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Mailbag: What Does a Successful Season Look Like in 2020?

August 19, 2020

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for another Mailbag. Let’s get to it.

All we seem to be talking about is Corona these days. What are the most under the radar news stories that we are missing because of it? (@InDaWilderness) 

Erin Sorensen: COVID-19 is a big story, which is why it is (and will continue to be) at the forefront of most news for the foreseeable future. With that said, it has overshadowed some stories that probably would have received more attention if the situation was different. First, Nebraska baseball signed four players in its latest recruiting class. That includes Max Anderson of Millard West, who was the 2019-20 Gatorade Player of the Year for Nebraska. There was a little buzz when he committed to the Huskers, but not as much as I would have expected. Another story worth some time is that 36 Huskers were named Big Ten Distinguished Scholars. Of those, 10 posted perfect 4.0 GPAs during the 2019-20 academic year. Those are just two stories after a quick scroll over the last two months, which means there’s plenty out there. I’m sure I’m forgetting about plenty of others worth sharing too.

Suppose the 2020 season gets delayed/canceled, does that jeopardize the Oklahoma game in ‘21? Also, which state has better corn? Iowa or Nebraska? (@TrevorRogers_1)

Brandon Vogel: I don’t think the Oklahoma game would be in any danger, but the season-opening trip to Ireland might be a different story. That’s a long time away and we’ll see where we’re at then, but that’s a game that is truly outside the norm and as programs deal with the lingering impacts of whatever this 2021 season looks like, a trip abroad seems like it would be the easiest change to make. Illinois gave up a home game to play in Dublin, but the Illini have already announced limited capacity of 20% at home games this season. That’s a big chunk of lost revenue and all programs will look for ways to make that up when things return to “normal.” Does whatever guarantee Illinois was getting outweigh the potential home-game revenue from a Big Ten Saturday? I’ll be interested in the answer. As for your second question, I think we have to say Nebraska, right?

Mike Babcock: I agree with Brandon on the uncertainty of the Ireland game. I’ve thought that was in jeopardy early on, when there was talk about playing in front of empty stadiums, and the uncertainty has grown from there. Assuming this pandemic is resolved in some way by then—I take nothing for granted at this point—the Oklahoma game should be fine, as well as any other home games. Geez, based on the fact Nebraska is my state, officially the Cornhusker State since 1945, and friends still own farm land on which I think corn is grown . . .

With non-conference games canceled, does this mean a 5-4 season is successful under Frost? (@MatthewGaylor) 

ES: It first depends on what the season looks like. Does the Big Ten add another game to everyone’s schedule to make it a 10-game season? We know Bill Moos and Nebraska want 12, but I’m not quite as convinced it’ll get there. If it’s 10, I think 6-4 or better is a wild success, while 5-5 is probably just fine considering the circumstances. An all-Big Ten schedule is a little concerning though, because it could lend itself to a less than ideal record. I guess I’d be curious what fans would think of 4-6 (or, dare I say, 3-7) in an all-Big Ten schedule.

BV: Against the Big Ten schedule Nebraska currently has, I’d consider 5-4 a step forward for the program. Back in the before times, when we could just look at football in a vacuum, everyone was already cringing at the last five games on the schedule (Husker fan or not). It’s just a tough stretch based on what we think those teams could be. Assuming they’re close to that level, Nebraska might be favored against Minnesota at home in the regular season finale and underdogs in the other four. Now, the chaotic offseason could mean that things are chaotic on the field, too, but I still look at those five games and think the oddsmakers right now would project 1-4 for Nebraska over that stretch. With only those nine games to go on, ESPN’s Football Power Index projects 3.5 wins total for Nebraska—not saying that’s gospel, of course, but that’s what one model says—so five wins would look pretty good to me.

MB: Since I don’t think Nebraska would win five in the current nine-game, Big Ten schedule, yes, 5-4 would definitely be a success.

What do you guys make of the outside linebacker battle? Seems to me it’s about the most up for grabs race as far as positions go. That or WR? (@thawildbunch)  

Greg Smith: Outside linebacker is kind of weird. You are right that there is a battle but we know that JoJo Domann, Caleb Tannor and Garrett Nelson will all get snaps. The most intriguing part of outside linebacker to me is that fourth guy. One of Niko Cooper, Jamin Graham, Blaise Gunnerson or Jimari Butler needs to give the Huskers something this year. I would vote for left guard as the most up for grabs position battle though between Boe Wilson, Ethan Piper and Trent Hixson.

Jacob Padilla: I think we can lock JoJo Domann in for significant snaps on one side, but I’d say the other starting spot is as up for grabs as left guard or the third wide receiver spot. Caleb Tannor has the most playing experience at Nebraska, but he hasn’t shown much the last two years and this seems like a now or never situation for him. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Nelson ends up playing more snaps than Tannor this year. If Domann is going to play as the nickel/hybrid linebacker, Nelson is closer to what Alex Davis was in terms of having the size to set the edge in the run game.

If Nebraska is only allowed to have 50% (or less) capacity at football and volleyball games this coming year, do we know if that will affect the sellout streaks or will they still be okay if they meet that max capacity? (@JEREIH) 

ES: From everything Moos has said to date, if capacity is 10,000 people and 10,000 people are in the stadium or arena, it’s a sellout. If it’s 10 people and 10 people are in the stadium or arena, same deal. As far as I know, the sellout streak will not end in 2020 (but it’ll likely carry an asterisk next to it).

BV: Having fewer tickets to sell should only make maintaining those streaks easier since we know that the demand is already greater than 50% of capacity. In perfect conditions at least. Who knows how willing people will be to sit in crowds this fall? We know Nebraska fans loyalty and passion for showing up, home or road, is second-to-none, but these are unique times.

