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Mailbag: The 500-Mile Radius, the 2021 Schedule, and Lots of Recruiting

April 15, 2020

The Hail Varsity staff is back for another week to answer another mailbag. There’s a good deal of ground covered this week, so let’s get to it.

What language or skills would you like to learn while in quarantine? (@Sal_Vasta3)  

Brandon Vogel: I’ve got a (personal) record Duolingo streak going on in German, which I’ve messed with off and on for about three years now, so I guess that answers that. New skills aren’t as high on my list, it’s more getting back to stuff I always intend to do anyway (with varying success)––read more books and carve out some time for home projects. 

Mike Babcock: I would like to pick up where I left off long ago with Spanish—or, I’m not making this up, pull out my Latin books and see how much I could remember. I’ll go back to reading; I’ve taken a hiatus. Instead, I’m watching movies—if not a sportswriter, I thought I’d be a film critic (long ago). I’m now keeping a list. Oh yes, sorting through newspaper archives for a story in the HV yearbook.  

Erin Sorensen: I actually took German for a number of years in school and became semi-fluent. I’ve lost a lot of that over the years, so I’d probably like a refresher. As for new skills, I haven’t spent a lot of time trying anything new but I have been adjusting to life with a Peloton. The bike is a lot harder than I thought it would be, so I suppose mastering it and proper form is probably a skill. 

Jacob Padilla: I gave up trying to learn another language a long time ago. I didn’t have any problem with written Spanish in school but I was never able to really understand it in spoken form. So I gave up once I got the credits I needed in college (after two years). I’d like to learn better time management skills during the shutdown, but it’s not going well so far. Maybe I’ll get around to it later. 

Does the attendance streak end in 2020? (@dmhusker1)  

ES: I don’t think so. If the college football season happens without fans, I’d be willing to bet Nebraska can get away by saying this season is sort of an asterisk to the overall streak because it was out of the administration’s control. If it can happen with fans but people aren’t comfortable coming and sitting with that many people, the tickets will still be purchased. Butts in seats doesn’t affect the overall streak, so as long as the tickets sell, you have the record. Regardless, I don’t see it necessarily ending right now. It will someday. I’m just not sure that time is now, pandemic or not. 

MB: Agree with Erin on this year. But it will most likely end as soon as the distancing rules fade, because of lingering concern and the cost of buying unused tickets.  

What are your answers to the following questions? Can be real or can be your wish, you pick. Favorite player to watch play (now or then)? Favorite piece of sports memorabilia? Favorite stadium? Favorite announcer to announce your choices. (@Corn_Huskers)  

BV: I’m assuming we’re talking favorite Husker to watch, and I’m going to make the basic pick––Suh––but I spent some time thinking about it and it really can’t be anyone else for me in that category. Favorite stadium is constantly shifting for me, but right now it’s probably Kidd-Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C. (home of Appalachian State). Announcer probably has to be Keith Jackson. As for memorabilia, it’s a Boston Red Sox branded baseball signed by Pedro Martinez. I lived in Boston for nearly a decade and it’s a place that means a lot to me in general. As for the ball, there’s no great story behind getting the signature. I had the opportunity to get it signed before a Red Sox game at Fenway thanks to a friend’s connection (he was with me at the game). That friend and I went to a lot of Red Sox games while I lived there. He’d come out from Nebraska to visit and we’d go. That friend passed away near the end of 2018, so that baseball means quite a bit to me. 

MB: Tough to pick one over 42 seasons. I’d say Mike Rozier. My favorite stadium is easy, not including bowl sites (I liked the old Orange Bowl): Oklahoma’s Owen Field (Memorial Stadium), which has a family sponsor now as well. I grew up with the Nebraska-Oklahoma series. I’d still get goosebumps going there, I’d guess. Plus, despite the competition between the schools, the Oklahoma folks were so kind to visiting sportswriters. Sports memorabilia? I have a lot of low-value-to-others stuff, a brick from Schulte Fieldhouse, a paperweight from the crossbar from a goal post at the 1959 Oklahoma game, a 40th (Nebraska) season football Brandon gave me, a football signed by players and coaches from the first season I covered the Huskers, the signatures now fading. 

