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Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Weak Links, Banton’s Pro Potential, Most Improved, Most Likely to Win, and More

June 03, 2021

It’s time for another mailbag. Let’s dive in.

What Husker men’s or women’s team do you expect to be most improved next year? (@dmhusker1) 

Derek Peterson: Football and women’s basketball. With Amy Williams’ group, they weren’t that far off last season, and it was a campaign with injury roadblocks every few games. If they can get through the year with the top of their rotation healthy, Nebraska has a good shot of being in the top five or so teams on the league table going into the conference tourney. Williams has put together a really nice team that should be even deeper with the addition of this freshman class. Kendall Coley should benefit greatly from the experience she got last season as an early-enrollee (she looked much better at the end of the year). And, y’know, Sam Haiby and Issie Bourne. As for football, I think the defense will be really good and the offense has potential. To go from four straight sub-.500 seasons to 7-5 will be viewed as a massive accomplishment.  

Mike Babcock: Men’s basketball: 7-20, including 3-16 in the B1G last season, after 7-25 and 2-18. Where is there to go but up? 

Greg Smith: I’ll go with men’s basketball too. After a pair of bad seasons under Fred Hoiberg I think the arrow is still pointed up for the program. I think they can be a bubble team this season. 

Jaco Padilla: I don’t know much about the rosters for the Olympic sports and volleyball has established such a high standard that it’s hard to improve enough from one year to the next enough to take this title, so I’ll go with women’s basketball as well for all the reasons Derek laid out. As for the men, I’ll go with basketball as well. I think Fred Hoiberg took a big step towards being able to successfully play the way he wants to play when you combine the returning core with the highest-rated recruiting class in program history.  

Why not put a cap of one 5-star per class per FB team for parity? Simply look at the playoff team’s 4 and 5-star haul per class compared to those not in the playoffs to see the advantage & tell me it has nothing to do with stars and them wanting to cruise to the NFL in the spotlight, etc. (@howard_parkert) 

Erin Sorensen: Seems like a potential punishment to the players, no? If Alabama is allowed only one 5-star player, then what happens to the other 5-stars that sincerely want to go to Alabama but can’t because someone already committed. They have to now select another school based only on their ranking. It would feel a bit unfair to those ranked high enough. I think the parity discussion is a worthwhile one, but capping it won’t accomplish the goal in the way that it’s needed. 

DP: This is interesting in concept but pretty problematic in execution. More like a Band-Aid to the problem than an actual solution, because all it would end up looking like is a restriction on where a player can and can’t go, which the NCAA has no business mandating.   

MB: Adding no insight to what’s already here, not going to happen, nor should it. Unenforceable. Restricting the rights of the student-athlete. And penalizing success. The transfer portal might influence this area to some degree, if highly ranked players decide they’re not getting enough time. But the NCAA can’t say where a student-athlete can or can’t go. If anything needs restructuring, it’s the NCAA. 

GS: Echoing what has been said this would be pretty unfair to the players. It would also never happen because you’d probably need the buy-in from the sport’s biggest coaches. Except they benefit most from the current structure.  

What position would you say is the “weakest link” overall, including starters and depth? (@lredeugene) 

DP: Gotta be running back. I don’t think you can classify any group on the defense as the “weakest link,” and we know who the starters will be at wideout, quarterback, and on the line, so running back is sort of the by-default answer considering there’s just so much we don’t know about how the room will look in the fall. I like the depth, but of the groups, it’s probably the only one you can say you’re concerned about.  

MB: Inside linebacker with the potential loss of Honas for the season, or much of it. Proven depth is lacking. Were there proven depth, I’d take this off the table because I like the potential. As Derek says, running back might be the “weakest link” because of  uncertainty and the need for one or two of the young players to step up in fall camp. The quarterback can’t be responsible for more than half the rushing yardage. 

GS: I’ll give a specific one within the defense. Cornerback. We know Cam Taylor-Britt will be good. But what happens opposite of him is still up in the air. There is a lot to like about Quinton Newsome, Braxton Clark and Nadab Joseph but those guys are all unproven. Running back is a good call too. 

JP: I think the depth at inside linebacker and corner is more proven than the depth at running back, plus the No. 1 guys at those positions are also much more proven.  I think the answer has to be running back. I like the pieces in that room, but I liked the pieces last year and that didn’t exactly pan out since Nebraska’s No. 2 back was a wide receiver.  

