Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Top Wide Receivers Going Into Spring, Positives Instead of Negative and More

February 17, 2021

It’s Wednesday and you know what that means. It’s mailbag time. Let’s get to it.

Without knowing much, who are the top 5 wide receivers going into spring ball? Maybe blindly guess is a better term? (@Go_Big_Red) 

Jacob Padilla: In some order: Samari Toure, Zavier Betts, Alante Brown, Levi Falck and Oliver Martin. I’ll have to see it before I count Omar Manning in the mix, and after last year it’s hard to feel great about plugging a true freshman into that group. Will Nixon could be a wildcard here if he’s fully recovered considering his skill set and Wan’Dale Robinson’s departure. 

Mike Babcock: I would include Manning among the top five. If he’s not ready, close to full-speed, this season, with all the resources available at Nebraska, then there’s no hope. Or maybe his ranking coming in was undeserved. 

Greg Smith: In no particular order give me Betts, Toure, Martin, Manning and Brown. That might be the best case situation if Manning can be out there. Levi Falck and Will Nixon will have roles too. It can be a solid group if things break right for Nebraska.   

For football parity, why not limit each school’s yearly recruiting class (same as limiting scholarships to 85) to a max of one 5-star and 3-4 4-star players to also avoid the attraction for these players to be on “all star” teams. (@howard_parkert)  

JP: For one, that’s not at all fair to the players. For another, there’s no universal set of recruiting rankings so I’m not even sure how you’d do that. Schools shouldn’t be punished for being so much better at this than everyone else. The other programs just need to step up their games and prove to high-level prospects that they can offer as appealing a situation as the traditional powers that are dominating the sport right now. 

MB: The 85limit had something to do with Title IX, not parity. Beyond that, I agree with Jacob. Student-athletes can’t be penalized by being limited where they can, or can’t, go.  

GS: No and I’ve always thought parity is overrated anyway. We don’t do 30 for 30s on Kansas football’s few years rise but there will be one on Alabama’s dynasty. Like Jacob said other teams need to step up. 

There’s been a lot of negativity around the football and men’s basketball programs lately, give me a positive for each program. (@TwinTwisterDad)     

JP: I’ll focus on basketball here: they won a game! The Big Ten losing streak is over! Seriously though, I think the most encouraging thing is how hard this team has continued to play. Fred Hoiberg said from the start he thought his guys were going to compete this year, and that’s exactly what they’ve done, even after returning from the extended COVID-19 pause and facing this brutal schedule. We have seen some signs of them putting together longer and longer stretches of quality play recently as well. 

Erin Sorensen: Since Jacob took basketball, I’ll take football. Part of me nearly went down the path of something like the SP+ rankings, which is at its highest of the Scott Frost era. If you want more on that, I really recommend Brandon’s piece on it. You’ll need a subscription to read it, but my (biased) opinion is that it’s worth the subscription for the piece alone. Anyway, the positive I’ll give you is experience at a lot of positions. A number of seniors from 2020 are returning for another year, which should be a big positive for the team. You also have a lot of early enrollees who are clearly excited to be at Nebraska putting the work in, and that’s good whether they play right away or not. Competition and energy never hurt. I get it though. None of this matters until it starts to matter on game day, so I understand the criticism. Without blowing too much smoke this offseason, I think there’s reason to feel a little more optimistic in 2021. Don’t take that to mean a national championship season, though. I’m not going THAT positive. 

Brandon Vogel: I see some parallels between the two programs, each led by coaches with reputations for strong offense. Erin mentioned Nebraska’s climb in SP+ above, but part of the reason Nebraska has shown slow but steady progress in those rankings in particular is because they lean heavily on success rate. It’s probably the most predictive stat in football. Over the past three seasons combined, Nebraska has “won” 51.4% of its total plays (offensive success rate minus defensive success rate). That ranks 45th nationally (better than Minnesota and Indiana, just a shade behind Iowa), but the Huskers winning percentage ranks 102nd. It’s way out of whack. Only Texas Tech has a larger difference between plays won and games won, but really the Red Raiders’ differential is basically the same as Nebraska’s. With the rate of plays won, you would expect both to have won more games. That doesn’t erase the fact that they haven’t, but I look at that and think “this should eventually fall into a more typical distribution.” 