MB: As Erin says, referring to Moos. Plus, 10,000 or 20,000 don’t even have to show up. The tickets just have to be sold, right? Nebraska has had many games for which all the tickets have been sold but not used. Sellout is different than capacity. Early on in the streak, check out the 1967 Oklahoma game, official attendance 59,792, 5,000-plus under capacity—with decent weather that day. So 5,000 tickets were sold but not used? I’ve had a hard time figuring that out, except that students must’ve gone home for Thanksgiving break.

Moos says he wants to add three games to the 2020 schedule. Don’t you think one would be a crossover team and what team do you think that would be? Who do you think the other teams would be? (@CarnesRegg) 

BV: I’d like 12 games, too, but I don’t see any way that happens for a number of reasons. One, it offers virtually no flexibility in scheduling. Teams would all have one bye week, but there’s little ability to move games up or back based on local health trends. Two, if you play any division teams twice you’d have to designate one of those games a nonconference matchup for standings purposes. That seems messier than it needs to be, so the three additions would have to be crossover games meaning every team would play six from their division and six from the other. That may not be ideal because, three, Scott Frost said he thought Big Ten coaches would have no interest in a 10-game, conference-only schedule due to wear and tear. If there’s truth to that, 12 conference games seems like it would be off the table. I know Moos said he wants it, but this doesn’t seem remotely possible. That said, in some alternate realm where this happens, Nebraska should probably add Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State.

MB: Nine games are sufficient, given all the pandemic considerations. Even a nine-game schedule might be unrealistic; eight, four home, four away, makes more sense.

The videos of guys weightlifting make them look huge. Hype or do you see real gains being made? (@thawildbunch) 

ES: I think we’re seeing real gains, at least in the strength and conditioning department. The question I have is whether that translates on the field. It’s technically all hype until we see it in action, right?

GS: They are certainly making real gains in the weight room. They are starting to look more like a Big Ten football team. That being said, the ultimate question is if they will be competitive on the field and we won’t know that until games are played.

MB: Agree with Erin and Greg. Back in the day, Boyd Epley regularly released the top guys in each strength and conditioning area. Often those weren’t always starters. The gains have to translate onto the field. Plus, there’s no way to post video of everyone, so we’re seeing the extreme examples I’d guess. I think Duval is doing a great job, based on what Scott wants. That’s how we tend to see things, though. I recall every new strength and conditioning coach drawing media praise but then is questioned when the next one arrives. It’s the nature of things. Pretty much always been that way.

Sipple said he thinks Ferentz will be let go. What say you all? (@thawildbunch) 

BV: I’d be surprised if it happens this year. Athletic departments are already navigating choppy waters just to determine if there will be a season. If there’s a season, I’d be surprised if any coaches are removed. It’s more likely that Ferentz sticks around to lead the program as they all try to piece together a 2020 season and then there’s a chance for a deeper evaluation of the program as a whole and who should lead it going forward.

JP: I agree with Brandon. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ferentz coach out the season and then maybe step away after that depending on just how much dirt the investigation turns up. But I’m not sure we’ve seen anything yet that would force Iowa’s hand in terms of removing Ferentz immediately, especially considering how challenging this season is going to be.

I’m shocked to see how many NE girls are represented in the recent 2021 top 100 ranked VB recruits. What is the school of thought (if any) as to why there is such disparity between high end VB recruits from NE versus other local NE sports/athletes? (@3rdLargestCity) 

MB: High school volleyball has a rich tradition in Nebraska, going way, way back—in the western part of the state. That has been enhanced by the consistent success of Husker volleyball, under Terry Pettit and now John Cook.

JP: Like Mike said, the trickle-down effect of the success of Nebraska (and now Creighton, too) is very real, and Cook’s interest in growing the game has certainly played a part in that. Heck, even though Nebraska’s own camps have been canceled, Cook’s assistant coaches have been out working at camps for club programs. I’d say Nebraska benefits from having some pretty good coaching in high school and youth volleyball. The volleyball talent base also seems to be much stronger in the Midwest than other sports like men’s basketball and football where the south or the coasts are hot spots.

Why are masks not as important to Gov. Ricketts as Nebraska Football? He wants people to wear masks so football can be played this fall (pushed it this spring) but doesn’t like the mandate to wear masks in the city of LNK. Could the Husker players/coaches persuade him differently? (@JacobKrueger5) 

MB: I’d like to think Gov. Ricketts would make the decision one way or the other (my preference is requiring masks in public places—it’s not a violation of one’s rights any more than, say, requiring seatbelts at the risk of a fine), regardless of what the Huskers need or don’t need.

If NFL games don’t have fans, which QB will be the first to wave his arms to quiet the crowd? (@Corn_Huskers) 

DP: This is a hypothetical literally built for Baker Mayfield.

GS: Maybe Mitchell Trubisky.

If you are having a draft of every current college head coach to play for your football team in their prime, who are your top five? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: How many quarterbacks does one team need? (There are a lot of former QBs that coach.) Frost would be a good pick, but I’m going to save my Husker slot for someone else and go with Josh Heupel (consensus All-American, Heisman runner up). Given that there’s so many quarterbacks available, however, Pat Fitzgerald would probably be my first pick. Need a pass-catcher and that’s Herm Edwards (nine NFL seasons, zero games missed). Kyle Whittingham, former WAC Defensive Play of the Year at BYU, can play defense for me as well. Mighty Frank Solich will be carrying the ball for me.

The Magazine is taking the team out for a fun evening of karaoke. What would be your go-to songs you would perform? 

DP: This City by Sam Fischer.

ES: I usually select something from the catalogue of the one and only Britney Spears.

GS: Locked out of Heaven by Bruno Mars.

BV: There’s a Canadian band with lots of hits that Jacob and I like to duet in these instances. Name escapes me at the moment . . .

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