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Mailbag: Spielman and Transfers, Projections, Recruiting, and More

June 10, 2020

It’s Wednesday, and that means the Hail Varsity staff is back to answer your Husker questions.

Should every college athletic department in the country begin an investigation as to whether or not there’s systemic racism built into their athletic programs? (@jordyhansen) 

Derek Peterson: Yes. They should. And those investigations should be conducted by independent firms. I saw The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel wrote recently college football is experiencing something of a racial reckoning. I think the findings of those independent investigations would alarm people all over the country. At some point, players are going to realize they’re the ones with the power in this relationship. The prevailing notion is players are beholden to a coach because of their scholarship, but that dynamic can be so easily flipped on its head. Programs cycle through coaches like candy now—no buyout is too large if leadership wants to move on—and when players realize they have the actual power to, say, do what LSU’s team was threatening and they start wielding that power, that’s when we'll start seeing real change.  

Mike Babcock: Can’t say it any better than Derek. Needs to be done. 

Greg Smith: What Derek said. 

Seriously, what was up with JD? It just doesn't make sense to me that a guy who could break so many school records and maybe get drafted would walk (barring major family stuff)- unless there were personality differences w/ campus people/coaches. Why is no one just admitting this? (@JayUrban11) 
Biggest question has to be what happened between JD and the team? Great player no history just doesn’t walk from a team. (@MikeTyrrell4) 

Erin Sorensen: Without talking to JD, there’s no way to offer any information to any of the questions on his why. That varies for any athlete in a situation like this. It may not make sense to those on the outside looking in—and it may not even make sense to those on the inside looking out—but this is a decision that is very personal to the individual that made it. The reality in a situation like this is that JD does not owe us an explanation if he does not want to give one. That might not feel great if you’re someone who just wants to understand, but it’s really not about how we feel anyway. 

I wish JD the best in whatever is next for him. Maybe there will be a day where he is willing to talk about why he made the decision he did. Until then, I think we just have to be OK with not knowing and understanding. 

What statistical categories are you confident (hopeful) the Huskers will be able to have a ranking in the Top 25 at the end of the season? 

Brandon Vogel: Explosive plays is the one I feel most confident about. I calculate that as a percentage of total plays, and by that method Nebraska ranked 25th in 2018 and 33rd in 2019. Both of those offenses were still finding their footing in various ways, so for the Huskers to rank that highly despite that indicates to me that it’s probably a stable part of the repertoire here. Nebraska needs to be a top-25 rushing team, and that’s even more true now with the departure of Spielman, but it’s really the ultimate health check for how this offense is operating. With an experienced offensive line and the top two rushers returning, Dedrick Mills and Adrian Martinez, I think Nebraska has a shot for that type of ranking though my confidence level wavers from time to time. If there’s one category where I could “lock in” a top-25 ranking to ensure the most success for the team, rushing would be the one. Defense is more difficult given how much the Huskers must replace up front, but I’d go with havoc rate (TFLs plus forced fumbles plus passes defended, dividied by total plays). Nebraska ranked 33rd there in 2018 and 10th in 2019. Those negative plays are crucial for a defense that has yet to prove it can consistently hold up against Big Ten rushing attacks, and I think the Huskers have the back-seven talent to continue being disruptive. Rank in the top 25 in those three categories and it’s hard to see something less than a winning season unless Nebraska is just totally deficient in every other area or really unlucky. 

The number of transfers going in and out of the football and basketball programs keeps going at a crazy pace. Do you think we will see some stability or expect more of the same next year? (@dmhusker1)  

MB: Unless the rules evolve in some way, I’d expect more of the same. Once a student-athlete sees he or she has an option such as this and how others are doing it, rules changes are the only thing that’s likely to make a difference. No need for patience in this climate. 

Jacob Padilla: I think it depends on the results of the upcoming season. If the teams start winning and players start producing, I think you’ll start to see a bit more stability. At this point, the vast majority of the players in the programs have been recruited by their current coaches, so that excuse is out the door. If players start to have more success in Lincoln – and if the team success follows – they’ll be less likely to look elsewhere, and the coaches will be less likely to encourage them to do so. There will always be player movement – and it will likely increase as the rules continue to change – but if Nebraska’s starts to win, the roster turnover will probably be more manageable.  

Give me your best and worst-case for plausible win/loss records this year. What needs to happen for those cases to come true? (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: Best case 7-5. Worst-case 5-7. That’s hypothetical, based on a schedule as it’s set now, which is less likely than either of those predictions. Nebraska would be right at the tipping point, one way or the other. Strong play up-front offensively and a healthy, back-to-form Adrian Martinez would be key in 7-5. Also, a disruptive defense. If some new receivers don’t step up and the running game has to depend too much on Mills (and Robinson), the latter.  

GS: I’d say best case 9-3 and worst case 3-9. It’s much more likely that the Huskers go 3-9 than 9-3 though. To go 3-9, they’d have to not improve from where they’ve been and have a few bounces go the wrong way. That type of season would also represent a catastrophic failure by Scott Frost. In order to go 9-3 the team would have to start 7-0 then use that confidence and momentum to spring a couple upsets based on what we think about the teams on the backend of the schedule before the season. 

