Mailbag: Nebrasketball Predictions and 2019 Expectations
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Mailbag: Nebrasketball Predictions and 2019 Expectations

November 07, 2018

The Hail Varsity staff is back to answer your Nebraska questions. Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson tackle topics ranging from Nebraska basketball season expectations, to football recruiting and trap games.

What's the highest you think Nebraska can go in the 2019 team recruiting rankings? (@between2worlds) 

GS: I’ll go with 16. There is room for them to move ahead of a handful of teams that sit above them right now if they can land some top targets like DE Ty Robinson, DB Noa Pola-Gates and can find a few gems down the stretch. The bigger question for me is when can they get to No. 3 in the Big Ten? It will be hard to do this season but eventually, that’s the next recruiting goal if they keep winning the recruiting race in the west.  

Two minutes on the clock, down four. What coaching staff in the Big Ten do you want calling those plays? (@tklim2430) 

DP: I would like to say Scott Frost but that feels homerish (even though it’s true) so I’ll add Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer to the mix. Brohm is an offensive genius and the Buckeyes are 20-3 in one-score games under Meyer. 

ES: If it’s not Frost, I would agree with Derek on Brohm and Meyer. 

BV: It’s not homerism if it’s true. Frost. 

Can you explain where the scholarship numbers are right now after all of the transfers? Does it look like they’re focusing more on JUCO guys or 2019 graduates? (@brooks_layne) 

GS: Right now, Nebraska has three JUCO commits and I still think they take two more and would actually like to take three more if the right guys say yes. So, five or six JUCO players in this cycle. I also expect them to take at least one transfer after the season. Defensive back and wide receiver are a couple of likely spots. There will be more attrition from the current roster after the season to support these numbers.  

JP: I counted 59 scholarship players that aren’t seniors this year, which doesn’t include the walk-ons who were placed on scholarship to start this season. As Greg said, we’ll likely see that number drop even further after the season. That’s the reason Greg has been talking about this recruiting class reaching as much as 30 on the high end and I think that’s also why we’ve seen them so involved on the JUCO scene.  

Did you guys already put out your predictions on the season? Win/loss, conference rank at the end of year, do they make the tourney and do they win a game? I’d love to see where the whole Hail Varsity staff has this team. Even Greg Smith, as I know he’s stubborn! (@Dustin_Huber) 

GS: I’ll answer this first to show I’m not stubborn… OK, I am. I say they win 18 games and miss the tournament. The lack of depth scares me but I still need to see a full season of quality in-game coaching and adjustments.  

DP: I’ve got 21 for the season and a fourth-place finish. I think that gets them into the tournament given a much stronger Big Ten conference. No idea how they’ll fare once they get there but I think they get there. I’m not as out on Tim Miles as Greg appears. I think the Huskers have plenty of talent and I like Thomas Allen and Nana Akenten as serious knockdown 3-point shooters outside of that core four. That’s enough for the Huskers to hit expectations. 

BV: If they can defend the 3 as well as they did last year, the Huskers have a great chance to improve upon last season. Give me 23 wins, third, tournament but the win eludes Nebraska again. 

JP: I'll give them 8-3 in the nonconference and 13-7 in an improved Big Ten. Someone asked me recently to set an over/under and I said 21 so I'll stick witht hat for this projection. I could see anywhere from 18 to 24 barring a significant injury to one of the core four, and where the Huskers fall on that scale depends largely on how James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. shoot from 3. I they're in the 21-24 range they make the tournament. I'm going to go conservative here and say they don't win a game in the Dance but I certainly believe the potential to do so is there.

Given the extreme success of Adrian Martinez as a freshman, should next season's expectations be set pretty high? Feels like we have to get the other pieces in place around him really quickly, and win/compete for the Big Ten and beyond before he's gone in 2-3 years… (@Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: They’re already high if you ask CBS Sports’ Danny Kanell. He tweeted over the weekend that “Nebraska is going to compete for Big Ten titles soon. Like next year.” That’s pretty confident. I think Nebraska’s expectations should absolutely be higher next season and if everyone stays healthy, the Huskers should be in position to compete for the Big Ten West. Having seen how much improvement this team has made just in this season alone, I feel like there’s a lot to like about next season for Nebraska. Plus, the schedule is kinder. 

DP: Here’s that aforementioned schedule: South Alabama, at Colorado, Northern Illinois, at Illinois, Ohio State, Northwestern, at Minnesota, Indiana, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Maryland, Iowa. Feels much better, doesn’t it? I’ll be curious to see what Northwestern looks like with a new quarterback, and Brohm’s future makes Purdue a wildcard, but that schedule alone sets up nicely for a team that should be making a pretty significant offensive jump.  

BV: I feel fine with Nebraska’s ability to replace two key playmakers from this team (Ozigbo, Morgan), but can they find or develop similar types on defense? That’s the question for me, and it’s important to winning at the very highest levels. That said, if it didn’t totally happen I still think the Huskers could play for a Big Ten title on the strength of the offense alone. I think they’ve got a great shot to have the sort of team you’d want to have around what looks like a once-in-a-decade quarterback. 

JP: Based on what I've seen this season, I'm guessing Frost will probably need one more season to get another recruiting class in and get those guys up to speed. As things stand, we're only seeing a few of the newcomers he brought in this season making a significant impact. Considering the amount of playmakers on both sides of the ball that they're going to be losing, I don't know if they're going to be able to add enough nw ones or develop them from the returning guys to make enough of a leap to go from finishing below-.500 to winning their division and contending for the conference title. However, with the core pieces they have in place and the way the team is trending, I do think they're going to be a tough out and will stay in the division race most of the season. Then in 2020 they make their move with Martinez as a junior, and I think that's just fine considering where the program was when they arrived.