JP: I’ll go with a non-Huskers answer and say Steve Nash. He’s the reason I fell in love with basketball, which started the dominoes falling that led to me becoming a sports writer. I don’t have a ton of interesting or unique memorabilia, but I do have a mini Packers helmet signed by Ahman Green that I (with help from my parents) won at my school festival’s silent auction when I was in middle school. I don’t really have a favorite stadium. If I had to choose a broadcaster to announce and break down my choices, I’d go with Nick Bahe. He’s a rising star in the industry and just a really good dude. 

ES: Like Brandon, I would say Suh. I was fortunate enough to watch him play through college so I may have some bias there because of that. As for sports memorabilia, it’s probably this hat I have from my grandpa that has been signed by a number of Nebraska quarterbacks over the years. That includes Scott Frost, Tommie Frazier, etc. I even had Zac Taylor sign it, but he didn’t believe he should have been included but he still did so with enough convincing. As for my favorite stadium, I think it’s probably Oregon’s but I’m still in complete awe of the open-air press box. That was such an awesome experience (even if I couldn’t think straight from crowd noise) so I’ll stick with that. 

Derek Peterson: Favorite athlete to watch play, non-Nebraska edition would have to be Russell Westbrook. There will be no Westbrook slander. I have the first sports story I ever put in print framed in my office, it’s not sports memorabilia to someone else but it is to me. My favorite stadium I’ve ever been in would probably be the Louisiana Superdome, that entire experience was special, but my answer will change if Nebraska allows me to attend a Rose Bowl.

Last chance to comment on the draft before it happens. Who’s being taken and in what round? Who will get picked up as a priority free agent? (@InDaWilderness)  

JP: I think Lamar Jackson is still probably the first Husker off the board, maybe in round four or five. I’ll take Khalil Davis next in round five or six. I’ll say seventh round or priority free agent for Darrion Daniels and I think Carlos Davis will end up as a free agent singing as well. I’d say Mohamed Barry will get a shot for a training camp invite at least, but who knows what training camps will even look like this year. 

So, we look likely to snag the top four recruits out of Nebraska, plus the top recruit from South Dakota, and some from Iowa, thus making up the core of the class with locals. What are the implications of being able to both dominate that coveted 500m radius, and have top level skill in it? (@InDaWilderness)   

Greg Smith: For the sake of the discussion let’s assume Nebraska lands Dickerson, Prochazka, Johnson and Rollins from Nebraska. Then gets Fidone, Lutovsky and Malcom plus Kpai from South Dakota. That’s eight players from the 500-mile radius and Jaylin Noel would make nine. The biggest implication is that in theory you don’t have to worry about those guys decommitting as much because they are close enough to visit campus frequently. Not having to go outside the region for all the team’s skill players is a huge bonus based on them being familiar with the program alone. Also having those guys be the base of your class allows you to then swarm out and concentrate on recruiting the South even harder. That’s especially true if all nine of those guys are on the commit list before the season starts.  

BV: If Nebraska does indeed “win” the 500-mile radius this cycle it would mean quite a bit because this is an extremely talented year for the area. But beyond that, and I think about this often, I think winning locally is an often-overlooked part of the great Husker teams. Big, national recruits obviously got attention in the 1990s, but when you go back and look at those teams I’m always struck by how well Nebraska did in “its neighborhood.” Trev Alberts was from Iowa. Grant Wistrom was from Missouri. Jay Foreman was from Minnesota. The Huskers knew they had an edge on in-state kids and the players they landed from California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, etc. all made a difference, too. But I think what may have set Nebraska apart was its ability to find, evaluate, and land some of the best players from states in the area. Do that this year and the Huskers are getting some good players while also getting back to something that worked in the past. 

What does a successful NU football season mean to you if: 1. NU (and everyone else) gets all its spring practices in before season starts. 2. NU gets no extra practices (just standard fall). 3. It's a condensed season (B1G only and starting in October) (@Sal_Vasta3)  

BV: My definition for success doesn’t really change for Nebraska or any team based on how many spring practices they get in. Would you rather have them than not? Sure. I just don’t think they matter that much. I think the changes to routine are the biggest challenge and that will be true even in a scenario where teams can get some practices in, say, in July. If we’re limited to just nine conference games—which I think would mean a delayed start to the season—I'd set the marker for success at having a winning record. Going 5-4 would be a success for me without many caveats right now, but the context is always changing once you get into it. 

