Another edition of the mailbag has arrived.
This week we take stabs at an over/under win total for the Husker football team, as well as tackle thoughts about which of the big three men’s teams at Nebraska will have the most success next year. That, and much more.
Are we overlooking so many new pieces to this year’s football team and assuming it’s just going to “pop” or remain where we left off last year? (Whipple, Joseph, Thompson, many other new pieces?) (@tchristensen43)
Mike Babcock: Going to be optimistic here and say the Huskers are going to take a step forward, which won’t take a lot, of course. Not that I think they’ll win the Big Ten West, necessarily, but 6-6, maybe 7-5 . . . OK, I don’t want to get carried away. This is a good question because it’s easy to be optimistic with so many new pieces. That optimism will make the trip to Ireland. But it needs to be on the flight home as well.
Drake Keeler: I’m a bit confused on the wording of the question, but I’ll say this — I’d describe my feelings as careful, extremely non-committal optimism. And my idea of optimism looks like six or seven wins. Nebraska, in my opinion, has pretty much nailed it this offseason, or at least more than you’d expect a 3-9 team to do. The new hires were impressive, specifically Mark Whipple and Mickey Joseph. Adding Casey Thompson, Ochaun Mathis and more transfers is great too. If I only knew the results of last season, the offseason changes and next year’s schedule, I’d be tempted to lock in a bowl appearance. But given everything we’ve seen in the Scott Frost era, it seems foolish to be so bold. Talent hasn’t really been the issue, so we’ll see if this iteration of talent can finally make sizable progress.
Steve Marik: I think there has been somewhat of an assumption that things will pop in the first year. Maybe that’s because of the confidence a veteran coach of 40-plus years like Whipple brings, or the positive offseason momentum generated from the transfer portal commitments. But this program hasn’t done well under Frost. It’s been a struggle for four years. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can bring in new coaches and new players for the fifth year, but until a difference is shown on the field, I’m inclined to believe it’s going to look more like last year.
Greg Smith: The closer we get to the season the more concerned I get that it’s not wise to just assume things are going to pop. I could argue that so much change and hunt for quick fixes going into a fifth year is a Hail Mary. Could it all come together? Sure. But that’s going to be more of an uphill battle than it’s being given credit for.
Which men’s team will have a more successful season next year? Football, basketball or baseball? (@Sal_Vasta3)
Mike: Baseball. I’m comparing this season to 2018, same sort of collapse. Then an NCAA regional team the next season. Not a great answer, but I’m sticking with it – although a football bowl game would be a successful season. I’m wavering . . .
Drake: This is really tough. Any of the three could do it. I’ll take out basketball since it probably has the lowest floor of the bunch in terms of win percentage. From there, I’ll agree with Mike and go baseball — that’s the safest bet in my mind.
Jacob Padilla: I’ll go with baseball as well. Will Bolt is loading up on JUCO transfers in his 2022 recruiting class to add the experience this year’s team is lacking, and the hope is the young players in key roles will learn from the ups and downs of this season and be ready to produce more consistently next year. Bolt’s also the only one of the three coaches to have any kind of real success at Nebraska to this point, so he seems like the safest bet.
Which drafted Husker (or UDFA?) ended up with the best landing spot? (@huskerfan4life9)
Drake: I’ll stick with drafted Huskers, and I think the easy pick is Cam Jurgens. Current Eagles center and four-time first-team All-Pro Jason Kelce called Jurgens his favorite player in the draft and seemed very excited to serve as a mentor to him. You can’t ask for a much better situation than that. That being said, I think Cam Taylor-Britt or Samori Touré ended up in pretty advantageous situations as well.
Jacob: I agree with Drake that Jurgens is the right answer, which I wrote about on Tuesday. I’ll have thoughts on the other two drafted Huskers later this week.
Erin Sorensen: I like Touré’s spot in Green Bay. He’ll have to position himself as a strong contributor on special teams, but I think he’ll be up to the challenge and more.
Greg: I think Jurgens ends up as the best pro of the bunch but I am most intrigued by Touré’s situation. He’s got a real shot to make that team and stick around.
Seven-yard-and-deeper passing concepts seem to land squarely with Whipple’s passing game responsibilities, but how do you see Frost’s inside zone concepts meshing with Whipple’s screen and slant short-game routes? (@writetojoncook)
Steve: I think there’s going to be a transition period with this offense that wants to marry the best parts of Whipple’s passing game and Frost’s rushing game. I know Nebraska had its way with Northwestern last season, but in a perfect world I wouldn’t want to open this make-or-break season with the Wildcats in a weird setting like Ireland. That just spells trouble to me. If the marrying of the two offenses goes well early, and the Huskers start the season 4-0 heading into the bye week, that likely means the offensive line is at least doing better in pass protection on the edges with whoever starts at tackle, whether that’s a mix of Bryce Benhart/Turner Corcoran on the right and Teddy Prochazka on the left. If the offense actually resembles what the coaches and players have said this offseason, I assume that means the new blocking technique on concepts like inside zone are going well. If Trent Hixson does wind up starting at center, a north-south attack in the run game would fit him well. Glad you brought up Whipple’s screen game—it’s fun to watch, especially with the tight ends.
What’s one thing you like and don’t like about this new era of college football we find ourselves in?
Mike: Don’t like the confusion created by the transfer portal and unchecked NIL, though overall I’m in favor of things that benefit student-athletes. Just wish more thought had gone into both before they were instituted. I also like the focus on player safety, though it leads to some confusion as well.
Brandon Vogel: The sheer number of games available to watch now is staggering, and I do love the feeling of waking up on a Saturday knowing there’s just a mountain of college football ahead. The big clashes are great, and were the sort of games that were regularly televised, but now you can drop in and check out just about any game. I like that while feeling guilty about liking it. Tuesday night MACtion is great if you don’t think about it too hard. But when you realize that schools like that have (willingly) decided a home game on an inconvenient day, one that fans are less likely to attend, is better than a traditional Saturday, it’s hard to think of them as something grander than just “programming.” So, I also don’t like the hold television has on the sport. It’s the best, worst thing, I guess.
Over or under 7.5 wins for the Nebraska football team this season?
Mike: Need to think about this . . . not really. Under.
Jacob: We’ve officially reached the point where I have to see it happen before I’m going to expect a significant step forward for this program. I’ll take the under on 7.5.
Brandon: If you could guarantee me a win to open the season, that might be enough for me to take the over. As that isn’t guaranteed, under.
Steve: Under. At some point, you need to start seeing improvement before believing it’s going to happen.