Does this game have the classic elements of a traditional trap game even though the nameless, faceless opponent culture is in place? Talk this week has been winning last three and 10 next year. (@CoryHonold) 

JP: Nebraska has two wins right now. I don’t think they will or can take anyone lightly. If Nebraska loses this week, I think it will be because of the same kinds of mistakes that have cost them so much already this season, not because the Huskers were overlooking the Illini.  

DP: The optimism right now comes from the fact Nebraska’s offense has been one of college football’s best over the last month. I don’t think the hype machine is just churning out unrealistic expectations. I’m personally not ready to say 10 next season but Nebraska is a team that is playing well enough right now for me to entertain the idea. Any other team, sure, Illinois a week before a Michigan State-Iowa stretch would have the makings of a trap game, but I agree with Jacob. These guys don’t have the ability to be overlooking anyone and I don’t think they will. 

Is a Runza a sandwich or not? If you had a choice between Runza and Chipotle which would it be and why? (@btran0524) 

GS: No, it’s not a sandwich, it’s just a Runza. Give me Chipotle.  

JP: A Runza is actually a burrito with bread for the tortilla. So really, you’re getting the same thing no matter which one you choose.  

ES: Ha, I like Jacob’s answer. A Runza is a Hot Pocket, for what it’s worth. And I’m taking Chipotle. Anyone surprised? 

BV: A Runza isn’t a Hot Pocket. They were around as a foodstuff long before Hot Pockets existed. That’s offensive to Runzas. And I would choose Runza over Chipotle for two reasons: 1) I like it better, and 2) I celebrate our regional traditions and cuisine unlike the rest of y’all. 

JP: Well, I did just have Runza for dinner on Monday (I didn't order an actual Runza, but I did eat there).

Can we get a refresher on the new transfer rules and what coaches can and can't do now? Really, I want to know if a guy like Pooka Williams from Kansas (whose coach just got canned), who looks to be DAT 2.0, is able to contact Frost or if our players can contact him about any interest? 

DP: Nebraska can contact players in the national transfer database under these new rules. Conferences can still make dissenting rules but the new national rule is once a school puts a player name into the database, other programs can contact them. Ex-Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant is a good case study to watch in this. He's taken a visit to North Carolina, Missouri and Auburn and has another scheduled with Mississippi State; he's also been in contact with Miami. It's mostly a second dive into the recruiting circus, from my understanding.

Who do you think will have a breakout season next year on defense? Offense? Also, is it just me or is Lightbourn really that bad? I think next year Isaac Armstrong should get both punting and kick off or Alec Cromer.  (@_LilBigRed12_) 

ES: I’ll answer the second question. No, I don’t think Caleb Lightbourn is *that bad.* I think he’s currently in his head, and it’s affecting everything he does at this point. I’m not sure how you fix it either. I’m not suggesting he should be punting over Armstrong (who has been great for Nebraska since he took over), and his kickoff duties will likely be in jeopardy too if it can’t get it figured out. In hindsight, I think it may have been best if Lightbourn had focused on punting and not taken on the kickoff duties as well. His punting was getting better in 2017 (and was pretty reliable), and it feels like maybe his focus needed to stay there. I still think he’s got a hell of a leg, but it’s a matter of whether or not he can get out of his own head and his own way. 

DP: Since Erin took the second, I’ll answer the first. I like Brenden Jaimes establishing himself as one of the top tackles in the conference. He’s shown plenty of improvement over the course of this season and I’m trying to imagine what these guys are going to look after two offseasons with Zach Duval. As for the defense, Deontai Williams will have every opportunity. He's been tremendous in a limited role, so with a couple guys ahead of him graduating he's got a chance to make noise next season.

Did the Big Ten make a big mistake adding Rutgers and Maryland? (@IBeLionsBeats) 

BV: It was a money/exposure play and it delivered the money. Maybe the last big payout of this cable TV era. In that sense, it did exactly what they hoped it would. 

Can the Huskers win their final 3 games? What will it take to do so? If the Huskers win out and get to 5-7, how likely of a shot do they have at getting a bowl bid? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: Can they? Certainly. Michigan State isn’t what we thought it was coming into the season with all its injuries and Iowa has just lost two straight. It will take Nebraska continuing this upward trajectory it seems to be on at the moment and some great individual performances. As for their bowl chances, I wouldn’t even waste any time thinking about it for the moment. Maybe we can circle back if Nebraska takes care of business but the chances are not high.  

Where does the soccer coach stand in comparison to other coaches in women’s sports with his historical conference performances at Nebraska? (@CoryHonold) 

DP: John Walker is the only coach Nebraska soccer has had. He’s been around for 25 seasons. That in and of itself is a pretty significant accomplishment. When he started the program, Nebraska became the first Big Eight school to have a women’s soccer team. He’s got the 30th-best career winning percentage among active NCAA DI women’s soccer coaches at .664 (318-151-39) and he’s the only head coach to produce more than 100 wins in fewer than eight seasons. But he’s not even the longest tenured coach the Huskers have; women’s golf head coach Robin Krapfl has been coaching the golf team for 32 years. Answering the rest of that question would require quite a good deal of research. 

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