Mailbag: What Has to Happen for Nebraska to Win the West?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mailbag: What Has to Happen for Nebraska to Win the West?

August 21, 2019

Another week brings a new mailbag. Let’s get to it.

Other than the obvious, what has to happen for Nebraska to have a chance to win the West? (@tklim2430) 

Erin Sorensen: I think the obvious is the answer though. You need Nebraska to stay healthy across the board. You need Nebraska to beat the teams it needs to beat and not drop unnecessary games to opponents it shouldn’t. It wouldn’t hurt if Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa all dropped a game they didn’t need to drop along the way, just to add some insurance. But I think the obvious is ultimately the key to success. Stay healthy, win games, trust the process. (Sorry. Had to.) 

Brandon Vogel: It might be as simple as this: win out at home. That’s always a good answer to this question no matter the year or schedule, but this year it would mean wins over, most importantly, Wisconsin and Iowa, though Ohio State sure would be nice, too. If Nebraska did that and even just split its four conference road games—Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Maryland—it would be 7-2 in Big Ten play. But if you’d rather have a stat that makes that sort of thing possible, there’s one number that could influence all the others—play from ahead. Nebraska trailed on nearly 70% of its offensive snaps and 56% of its defensive snaps last year. Good teams don’t play that way. Having a lead offers leverage over the opponent. It reduces giveaways and increases takeaways. If we’re waving a magic wand to improve one number, that’s the one I choose. 

Derek Peterson: Brandon’s home record is a big deal and probably the answer here, so I’ll give a No. 2: crossover record. I imagine the top four teams in the division will be Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota (in no particular order). Wisconsin plays Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road (yikes); Iowa plays Rutgers, Michigan on the road and Penn State; Minnesota plays Rutgers on the road, Maryland and Penn State; Nebraska plays Ohio State, Indiana and Maryland on the road. Who goes 3-0 in those games? If the West is truly wide open, then we should expect the teams in the division to beat up on them a little bit, right? Winning your crossover games will go a long way toward separation at the top of the standings. Wisconsin can play itself out of the West race by going 1-2 or 0-3 in its crossover games. Nebraska could give itself some breathing room by going 3-0. Those games will be key. 

Having 12 running backs, does that hurt recruiting? (@TurboHall01) 

Jacob Padilla: We should get a good answer for this here soon. Sevion Morrison is announcing later today and Marvin Scott III said he’ll decide this weekend, and Greg Smith said he feels pretty good about where Nebraska stands with both of them. There are some recruits that will make their decision based on how quickly they might see the field, but there are plenty of others that probably feel confident enough in their own abilities that they can earn playing time no matter how many guys are in the room. I get the feeling Ryan Held will probably gravitate toward the second type. Nebraska is also selling their offense in which a lot of skill players have a chance to get on the field and make an impact, and I believe that also sells well with recruits. 

Greg Smith: No, not at all. If you are afraid of competition, you can’t play for Ryan Held. Of those 12 running backs on the roster, just a handful are on scholarship. This is a running back-friendly offense that shouldn’t have a problem loading up the room with talent. I have a feeling we will be talking about new additions to the running back room very soon.  

I know that the staff is super high on Jurgens, but what is the chance we bring in a true center in this class? It just seems like a really shallow position right now. Is there anyone the staff is particularly interested in? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: I completely disagree that center is shallow. The issue there is inexperience, and I don’t see how adding another recruit there helps fix that. Nebraska has five guys working primarily at center (Will Farniok, Cam Jurgens, AJ Forbes, Ethan Piper and Josh Wegener) plus two others that could slide back over to center if necessary (Hunter Miller and Tren Hixson). There might be some growing pains at that position, but the roster is what it is now and I think one of Farniok or Jurgens will likely be the long-term starter unless both completely drop the ball. Don’t sleep on Forbes, either.  

GS: I completely agree with Jacob here. Center isn’t shallow, it’s just young. There will be bumps in the road this year but it will pay off down the road. Also, “true centers” are not that common in high school. 

Mike Babcock: Jake Young lettered at guard as a true freshman, and I think Dave Rimington got a brief look at guard, or maybe tackle, before settling in at center. I looked it up. Actually, he played some tackle in the spring of his sophomore year, not well. Anyway, those are just two examples from long ago, but they also were great centers—and the dynamic hasn’t changed. The point is, I’m not sure you look at high school linemen specifically playing center to be centers in college, or in the case of Jurgens even an interior offensive lineman.  They can/do develop. Nebraska’s future at the position is fine I think. 

Depth chart projection: Who are the twos behind Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle and Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke? And, does Cameron Jurgens play against South Alabama or do we let him get healthy for Big Ten play? (@Go_Big_Red) 

JP: That is a really tough one. Travis Fisher doesn’t like talking much about his depth chart, and sometimes offseason/preseason talk doesn’t actually translate into on-field snaps. It does seem like the four base starters are set, and then after that I believe Cam Taylor is the first defensive back off the bench (Travis Fisher called him a starter), whether that’s at corner, safety or nickel. After that, I think it’s still wide open. Fisher said he’s worked a lot of different guys in with the twos, including all the freshmen. Quinton Newsome seems like the guy closest to earning a rotation spot among the newcomers. Braxton Clark has been limited by hamstring tightness this spring but I think he’ll still be in the mix. I don’ know that we can completely discount Eric Lee Jr. either; he’s got more experience than anyone else in the discussion. 