MB: Winning record whatever the circumstance. That doesn’t change. So 7-5, though 6-6 would be OK. Or 5-4. Progress. 

JP: I agree with both Brandon and Mike. Losing spring practice would make it a bit tougher for Nebraska to make ground up on the programs ahead of them, but it’s not like Nebraska was getting something nobody else was with spring practice. Everybody is working on a level playing field in terms of practice time. It’s all about maximizing whatever time you do get. A winning season should be the goal. 

Everyone's talking about how hard this 2020 football schedule is, but have you seen 2021? (@Sal_Vasta3)  

ES: Nebraska’s 2021 schedule is a bit of a doozy, when you consider Oklahoma is a non-conference matchup on the road. But the Huskers also get most of their toughest opponents at home. Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin all travel to Lincoln. Even Northwestern—who Nebraska historically plays a close game with—comes to Memorial Stadium. If nothing else, Nebraska gets a little bit of a break in that regard. The challenge with 2020 (assuming it happens) is that Nebraska has to travel to Northwestern, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. Plus, the Ohio State week comes right after a long trip to Rutgers, and that’s a hefty back-to-back week with travel regardless of opponent. And then Iowa and Wisconsin are back-to-back on the road. There are just some tough stretches in 2020, while 2021 has a little more space to breathe. Plus, Ireland is in 2021. The 2020 season just has Black Friday with Minnesota. 

BV: The Ireland trip is a bit of a complicating factor. Is your team ready? How does it recover and respond from a unique trip? But assuming we’re not going to be sitting there in November 2021 saying, “Man, going to Ireland was a terrible idea, the team never recovered,” I’d take the 2021 schedule over 2020. As Erin mentioned, Nebraska has tough games both years, the difference is where the Huskers get to play them. 

MB: OK, so I’m not just trying to be a contrarian. At this point, the 2021 schedule doesn’t mean much of anything to me. It’s from a different time; the world has changed. My concern is what happens with the 2020 schedule. Could it be forced to next spring? If so, what does that mean for 2021, which isn’t that far off. Will there be a trip to Ireland? What are the residual effects of what’s happening? 

JP: I’ve always focused more on Nebraska than whatever its schedule looks like. If the Huskers are good, they should be able to compete and beat other good teams, whether there are two or five (or more) such teams on their schedule. Stacking wins against bad teams ultimately doesn’t mean all that much to me (although Nebraska hasn’t even been able to do that much recently). If Nebraska can’t compete against that schedule in 2021, then we’ve got bigger issues because that means the rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan. 

DP: I’ve sort of become a grump when it comes to schedule talk. I don’t think Nebraska has any grounds to complain about tough schedules or who it’s getting in crossover games or who is coming when. That was part of the territory in joining the Big Ten. The Big 12 has its cupcake games regularly, but those aren’t really anywhere to be found in this league. If you want to be taken seriously you have to bring it every single week. If Nebraska wants to schedule meaningful nonconference games—it does—then this is the price that comes along with that. Conference slates will be a bear because this conference is unyielding from the tippy top on down to Rutgers. (And hell, even they have something going for them right now.) Going to another country for a Week 0 conference game, then playing road games against Oklahoma and Michigan State in two of the next three games is rough, yes, but no one forced Nebraska to agree to an Ireland trip the same season it goes to play a CFP regular on the road. These are the decisions top programs make. The only reason it seems excessive right now is because it’s a struggle for this group to beat the Northwesterns and Purdues of the conference. When that changes, schedule talk should die down. 

If recruiting isn't able to be opened up much more (ie. traveling restrictions due to COVID-19) how much does that hurt NU's chance with its top guys? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: The answer depends on which top guys we are talking about. It could actually help with someone like Thomas Fidone who has visited Nebraska with his parents several times. I believe it would hurt with someone like inside linebacker Terrence Lewis who holds Nebraska in high regard but hasn’t been on campus to put things over the top yet.  

Have any of the summer events previously planned been postponed or cancelled? (@Cody_TipToes) 

GS: With the dead period extending to May 31 we haven’t hit any of the summer recruiting events yet but it’s mighty close. The first Friday Night Lights event is scheduled for June 5. There is an individual camp scheduled for June 6 plus a quarterback camp on June 6. June is a critical month for Husker camps so if the dead period is extended more it will have a big impact on them. 

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