BV: Many of the early win projections for Nebraska are hovering around six. Based on past research into those win totals, two-thirds of teams are going to fall within 1.7 wins, plus or minus, of those totals, so I’m starting from a place of 8-4 and 4-8. Going 4-8 would involve losing what I consider the toss-up games (which has been the Huskers’ thing of late): Purdue, Cincinnati, Northwestern, maybe Iowa or Minnesota. Getting to 8-4 then requires winning the majority of those games and, to refer back to my top-25 answer from above, the Huskers do that with a strong run game that only increases the offense’s overall ability to hit for big plays combined with a splash-play defense. To go 8-4, Nebraska probably needs a point differential of about eight points. I expect the defense to give up about 30 points per game, so that means the offense needs to average 38. Get there and an 8-4 season is on the table. 

If Wan’Dale Robinson and Omar Manning are the likely top two rec/yds/td leaders; who is No. 3? I hope it's a TE… (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: I think a tight end taking that spot (and not by default) would be huge for Nebraska’s offense, whether that’s Jack Stoll or Travis Vokolek. Jordan Akins was UCF’s No. 3 option when the Knights scored nearly 50 points per game in 2017. I might have thrown out Alante Brown’s name had he gone through spring ball, but that picture is a bit murkier now. Any of Kade Warner, Jamie Nance, Demariyon Houston or the freshmen could emerge as that third wideout, but a tight end seems like the safest bet. It certainly wouldn’t hurt Nebraska’s recruiting efforts with Thomas Fidone.  

GS: A tight end does seem like the safest bet. My money would be on Travis Vokolek being the guy. It would be a good sign for the team and in theory makes the offense more dangerous if the tight end is a legit threat. It wouldn’t surprise me if a couple of the young wideouts made contributions though.  

Over/under 650 receiving yards and 7 TDs for Manning this year? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

MB: I’m on the under side, even though Manning has the ability to prove me wrong. 

GS: Based on what we’ve seen the last two years we are conditioned to pick the under. I’m going to go against that though and say over. I think Manning will be every bit as good as advertised.  

DP: Over on yardage, under on scores. 

With the NIL info from opendorse, do you know are those estimates of earning based solely on followers, or is it based on a combination of factors? Also, does media and fan base interaction factor into this? With a base as interactive as NU’s, I’d wonder if that would be a driving recruiting force versus a laissez-fairs as Michigan or Florida State (compared to NU). For instance, stating that with the NU base it will increase potential earnings versus a school that maybe ranked higher? (@3rdLargestCity) 

MB: Much is yet to be determined on how this is all going to work, and be monitored. 

ES: It’ll be a combination of factors. The information that’s circulating right now doesn’t give a full view in that it’s really only taking into account the number of followers on a platform per athlete and how often they’re sharing promoted content. That will help any athlete’s case in sponsorships, but engagement is key too. I won’t go too far into this here (because I really do need to just write a follow-up on this for our website) but you’re not too far off with what this could do for recruiting in any sport for Nebraska. Husker fans are very engaged, which will benefit any of these athletes. The question is how much does that move the needles with national brands (who will likely pay more) versus local (who will be more willing to work with smaller followings because they don’t have the same financial backing). It’s all very early in this, but it’ll be interesting to follow. Nebraska is definitely in a good spot on this front regardless. 

Looks like things are settling down for NU football (who’s in/out, players on campus, potential six-week ramp up schedule, etc). Do you feel like you now have a better sense of this football team and therefore what is possible for them to achieve this season? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

DP: I don’t, no.  

MB: Nor do I. 

JP: Not at all. 

GS: Not one bit. 

ES: Anyone—outside of coaches and players—who tells you they do is lying. 

Why bring in so many linebackers to what will be a small class? I didn't realize it was a position of such need. (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: Frost said from the beginning, I think, linebacker was a position of need. There are youngsters on the rise, but until there’s proven depth, I’d expect the emphasis.  

JP: Collin Miller and Will Honas are both seniors, so that will leave Nebraska with Nick Henrich, Eteva Mauga-Clements, Keyshawn Greene and Garrett Snodgrass plus walk-ons like Luke Reimer and Zach Schlager at inside linebacker after this coming season. Now you add Randolph Kpai, Chris Paul Jr. and Seth Malcom to that group and it puts Nebraska in a good spot moving forward with Mauga-Clements as the only upperclassman in the mix. 

GS: Linebacker is so critical to playing high-level defense. Especially in this conference with the styles of play you see from week to week. There have been too many times over the last two years where linebackers are being isolated by opposing coaches. That being said, I really like the mix of guys being added to the roster. Inside linebacker in particular should be a strength of the team very soon. 

Who would you send to B1G media days? Who will NU send? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

MB: Martinez, of course. Me? I’d send Wan’Dale, a good representative as well. Defensively, probably Stille and someone from the secondary, Taylor-Britt or Bootle. All of them would be good representatives. 