A similar thing might be happening on the basketball side. Nebraska, I think, is getting the shots it wants. Per ShotQuality, 76% of the Huskers’ attempts are at the rim or from 3, the type of shots almost every team wants in this era. Nebraska’s expected record, based solely on the quality of shots it is getting, is 8.3-9.7. Gotta make ‘em, of course, but sort of like with football, I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made that Nebraska is actually playing better than the results represent at this point. 

If this is Kate Cain’s last season, how will the Huskers replace her production and inside presence next season? (@dmhusker1)  

JP: Bella Cravens certainly isn’t the same kind of player as Kate Cain, but I think she’s shown enough defensively and on the glass this season to be excited about the possibility of a frontcourt with Cravens and Issie Bourne playing together. Amy Williams also signed a pair of talented 2021 posts in local product and Husker legacy Alexis Markowski (6-foot-3 with a strong frame and good post fundamentals) as well as Tatiana Popa, a 6-foot-5 big who offers more of a stretch option. 

If athletes are able to paid for their social media presence and likeness, and transfer freely, do you think this will lead to more or less cheating in recruiting? (@dmhusker1) 

JP: To be honest, I don’t think it will change much as far as the amount of cheating. Competitive people (with potentially questionable morals) will always look to exploit whatever loopholes they can find and push the boundaries as much as possible and in some cases, flat out cheat their butts off. This will simply change the way in which that cheating happens. 

MB: Rules will be in place to monitor the image-likeness stuff, which probably will change recruiting, though not necessarily through cheating. 

GS: No. Cheating is happening as long as the stakes in college football are so high. 

Who would be your choice on the Husker football roster that will make AllBig Ten at some point in their career? (@dmhusker1) 

MB: Cam Taylor-Britt or Cameron Jurgens would be at the top of my list. 

GS: Taylor-Britt is a good choice. To give a different answer, I’ll take JoJo Domann.  

How will the Polar Vortex affect the Huskers recruiting in Texas and Oklahoma? (@jbuescher88)  

ES: Do you mean because they’re experiencing colder and more winter-like conditions right now, they’ll consider colder states for college? Or, do you mean because Lincoln, Nebraska, was something like –40 with the windchill this week that they’ll want to go elsewhere? I’ve never been a big believer that weather is that much of a factor in a decision either way. I think players go where they want to go, weather be damned for the most part. 

MB: Nothing can affect Husker recruiting in Texas and Oklahoma to the degree moving from the Big 12 did. 

GS: It was cold this week everywhere except basically Miami so this week shouldn’t really mater. I think it matters overall though. Maybe it is proximity to top talent and not weather but the only school in the North that recruits at an elite level consistently is Ohio State. But not recruiting at a top-5 level doesn’t mean you can’t win a lot of games. Ask Wisconsin. 

Is there a numbers issue for scholarships with the basketball team next year and, if so, who do you think leaves in the off season? (@Cty2CtyLyle)  

JP: Nebraska over-signed by one, so they’re going to need at least one player to move on after the season to make room for the three newcomers. I’m not going to speculate too much about who might move on. You can probably start with the guys that aren’t playing too much and then go from there. I think it’s safe to say Trey McGowens will likely be back considering his brother Bryce is one of those 2021 signees. Eduardo Andre is showing some things and starting to play more and more recently. I think they like what Dalano Banton, Derrick Walker and Lat Mayen bring and the way they fit Fred Hoiberg’s system. Beyond that, we’ll have to see.  

MB: My nominee for moving on is Shamiel Stevenson. 

Where would a 2020/2021 #Nebrasketball second-round #March Madness run rank in all time awesomeness? No. 1 “awesomest” thing ever or “doesn’t, count, pandemic rules?” (@Simba_Simms)

MB: How about all-time shockingness? (Is there such a word?)  

What song or songs would you love to hear recorded by another singer/band/group? (@Corn_Huskers) 

ES: I would love Taylor Swift to either record a Kacey Musgraves song (‘Slow Burn’ has been a popular one for other artists to record, with both Andrew McMahon and Aly & AJ taking a stab at it) or Musgraves to record a Swift song. The two have had a bit of a prickly relationship from my understanding, but they’re both outstanding songwriters and it’d be fun to see the twist one would bring to the other. To pick specific songs (and I’m going with their most recent albums for this one), I’d take Musgraves tackling Swift’s ‘Cowboy Like Me’ and Swift tackling Musgraves’ Golden Hour.’

OK, one more while we’re on the topic of Swift. Jack Antonoff should record ‘Gold Rush’ simply because I’d love to hear Bleachers put their spin on the only song he wrote for evermore 

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