annual payout department. 

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