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Mailbag: Nonconference Schedules, Spring Practices and Recruiting

May 27, 2020

Another week brings another mailbag. Let’s get to it.

If you had to bet your life savings on one of your coworkers at Hail Varsity in a bass fishing competition vs the current recruiting class, who would you bet on? (@HerbieHusker) 

Greg Smith: I would definitely go with the current recruiting class. One of the things I was talking with someone on Twitter yesterday about is that it’s crazy how not only are those guys avid fishers but they catch some serious fish. I don’t know if anyone on Hail Varsity’s staff is that good but watch someone surprise me. 

Mike Babcock: I’d probably bet on the recruiting class, although—and this is just a guess based on his western Nebraska roots—I'm thinking Brandon is probably decent at fishing and might give the selected one from the recruiting class a good go. 

Who is a true freshman or redshirt freshman from the following position groups that returning starters or two-deep players should be worried about: RB, OL, DL, LB, DB? (@Corn_Huskers) 

GS: Bryce Benhart. At this point it’s so widely assumed that he will step into the starting right tackle role that I sometimes forget that he is just a redshirt freshman. He still needs to go out and win the job but the sky is the limit for his potential. There will be some shifting on the line to accommodate his emergence.  

MB: Ordinarily, I’d skip this question because my answer is redundant—Benhart—but I think some emphasis is in order in his case. He’s clearly atop such a list. 

Brandon Vogel: I’ll expand to some other positions. At running back, mark me down for Marvin Scott III. Defensive back is going to be a tougher rotation to crack, but I’m still very anxious to see Myles Farmer. 

Jacob Padilla: At linebacker, I’ll take Nick Henrich. I think he’ll grow into that third inside linebacker position if he’s healthy and gets a chance to catch up. Ty Robinson is firmly in the top six that Tony Tuioti told us at the start of the spring so I’d expect to see him in the rotation on the defensive line. Benhart is the answer on the offensive line, Farmer is as good of a pick as anyone at defensive back and I’m split between Scott, Sevion Morrison and Rahmir Johnson at running back. Johnson should have a leg up on the other two, but with the abbreviated spring, how far ahead is he of the other two? Has he made enough strides to get on the field considering he couldn’t do so in 2019? 

Derek Peterson: Sevion Morrison, Bryce Benhart is about the only obvious answer so I’ll say Ethan Piper just to switch things up, Ty Robinson, Keyshawn Green, Myles Farmer. 

Who is going to be the most entertaining player to watch this year from both sides? Not necessarily the most impactful, but just purely enjoyable. (@InDaWilderness) 

Erin Sorensen: Garrett Nelson is always entertaining. I’d take him or JoJo Domann on defense for the pure entertainment aspect of their personalities. On offense, I’ll take Wan’Dale Robinson. He’ll be impactful, of course, but he’s just a lot of fun to watch in action too. 

GS: Wan’Dale Robinson is a great choice for offense. We already got a taste of it last year because there were so many times were it felt like he was so close to breaking one. He has the potential to be that type of play that you think can go the distance each time he touches the ball. On defense, give me Cam Taylor-Britt. He has a knack for making splash plays and he’s not afraid to mix it up. An ISO cam on just him would be a lot of fun. 

DP: A Cam cam, is that what you’re asking for, Greg? Because I’m down. I’d say the same for Dedrick Mills.  

Name a show, movie, and documentary that you would stake your reputation on you think everyone should watch? (@Corn_Huskers) 

ES: This is difficult because I watch a lot of TV that I know is bad and I don’t watch that many movies. With that said, I’d probably take either Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. I think both are fantastic and that most people would enjoy them both. 

GS: I’ll go with a movie here. If you haven’t watched Parasite which won Best Picture among many other awards during the last Oscar’s. It is just a great film that makes you think. The set design is worth watching for by itself but I’d give it my highest recommendation.  

MB: Pretty much any of Ken Burns’ documentaries—the one on the Civil War is especially good—and/or Husker Century. I especially enjoy players from the ‘41 Rose Bowl singing “Come a Runnin’ Boys.” 

BV: Breaking Bad is probably the pick for TV—so well-written and directed, no weak spots—but Erin already took it so I’ll recommend a show that people will either love or hate: The Leftovers. I really loved it. Could go a couple of different directions with the movie, but perhaps due to recency bias I’ll recommend Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood. I didn’t love it on the first viewing, but I really love it now and that seems to grow with each repeated viewing. As for documentary, The Thin Blue Line. Those picks may not be total crowd pleasers, but that’s sort of my aim. If everyone comes back after watching them saying, “I used to like that guy, but then he recommended some stuff I didn’t like and I’ve lost my trust in him,” that’s probably an accurate representation of what I think my reputation to me.  

