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Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Way-Too-Early Storylines for 2021, Most Important Husker Recruits, and More

January 06, 2021

It’s Wednesday. Let’s get to the mailbag.

What movie(s) would you like to see turned into an episodic series like they’ve done with Cobra Kai (Karate Kid)? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: I’m amazed at how good “Cobra Kai” is. It’s a simple idea, but they got the tone just right. It’s like Alabama-level execution and combining it with modern spread concepts (which we’ve also been watching for a few years). The formula here seems to be simple story, memorable characters you want to revisit and enough existing IP to make all the callbacks fun. I’m struggling to come up with a good option here. “The Wizard” could work? Most of the cast is around and presumably available, and you have a natural modern-day setting with e-sports. I would 100% return to the “Jaws” universe for 10 episodes at a time, though that’s a much darker series and is maybe too iconic to totally work. This is a tough question. 

Derek Peterson: OK, hear me out: Anchorman becomes an “Office” style series with a single-camera, cinéma vérité style look, talking-head interviews, deadpans to the camera, the whole nine yards. I know it’s not realistic because a lot of the main actors from the movie are big-time with time commitments elsewhere, but this could potentially be an incredible series.   

I’ve been binge-watching a lot of “reality TV game shows”; if you could compete on any game show what would it be? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Jacob Padilla: Definitely Wheel of Fortune. I’ve always been pretty good at it whenever I’ve watched the show over the years, and I’ve even taken part in something similar to it. While I was in middle school at Holy Ghost, I represented our school in the “Bible Bowl,” which was basically Wheel of Fortune minus the wheel and with biblical passages or figures as the answers. I recall doing very well that day. Bring it on, Sajak. 

Erin Sorensen: I would choose The Price is Right. I always dreamed of being on that show growing up. I feel I have a pretty good gauge on what things cost, and I’d like to put that to the true test. Maybe some day. 

Mike Babcock: Jeopardy, though without Alex it won’t be the same, or Who Wants to be a Millionaire? I remember getting the million-dollar question right when Regis Philbin was the host. How far from the sun is the earth? Captain Kangaroo, whom I watched as a youngster, had a song that included “93-million miles away,” and that was the answer. 

DP: My brother and I want to do a Blood vs. Water season of Survivor.  

Because of the pandemic, the athletic department and sports teams have had to change a lot of things that they normally would do. Is there anything they’ve found that is a better/easier way and might keep doing after COVID? (@danwitte) 

ES: I think the access to video is great. It can be a tough to balance so many different events happening at the same time. You can only be in one place at one time, so the access to video does open the door to share more than we normally might be able to (specifically when events cross over one another). I look forward to the day we can all be in person again for interviews, but I wouldn’t mind receiving video in the same way we are now. I think that’s something that has been handled really well. 

MB: My guess is, though it won’t happen, the coaches might like to continue interviews on Zoom because there are fewer of them and more control. When it’s person-to-person, a lot more student-athletes are regularly available. The same with football assistants, for example. 

Give us your way too early prediction for the biggest storyline of the 2021 football season for the Huskers. (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: It has to be the quarterback once again, right? If Frost sticks with Adrian Martinez and he makes enough of a leap to be the guy Frost thought he could be, that’s a massive story and could lead to a winning season. If he’s more of what we’ve seen, then we could either get another year of yo-yoing cubes or Martinez loses his job for good to one of the younger guys. No matter which one of the above 2021 brings us, it will be the biggest story surrounding the team.  

GS: Jacob mentioned a good one, though I don’t think if that one picks up until the season starts because Martinez will be the guy. One storyline that I think will continue picking up steam is how the defense is so much better than this offense to this point in Frost’s tenure. The defense has improved year to year. The offense has regressed year to year. Why that is and what needs to be done about it will be a big talking point. 

MB: Quarterback, which is at the heart of what Greg mentions regarding offensive regression. Until the quarterback situation is resolved, and play there is at a level of satisfaction, that will remain the hot topic. And, of course, that will be influenced by the offensive line, the development of wide receivers and the consistent play of a running back. 