ES: I have a hard time seeing Big Ten Media Days happening in a way where travel is involved. For reference for anyone unfamiliar, it’s been essentially suspended with no new date but not yet canceled fully or in-person. I imagine it’ll move to all-online at some point soon. That means Nebraska would just need these players to show up for what’s likely a Zoom call. I’d guess Nebraska would look at Martinez, Bootle and another senior like Stille. I think if I were sending them, I’d look at Robinson and Taylor-Britt, but I question how many non-seniors they’d go with.  

If you could add two teams to the B1G who would you choose? (@HerbieHype) 

DP: Iowa State and Syracuse.  

MB: Notre Dame and Iowa State (and I’d drop Maryland and Rutgers). 

BV: Notre Dame has always been the Big Ten team that just refuses to join the Big Ten. That’s a program you immediately take, no matter the timing of logistics of it. Taking the Irish off the table, my strategic picks would be Virginia and Georgia Tech. I believe the Big Ten took a serious run at both schools during the 2014 expansion that brought aboard Rutgers and Maryland. Both are excellent fits for the conference and give the league a greater foothold in the south, which is where you want to be for football purposes. Selfishly, if we’re just shopping at the program store and everything is in stock, I’d take Oklahoma and Kansas. 

Do you anticipate any roster additions or new members to 2020 class? (@Cody_TipToes) 

GS: Yes. There can only be one addition from the 2020 class. It would surprise me if it wasn’t a wide receiver or a best-player-available-type like JUCO cornerback Nadab Joseph.   

Which commit in the 2021 class has you most excited thus far? (@christopherfort) 

JP: He’s not likely to be an early-impact player, but I’ll take Teddy Prochazka. Nebraska struck out on the other two top in-state targets, so that made landing Prochazka all the more important. He’s also a fun kid to be around, and kids with that size and that frame don’t come around very often. He’s a really good prospect and a great get for Nebraska. 

GS: Give me Shawn Hardy. He’s not as highly-rated as Zavier Betts in the class before him but reminds me quite a bit of Betts. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds he has a great size speed combination that could allow him to play early. I think his upside is pretty big. 

I'm guessing I'm not the only one loving the connection and creativity between the 2021 recruits with the fishing and now dunking. What dunk would you use if you were participating and (were able to dunk) in this competition? Callback to an NBA player or an original? (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: I'd just replicate Vince Carter’s entire 2000 dunk contest routine (minus the hand in the cookie jar dunk; that looked painful). 

What are the chances we can flip the CB committed Minnesota (Avante Dickerson) and ATH committed to Iowa (Keagan Johnson) if this pandemic subsides? (@JacobKrueger5) 

GS: Chances are low either way.  

Best sandwich from Whataburger? (@CodyNagel_) 

DP: A Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit at 12 a.m. is heaven. Yes, I’m in my 20s. (Burger would be the Monterey Melt, which Whataburger decided to remove from the menu, much to my dismay.) 

BV: Whataquestion. I am not Whataburger adjacent and have only dined there once. Got a burger. It was fine. I did not exclaim the restaurant’s name upon eating said burger. 

You have an opportunity to persuade me to listen to some new music. What is the one song you would have me listen to that would convince to give the singer/band/album a listen? (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: Have you heard of this song called “Photograph” by Nickelback? You should give it a listen. 

MB: Doubt anything an old guy like me enjoys would appeal. How about Jack Johnson “Wasting Time” from his album “On and On” for a try? Or, of course, the Grateful Dead, pretty much anything, but “Uncle John’s Band,” from “Workingman’s Dead.” 

ES: I want you to listen to Run The Jewels, and “Legend Has It” from Run The Jewels 3 is probably the easiest entry point. If you’re looking for a powerful song and are willing to spend some time with the lyrics, “walking in the snow” from their new album, RTJ4, is worth the listen. “Ju$t” from RT4 is also good. A recommendation though? Listen to Run The Jewels with headphones if you want to fully appreciate the production value. 

BV: Following the death of Florian Schneider in April, I’ve done a close reexamination of Kraftwerk, a band I was indifferent about for a long time but have really come to love over the past five or six years. In fact, I think I would argue that Kraftwerk is the most important band of the 20th century (yes, ahead of the Beatles). The support for such an argument is complex and too long for this space, but if the assertion alone is enough to make you say, “I should check out this band some crazy person says is more important than the Beatles,” I would recommend starting with “Computer Love” or “Radioactivity.” Those are on the palatable pop end of the Kraftwerk spectrum. It only gets wilder and more challenging (but also more rewarding) from there. 

If you could wager on a fight between The Rock and either Terry Crews or Arnold Schwarzenegger, where is your money going? (@Go_Big_Red) 

JP: Arnold Schwarzenegger is almost 73 years old, so take him out of the equation. Both Terry Crews and Dwayne Johnson were high-level football players at one point, but Johnson is a little bigger and a little younger than Crews, plus he has the wrestling background. Gimme the Rock. 

MB: Can you smell what the Rock is cookin’? 

GS: The Rock all day. 

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Tags: 2020, Mailbag