DP: The Office.

On a scale of 1-10 how much concern we have with back-to-back years of no wideout production? (@sweetermanders) 

MB: Lower than 5 if I read this right. The past is past. There’s plenty of potential. And there have been bright spots the last two seasons.  

JP: A new wideout coach somewhat resets the scale for me. It was at least a 7 under Troy Walters (I’m assuming we’re referring to the supporting cast around the stars because Stanley Morgan Jr., JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson produced pretty darn well) and it’ll go right back there or higher if Omar Manning at the very least isn’t an instant difference-maker. 

DP: I think having any concern at this point would mean there’s hesitation about the group moving forward. In that respect, I’d put my level at a 3.

Have they determined yet if teams will get any of the lost spring practices back this summer? (@thawildbunch) 

ES: Not that I know of. The only thing that’s really been decided at this point is that voluntary workouts can begin June 1, so essentially summer conditioning can proceed. My best guess though? No one is getting those spring practices back. Time will likely not allow it, and it becomes messy to sort out. Yes, that sucks for some programs like Nebraska, but I’d be willing to bet it's a simple clean slate scenario. You start with summer conditioning on June 1 and move forward. There will be plenty more ahead that needs to be sorted out that it’s probably best to just part ways with whatever spring may or may not have been. 

DP: If they’re talking about four- and six-week models for fall camp, I don’t think there’s going to be any chance to make up lost spring practices. Maybe they work out later a deal for non-bowl-eligible teams to get practices after the year equal to what they lost in the spring, but that’s a topic of lower importance at this point in time.

We already have established that football is 99% likely. What would be the next step in order for football to start on time? Can you explain the difference between OTAs in the NFL and what that may look like in a college setting? (@Go_Big_Red) 

ES: Organized team activities in the NFL are essentially what summer conditioning is in college football. They obviously function differently like coaches being able to be present for OTAs, etc. (Here are the NFL’s rules for OTAs and the NCAA’s for student-athlete time expectations). If you read over both of those documents, you’ll see that while the NFL has a pretty structured approach to OTAs, the expectations are pretty similar. It’s all voluntary (aside from the one mandatory minicamp in the NFL). 

As for how college football starts on time, I actually looked into this in March. I was looking at it more in terms of spring practices at the time, but I broke out the timelines with it. The NCAA has pretty clear guidelines in its bylines about when fall camp can begin based on the start of summer conditioning. June 1-4 seemed to be the sweet spot to start the voluntary workouts if fall camp would later start on time as normal. I projected an Aug. 6(ish) start to fall camp based on that. At this point, I think the next step has been taken to get football started on time and that’s getting summer conditioning going. From there, we just have to wait and see. 

What's the likelihood of extra fall practices to regain the lost spring ones? What form would they come in if they do happen? I've been hearing they might be OTAs like the NFL has. (@InDaWilderness) 

ES: I said this above, but I think at some point we’re going to just have to forget about spring practices. I think the NCAA is going to just clean the slate and move forward. How do you tell one program you get this many practices while this program gets a different number? Sure, one got an extra practice or two in spring but at what point does that simply not matter anymore? I just don’t see spring practices being much of the conversation going forward, even if Nebraska would love those practices back. 

Outside of minicamp, OTAs are voluntary. Fall camp is not. I’m not sure how much they’d mirror fall camp after OTAs. That feels like more of a summer conditioning thing. However, maybe there would be some OTA-like activity in late July leading up to fall camp where coaches can be present, etc.? Could the NCAA make exceptions on student-athletes' time to allow for some extra workouts similar to OTAs? Maybe, but we’re only hearing rumblings of that right now. More will be decided as we go forward.

With all of that said, one thing I’d keep an eye on is whether or not they allow two-a-days to return. The Athletic had a story on this in April and it’s really interesting.  

How will this pandemic affect pre-game, post-game, and during game interactions with coaches and players of different teams, handshakes, and referee gatherings? Specifically, what could they do to accommodate these things by maintaining safety and sportsmanship rules? (@Go_Big_Red) 

ES: I don’t think you’ll see handshakes or congregation of players and staffs at all. Maybe you get an elbow bump or air-high five from Scott Frost to another coach, but I don’t think you can do much more than that. In the case of Nebraska, the locker rooms are very separate. You can enter and exit two teams easily enough without them needing to come into too much contact with each other. As for the referees, they do share a locker room entrance with the opposing team so that would have to be figured out. Maybe they just arrive directly to the field and leave after the game without going anywhere else in the stadium. This is all obviously very dependent on the stadium situation and Nebraska’s is set up OK to be able to move people around without much contact.  