DP: “Who is stretching the defense?” Is it coming from internal development? An external addition? Nebraska has three guys going into the new season—Thomas Fidone, Austin Allen, and Zavier Betts—I think could be truly excellent deep-ball threats. Nebraska’s offense struggled because it couldn’t push the ball downfield with any kind of consistency and that compressed everything. Eleven-play scoring drives are nice when you just methodically move down the field but these guys aren’t designed to be Army; you can’t live like that game in and game out. So, I agree the quarterback is going to be a huge talking point, but I think the more pressing question is how the quarterback and pass-catchers work together to fix what was probably the biggest issue with the offense in 2020. 

What current CFB team does NU offensively want to be like? Ohio State? Oklahoma? Alabama? Clemson? BYU? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

BV: I think (and have thought) Oklahoma is the closest comparison. The Sooners dropped a bit this year, but in the three previous seasons were a top-15 rushing team. That has to be a big part of Nebraska’s plan. That’s also why Ohio State is probably the next closest comparison. But when you factor in defense, I think that’s where Oklahoma becomes the pick (and may not excite a ton of Husker fans). The Sooners’ defense tends to be pretty reliant on havoc (takeaways, TFLs, etc.) and I think Nebraska is probably structured similarly. 

DP: I’d agree with everything Brandon wrote. 

Some say Julio Jones is the most Important recruit ever for Alabama. Who would you say is/was the most important recruit for Nebraska in the last four years? Or is that player currently being recruited? Who is the most important recruit the Huskers didn’t sign in last four years? (@Corn_Huskers) 

GS: I’ll go with Wan’Dale Robinson as the Huskers’ most important recruit of the last four years. Landing an offensive weapon like him early in the tenure and having him live up to everything could pay dividends for the Huskers down the line. It’s supposed to be an offensive program so Robinson gets a little extra weight for me there. For a guy they didn’t sign? How about 2020 outside linebacker Cody Simon? He took an official visit to Nebraska but ultimately signed with Ohio State. He appeared in six games this year for the Buckeyes but he was the type of big-time outside linebacker recruit the Huskers have needed to get the ball rolling at that position. 

BV: I might be fudging the years here a bit, but I don’t know that Nebraska has landed that player yet. Or, maybe he just hasn’t played yet. Robinson and Cam Taylor-Britt are probably the top options among guys that are already playing, but that the results haven’t followed hurts the argument for anyone, I think. I’m hesitant to do this, but for that reason I’ll go with Thomas Fidone. As 2020 highlighted, this offense really needs a top weapon in the passing game. Robinson’s close, but he’s been asked to do too much to this point and he’s not that classic, down-the-field matchup problem modern offenses need. Fidone has the potential to be a matchup problem no matter where he’s lined up. That’s probably putting too much on a high school project, but I think four years from now he could be the answer to this question. 

As for the what-might’ve-been cateogry, he was class of 2016 but my pick is Isaiah Simmons. If he would’ve been here when the new staff arrived, it could’ve changed the dynamic defensively.  

DP: Bryce Benhart and Turner Corcoran, which is kinda cheating, but I think it’s the “elite o-lineman prospect who could become an All-American” archetype. Because I agreed with Brandon on what the offense seems to be based off of, I’ve got to point out Oklahoma sustains offensive success because it’s an offensive line talent factory. If Nebraska turns Benhart and/or Corcoran into an All-American guy, that’ll help on the field and in recruiting. I think the o-line is where they need to bat the highest percentage.  