MB: If Jurgens is healthy enough, he’ll play. If not, he won’t. The opponent doesn’t matter, especially for someone who’s making the adjustment he is. Ideally, he’d get snaps against South Alabama rather than seeing his first real action in a hostile place such as Boulder. 

With the reveal of the first AP Poll, who is underrated, overrated, etc.? (@ApolloSolace) 

ES: I think Florida is overrated at No. 8 and Texas A&M at No. 12. I also think UCF might be overrated at No. 17, mostly because they’ll be without McKenzie Milton. I think Missouri might be underrated, having been left out of the AP Poll entirely. I think the Tigers should have been ranked and will likely be ranked by the end of the season. Wisconsin also feels a little underrated at No. 19. As for Texas, I’ve seen some people call them overrated and others call them underrated and that pretty much sums up the Longhorns. I’ll take them as overrated at No. 10 though, only because I’m not so ready to say they’re “back.” 

BV: I'm on board with Erin on Florida and Texas (overrated) as well as Missouri (underrated). I think Iowa State finishes higher than its initial rank, No. 21. Michigan State returns a lot, but the Spartans might be a little overvalued at No. 18. And here’s a team that didn’t even get a vote, but should have: Baylor. 

DP: Oregon at 11 seems a little low; one of the best quarterbacks in the country and one of the best lines in the country. Maybe West Coast bias a little? Texas A&M is way too high. Oklahoma State only getting one vote is also a little strange. 

MB: Most of the time of late saying Texas is overrated is redundant. But I’ll say it, Texas. Otherwise, I’ll defer to Erin and Brandon. 

Give me the names of everyone who you think is going to burn their redshirt on the football team this season. (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: Quinton Newsome, Rahmir Johnson, Wan’Dale Robinson, Jackson Hannah and Garrett Nelson feel like strong candidates to burn their redshirts. In a perfect world, I think Bryce Benhart redshirts.  

ES: Nelson's redshirt was pretty much burned this week

JP: I like Greg’s list. Perhaps one more defensive back sneaks in there, although which of the three I don’t know. I would have taken Nick Henrich if he had been healthy for camp but if he won’t even be back by the start of the season I don’t see a reason to burn his redshirt. 

MB: Ryan Held said again today, if he can get right physically, Thompkins won’t redshirt, either. And I don’t think he’s just saying that. In any case, I don’t necessarily look at it as a “burn.” I think they’ll be in the mix right away so there’s no reason to “use” a redshirt, right? It’s just terminology. And yes, there’s little doubt Nelson won’t use his now. 

Do you think Piper or Benhart burn their redshirts this season? I know the goal/hope is not to, but… (Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: I definitely don’t think Piper does. Nebraska has a ways to go down the depth chart before needing to call his name to play at center. I think he’ll redshirt this season and learn the finer points of his new position. Benhart is a tougher call. Ideally, he gets in four games as the back-up right tackle and redshirts. Broc Bando has impressed the coaches, particularly since Christian Gaylord went down with his season-ending injury, so perhaps he’d be the next guy up in case of an injury to one of the starting tackles. The only way I see Benhart burning his redshirt this year is if Farniok or Jaimes go down with a long-term injury and Benhart has done enough to convince the coaches he’s the clear No. 3 at tackle. 

MB: Agree with what Jacob says. It would be dire circumstances, in all likelihood, that Benhart sees action in more than four games. And Piper will certainly redshirt. 

What is the win minimum for a great season, a good season, and an unacceptable season? (@_walkonU) 

ES: A great season is 10-plus wins. A good season is eight wins. Unacceptable is anything less than six. 

GS: I agree with Erin. 

BV: The Vegas win total for Nebraska has held steady at 8.5, so start there. Ten wins would be great, nine good and six would be hard to stomach in a Year-2 scenario—typically the time for the biggest improvement—with a generational quarterback. 

DP: A great season is 11. A good season is nine. Meeting expectations is eight (jeez what an offseason). Unacceptable would be less than six. 

What do you rate the alternate uniforms? (@ApolloSolace)  


How would you design the huskers alternates? (@btran0524) 


If you were to create an alternative jersey for Husker football, what would they look like? (JJStark8) 

BV: They are by far the best ones Nebraska has had thus far because they accomplish two things: 1) look cool, and 2) have some sort of reason for existing beyond that. Not every alternate needs to accomplish the second one, and a lot of times attempting to make those connections goes wrong or simply seems boring, but this isn’t that. The Blackshirts inspiration has been just hanging out there waiting to fulfill its destiny as a cool-looking alternate that also nodded to tradition. As a uniform geek, I’ve been waiting for Nebraska to do this for a long time. Most of the previous iterations seemed to throw every idea at the wall hoping something would stick. These alternates have a reason for existing, they’re relatively simple once you get past them not being red and they look great. 