The main contact issue would be the footballs. How do they limit the contact (is this even possible) of these footballs and what sanitation protocols can they implement? My guess is, everything starts with the ball person. (@Go_Big_Red) 

MB: You make a good point about those who handle the footballs. They can keep them sanitary. But everyone involved will have to be tested beforehand, right? So that’s a safety factor as well. 

JP: I’m certainly no expert on this topic, but I think the bigger issue is going to be all the physical contact between players during the actual game, particularly in the trenches and during tackles. There’s going to be a lot of heavy breathing during football. That’s why testing beforehand is so important – it’s impossible to social distance while you’re actually playing the game. 

If you were in charge of creating a non-conference football slate for Nebraska based on geographical location and proximity to Lincoln, what three teams would you schedule? (@Go_Big_Red) 

ES: Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri. Let’s have some ol’ Big 12 fun. (And if any of those are too far, I’d consider Iowa State as an alternative as well.) 

GS: I would go with Kansas State, Iowa State and Colorado. Why do we all miss the Big 12 so much?! 

MB: Practically speaking, Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State. 

BV: I like matchups that are a little rarer, so I’ll pick three that aren’t in the Big 12 but are still within 500 miles. One, Wyoming. I know the two have played recently, but I like Wyoming football. What can I say? Two, North Dakota State. There’s no upside for Nebraska in playing this game, which makes it exciting. And, if there’s already no upside, might as well play it at the Fargodome, too. Three, Arkansas. There’s only been one meeting between the Huskers and Razorbacks, the 1965 Cotton Bowl. Now there will be two. 

DP: Keep South Dakota State on the schedule, then add Kansas State and Missouri. If Bill Moos had his pick of the bunch, I’d expect that’s the route he’d go.

JD status? (@GBRCaddyshack) 

GS: Still gone and not expected to return by me. 

MB: Ditto. 

How much will the recent events impact player development and overall team success in the next few years? (@gus_kathol) 

MB: Admitting the obvious—nobody knows for sure—I'd guess programs located in recruiting hotbeds will have an even greater advantage as players stay closer to home. There might be less traveling to camps and such, although with a vaccine, things might be reversed markedly. 

JP: Development-wise, I think the impact will be more of a short-term thing, meaning it will impact this coming season and then Nebraska should have a chance to catch up unless they lose out on another spring. It’s not ideal, but I think they can make up for what they lost. Team success could be impacted more long-term if recruiting restrictions and travel worries continue like Mike said. 

If the Husker coaches were recruiting you for the team, what sort of badass activity would they do with you that would automatically get your commitment? (How they went hunting with Nash for example). (@InDaWilderness) 

ES: I’ve never gone skydiving but would like to. Make it happen and I’ll commit the second my feet hit the ground. 

GS: It’s not a “badass” activity but I would have a strong chance of committing to the coach that grills the best. Take me and the family over to your house, throw down on the grill and have a good overall time. The coolest thing I could think of was axe throwing though. That would be fun to do with some Husker coaches.  

JP: Basketball. Two-on-two: Scott Frost and Barrett Ruud against my brother and me. If they win, I’ll commit.  

DP: They’re doing things that mean a great deal to the individual kids. Mine, for that reason, wouldn’t be a badass activity. I’d want the coach to have dinner with my grandmother. That interaction, and how she felt about things afterward, would tell me everything I’d need to know.

Do you think there will be bowl games this season? All of them or just CFP? Further: if only CFP do you think all bowl eligible teams will get to hold extra football practices in the winter? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

BV: Purely a guess at this point, but I think the CFP bowls—the two hosting the playoff semifinals and the four others—might be as much as we get. It would be a little throwback-y to an earlier era and, while I am not a “there are too many bowls” guy, it would be kind of fun to just have six for a season. 

JP: Honestly, if he seasons goes off without a major hitch I wouldn’t be surprised if the people that run bowl games at least try to make as many of them happen as possible, likely with more regional tie-ins. There's a lot of money tied up in those games. As for winter practices, most universities are trying to get their students home before Thanksgiving anticipating another wave of COVID-19 hitting at the same time as flu season. I’m not sure anybody has a plan for what the winter/spring semester might look like just yet because we have to see whether or not the fall works out. 

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Tags: 2020, Mailbag