I love 2AM, but the last two years have given me a lot of doubts about his ability to be an even average quarterback in this league. What are the chances he is able to get above that hump in 2021, and if not do we have a quarterback on the roster who will be able to, even if 22/23? (@InDaWilderness)  

BV: I would consider him above average right now and I think the numbers pretty clearly back that up, but they’re hidden somewhat by the alarmingly high number of turnovers (and you certainly can’t ignore that). In fact, I think it’s the key to whole perception here. If he’s able to cut down the turnovers at any point, things would look pretty good. In the game that got him benched, Martinez had almost the exact same passing line—with a better rushing day—as Justin Fields would have against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game. Martinez completed 71% of his passes this season, easily the best at Nebraska in the Big Ten era. Now, that was with a very controlled and short passing game, but that could work too with a more consistent handoff run game and a few more playmakers at receiver. I’d be very interested in what this offense looks like if Nebraska had to rely on Martinez less in the run game. If fumbles are just a problem that can’t be solved, maybe the only way to limit them is to reduce Martinez’s exposure. And, if none of this comes to pass—a reduction in turnovers, improvements elsewhere—you’re probably looking at Logan Smothers, in my opinion, as the next best option right now. 

Four of the five o-line starters against Rutgers return next year. Who could you see taking Farniok’s place if he doesn’t come back? (@alex_olson21) 

JP: Trent Hixson is the most experienced returning guard other than Ethan Piper, so I’m guessing he’d get the first shot. Perhaps someone like Nouredin Nouili or Broc Bando could beat out Hixson in fall camp. 

DP: Jacob listed my three guys. I’d think all three would be pretty neck-and-neck going into spring ball and fall camp. 

If just one aspect (explosiveness, special teams, penalties, etc) of the football team could be fixed moving into 2021 and made even just slightly above average (say top 40ish). What would you want it to be? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: This might sound like a cop-out answer but it’s not. My pick is points per game. Nebraska was 101st in the 2020 season in points per game. The team scored 23.1 points per game. Ironically, Iowa was ranked 40th with 31.8 points per game. I want to see what can happen for Nebraska football if they can consistently put points on the board.   

BV: It’s explosiveness for me, which would very likely address the scoring issue as well. Nebraska was really efficient on offense this year, but dropped significantly in explosive plays. To be really good, you need both and the efficiency part of the equation has been the steadier of the two for Nebraska over the past three seasons. If the Huskers can simply maintain those levels, but add some big plays it would be gas on the fire in my opinion.  

Who’s the most likely football junior after the ‘21 season to possibly leave early for NFL? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: I’m a little confused by the question. Are you talking about current juniors who will still have eligibility remaining after they repeat their junior year in 2021, or are you talking about current sophomores that will be eligible to enter the draft after next season? I think Cam Taylor-Britt is definitely entering his name in the 2022 NFL Draft even though he’d have the option to return for one more year. As for the sophomore class, it has to be Wan’Dale Robinson, although I’m not quite certain how his skill set fits in at the next level at this point unless he takes a big step forward in his all-around development as a receiver. 

Are y’all hearing any buzz related to any players in the portal potentially being looked at or targeted by Nebraska? (@tschmidt723) 

GS: It’s been very quiet on that front. Not because Nebraska isn’t trying but it’s just hard to get information in advance on these situations. I know they are looking at running backs in case Dedrick Mills leaves. Same goes for safety pending the return of Marquel Dismuke and/or Deontai Williams. I do think they are interested in wide receiver help, too.   

Which NU team (other than Volleyball) will have the most success in the calendar year 2021? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

BV: My top three, in order, would be wrestling, baseball, football and, yes, that’s with me considering basketball even though that season wouldn’t be completed in 2021. 

MB: Wrestling, ranked No. 5 in the Jan. 4 poll—and with a highly-ranked recruiting class. 

How’s the NU baseball team looking? CWS bound? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

MB: Omaha? No. NCAA regional? Maybe, though the Huskers were 7-8 (against some good competition mixed in) when the 2020 season ended, so there’s work to be done and newcomers to factor in. Acker, Roskam and Hagge are coming back, and Logan Foster is eligible. Palensky is gone, a significant loss. But, no surprise, pitching will be the key.  

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