Do you think Banton has a realistic shot of getting drafted to an NBA team, and what team would he fit the best? (@Starkastic8) 

JP: I believe Banton was on the NBA Draft radar early in the season because of his unique blend of skills and height, but he was a shell of himself after he returned from the program’s month-long shutdown and his weaknesses outweighed his strengths over the second half of the season. I don’t believe Banton has a shot at getting drafted this season, but I also don’t think he’ll exhaust his college eligibility because he’ll be a fourth-year sophomore this coming season and will be able to play professionally at some level whenever he decides it’s time. I’m guessing this decision to declare is more Banton wanting the feedback and to get his name on the radar so scouts will follow him this season than it is him expecting to get drafted this year. A strong 2021-22 performance could put him right back in the mix to get drafted or at least earn a two-way contact in the 2022 draft cycle.  

If you had to put the 2021 Nebraska football games into three categories (most likely win, toss up, most likely lose) based on just gut instinct, how would you sort the schedule? (@JEREIH) 

MB: Most likely to win: Illinois, Fordham, Buffalo. Toss up: Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue. Most likely to lose: Oklahoma, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa. 

ES: I had the same most likely to win list as Mike. I put Oklahoma and Ohio State high on the most likely to lose list and everyone else as a toss-up. Nebraska has the talent and the leadership on this roster to win. The Huskers certainly could beat Iowa, finally, especially when at home. It remains a toss-up for me though. Could they win? Sure. Will they? Who knows? 

DP: Most likely to win (from most most likely to least most likely): Fordham, Illinois, Buffalo, Michigan State. Toss-up (from more likely to less likely): Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa. Most likely to lose (from “maybe, if things break right” to “ehhh”): Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma. 

Brandon Vogel: Using the SP+ preseason ratings to calculate a point spread based on team rating, and then converting those spreads to win probabilities (in parentheses), here’s how that ranking system would classify them. WIN: Fordham (.999), Buffalo (.962), Northwestern (.937) and Illinois (.891). TOSS-UP: Purdue (.730), Michigan State (.703), Michigan (.512), Minnesota (.466) and Iowa (.426). LOSS: Ohio State (.254), Wisconsin (.201) and Oklahoma (.110). I’d be a little less confident with some of those and a little more with others, but reverse-engineering SP+, that’s a rough estimate: four wins, three losses and then five games that probably decide a lot about the years ahead. 

How has the development of the current Huskers gone, from recruit to now? (@lredeugene) 

DP: Really well on defense. Lamar Jackson was starting for the Jets. Khalil Davis played for a Super Bowl winner. Cam Taylor-Britt is ascending in the league after being something of an enigma on the recruiting trail (read the Yearbook for more on that). Casey Rogers has gotten better every year. Luke Reimer has gotten better. Damion Daniels has gotten better. Offense is more scattered. Lots of misses at wideout. But Bryce Benhart and Turner Corcoran are going to be Big Ten starters early in their career, that’s a plus. Matt Sichterman has made a jump, it seems; another plus. Cam Jurgens—I know, I know, “bUt HiS sNaPpInG”—is an exceptional blocker and has shown improvement in the mental aspects of playing the position. Greg Austin has done well. Austin Allen is also the biggest plus of the bunch. 

What war daddy DL are we recruiting in the South? (@lredeugene) 

GS: Nico Davillier is from Arkansas. He’s taking an official visit to Nebraska this weekend. You can read about him and the other visitors here. 

When will we catch a break in conference? (@Skrz_jk) 

DP: Nebraska will “catch a break” when it stops asking for one. That’s not meant as snark toward you for the question, it’s something on everyone’s mind, but Nebraska’s perceived role in the conference right now is the complainer and that needs to change. 

MB: Nebraska’s complaints in some cases have been justified, though the Huskers’ perception of where they fit in the B1G and where they fit according to the B1G seem extremely different. Part of the reason (or much of it), probably, has to do with the fact the Huskers haven’t done much. Baseball should’ve earned some respect this season, the reason it seemed odd when it was sent to the Fayetteville Regional. The B1G influenced that by not standing behind baseball, or softball, not just Nebraska—no nonconference games, no tournament. Nebraska’s teams need success. I will never consider the move to the B1G good for Husker athletics, big money or not. Nothing good about the conference, as far as I’m concerned. 

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