And now that the Blackshirts alternate has been done, I guess it’s time to move on to another idea. I still believe that something playing off the school colors, scarlet and cream, would be great. Actual cream, not white. Maybe use those iconic numbers from the early Devaney era. Those would look great in cream on a red uniform. I’d also love to see old school Herbie Husker, in overalls, on a white helmet with a gray facemask. Do whatever you want with the uniform after that. (Well, not anything. Don’t make the uniforms look like they did in 2012, 2014 or 2015.)   

MB: Just one thing about the nod-to-the-Blackshirts concept. Nebraska’s colors from the earliest days have been scarlet and cream—a Lincoln newspaper account after the opener in 1892 said “red” was the new color after the “Old Gold” Knights. Anyway, it’s about team, not offense, defense or special teams, team. So shouldn’t uniforms reflect “team” rather than one side of the ball? And shouldn’t they be school colors, at least red and white—or strictly scarlet and cream? 

What are your favorite Nebraska alternate uniforms of all time? (@PBlak69) 

ES: Definitely not 2014. You couldn’t read the numbers under the lights from the press box. I remember how rough that one was for the announcer in the press box, because the glare off the numbers was absurd. As for my favorite (since that’s your question), I’ll take 2017. Or, the original alternate: 2009. 

BV: I’m disqualifying 2009 from the discussion because technically that was a throwback and not an alternate, which I consider to be a new design. In that case, the 2016 all-white alternates with chrome accents were easily the best pre-Blackshirts. But now the 2019 alternate is the best. 

MB: The replicas of 1962, was that sellout No. 300? Nothing black because black isn’t a school color, except for defensive practice jerseys.  

What’s the top ten list of “if a team goes undefeated it’s getting a playoff invite.” Could take the pedigree side of this or could take strength of schedule side. Does Nebraska make the top ten? (@sweetermanders) 

DP: I’m going to leave out Alabama, Clemson and Georgia because they’re givens. So, in order, the teams most likely to be playoff locks with an undefeated record: Notre Dame, Texas, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Utah, Miami.  

MB: Undefeated Notre Dame? In. End of No. 1 discussion. And, alas, Derek’s No. 2 is a certainty as well. 

Do you expect the offense or defense to have a better season? And where do both sides of the ball rank season end? (@bupward50) 

BV: I think the Huskers will have a top-20 offense and a top-60 defense. Talking points here, not yards. That will be a slightly larger improvement by the offense over last year’s numbers. 

DP: I think the Huskers will have a top-15 offense and a top-55 defense. Talking points per play. They ranked No. 66 and No. 87 in those categories last year, respectively. Yes, I’m just trying to one-up Brandon here. 

Why is JD Spielman never in the conversation for best receiver in the B1G? Is it just team record? 1700 yards in the first two seasons and he seems forgotten in coverage of the best players in the conference. (@imWYNNing) 

GS: That’s a good question. I would say there are a couple of reasons for Spielman flying under the radar. First, the team hasn’t been good in the time he has put up good numbers. Secondly, his personality just lends itself to him being underrated. A good season with a good team record will have him on everyone’s radar including the NFL. 

JP: Like Greg said, Spielman’s quiet personality and Nebraska’s record are the biggest factors in my opinion. Ending last season on injured reserve didn’t help him either, nor did having Stanley Morgan Jr. on his own team. But Morgan’s gone and Spielman is one of the three best returning receivers in the conference along with Purdue’s Rondale Moore and Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about him plenty once the season starts and he’s putting up big numbers. 

MB: Let the season get going, Spielman will earn attention if he stays healthy. He doesn’t get written about as much as someone who speaks to reporters on occasion. But as he continues to play the way he has folks will notice and others will talk about him. He was overshadowed by Morgan, too. Now he’s the man. 

Do you think we will see any of the talented young defensive backs we’ve been hearing about get any good playing time this year without injuries? I’m excited to see Noa Pola-Gates and Quinton Newsome but I also think some other returning players — obviously [Dicaprio Bootle] and Lamar Jackson — are gonna have great years, but others like [Marquel] Dismuke, Cam Taylor, and [Deontai] Williams I think will also have a big year in the secondary so I’m not sure if we will see any of the new guys. (@AustynDrake) 

DP: I honestly don’t know if we’re going to see much of the freshmen because of the depth you just talked about. There’s a better chance for someone to break through at safety just because Bootle and Jackson are so entrenched at corner. With Cam Taylor and Eric Lee Jr. being able to play both corner and safety, I think that makes someone like Pola-Gates or Myles Farmer prime redshirt candidates. Quinton Newsome probably has the best chance of anyone to burn that redshirt (like Greg listed above), but even then, everyone raved about Ethan Cox last season and he didn’t play much on defense. Look for the young guys to try and break through on special teams. 

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