Mailbag: What's With All the Buzz for Nebraska Football in 2019?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mailbag: What’s With All the Buzz for Nebraska Football in 2019?

January 09, 2019

You asked we answered in the latest round of the Hail Varsity mailbag. The Hail Varsity staff –– Jacob Padilla, Derek Peterson, Erin Sorense, Greg Smith and Brandon Vogel –– tackles your questions of the week below.

Are we recruiting any good centers? Seems like we are getting beat on the glass. (@hspu6) 

JP: Nebraska has seemed to steer away from true, big-bodied centers after the way things went with Jordy Tshimanga. They recruited Florent Thamba pretty hard in the last class before he chose Baylor, but ended up settling with just Brady Heiman as their lone frontcourt recruit for 2018. Currently, Nebraska doesn’t have any true big man commits for 2019 (Akol Arop is a three/four tweener) and doesn’t really have much in the way of offers out to bigs in that class either. I’d have to imagine Nebraska would look to the grad transfer route to replace Tanner Borchardt next season and hope for the best. If Isaiah Roby returns for his senior season, they should be all right there. If not, they’ll have to hit a home run with a transfer. As for 2020, Nebraska is in on a top-100 power forward in Ben Carlson who has visited a couple times already, though he’ll be highly recruited. They have also had a 2020 center prospect on campus for a football Saturday in John Hugley, listed at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds. 

I was a big fan of Bookie when he committed to us. But after seeing Cam Taylor play well this year, I wanted to know who you’d rather have on your team going forward, Bookie or Cam? (@NasurIsmail) 

DP: It’s amazing to me how quickly a fanbase can give up on a player, because that’s what the bulk of the OU fanbase did with Bookie this season. A guy who was bad enough at his job that he was on the hot seat for something like five years played his 5-foot-10 former 5-star cornerback recruit back at safety (a position he clearly isn’t suited for) and when Bookie struggled (again, because he’s not a safety) and the confidence sagged, he was yanked from the lineup. All as a freshman. He wasn’t a 5-star corner by accident. Kid’s good.  

Now that the rant is over, the Nebraska side. Taylor made the loss of Bookie sting a little less both internally and externally in a couple different ways. I wonder if he has the same kind of upside at corner but really don’t know the answer to that question given he’s played the position for exactly a year. But his size, athleticism and football IQ have really impressed the Huskers coaching staff. The work ethic that was raved about all offseason seems to have made the larger fanbase forget all about Bookie. Personally, I’d rather have Taylor; seems more low maintenance

With the success of true freshmen on the field (Adrian Martinez, Trevor Lawrence, Jake Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa, and many others) do you think we'll see more start and then transfer situations – if they don't like the fit/spot they have on the team? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

DP: Yes. 

ES: Yeah, I do. This is going to be the one downside of the new redshirt rule and that is that players will move on if they don’t feel they’re being utilized in the way they want to be. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out over another season or two, but this is going to change how coaches manage rosters to a certain degree. 

BV: College football has definitely changed in that regard. It’s still hard for a true freshman to be ready for the adjustment to college ball, but the barrier feels lower than it was in the past. Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston won the Heisman as redshirt freshmen. Trevor Lawrence might be the favorite for the 2019 Heisman in his second year of college football (same as Manziel and Winston). The game has gotten younger, and I don’t think that’s unrelated to the spate of transfers though that same fact also diminishes the traditional impact of losing a veteran player. You don’t have to be three years into your college career to have an impact on a very good team any longer, and that has an impact on every program. The notion of a senior-laden team, at least at the highest levels of the sport, is becoming extinct if you want to compete for national titles. A team is always trying to recruit better than what it already has and if being a freshman (or redshirt freshman or sophomore) is no longer the barrier it once was to playing time, inevitably you’ll have more turnover. 

JP: We’re already seeing plenty of that. Justin Fields (No. 2 in 2018), Hunter Johnson (No. 4 in 2017), Shea Patterson (No. 1 in 2016), Jacob Eason (No. 2 in 2016), Jarrett Stidham (No. 1 in 2015), Blake Barnett (No. 3 in 2016), Kyler Murray (No. 4 in 2015), Kyle Allen (No. 1 in 2014) and Max Browne (No. 2 in 2013) are all 5-star quarterbacks that have transferred in just the last six classes. That’s nine out of 14 ranked as 5-star prospects by 247Sports’ composite during that stretch. It’s going to be hard for that percentage to rise much further. I do wonder how it might impact recruiting now movong forward though with so many freshmen making an immediate impact. 

Who are some players looking to leave after spring ball? Do we dip into the waters of the graduate transfer market for last minute needs? (@_LilBigRed12_) 

ES: I’m not one for projecting publicly about who I do and do not think departs because that’s really on the individual to determine what’s best. I would hate to undermine anything that could or could not happen, but I do suspect there will be departures. And this staff will always add graduate transfers as long as they’re the right fit for the team and it makes sense from a depth perspective. So I’d always keep an eye on that. 

GS: I’ll stay away from the first part of the question though its much more likely that guys leave after getting to see where they fit in after spring ball. Yes, I believe Nebraska is in the market for a grad transfer. In particular at wide receiver and offensive line.  

JP: A while back I went through the roster and highlighted guys who have been buried on the depth chart or who could potentially leave as graduate transfers if they wanted to do so, but to this point there have been no indications about any specific players leaving. 

What B1G team will have the most transfer arrivals this year? (@CoryHonold) 

BV: This one is really tough. I think Nebraska could rank up there, but the Huskers are in a good enough spot to be selective. You’re really looking for a team that has a sense of urgency. Minnesota, despite some earned offseason buzz, could be in that group. The Gophers are young and improving, but I could see them opening the doors (so to speak) in an effort to keep pace with the rest of rapidly improving West. The best answer, however, might be Maryland. I know Mike Locksley is a good fit there, though he’s not a home-run hire in my opinion. He’s way behind in recruiting –– the thing he’s best at –– due to sticking with Alabama through the title game, so I could see the Terps really being active in that market to bridge the gap. 

GS: Illinois will be a strong contender. They have added multiple transfers already including former 4-star tight end Luke Ford who was at Georgia and will now be playing closer to home. Keep an eye out on Lovie Smith’s crew. 

What’s up with Jaylin Bradley? (@ShawnMMiller) 

DP: Bradley dealt with a personal thing super early in the year that was never publicly talked about. It messed with his offseason and split his focus. At points early on he wasn’t even suiting up on Saturdays with the team but it wasn’t because he was just blatantly disregarding what the coaching staff was asking guys to do. It was just a rough situation. He got things in order as the season wore on but didn’t play. We’ll see if he can break through this year. If not… 

We have a full stable of running backs coming in. Any chance one will transfer? If so, which one would be most likely? (@TylerHedges) 

DP: Because of what I wrote above, Jaylin Bradley feels like the most likely option here. Nebraska hasn’t necessarily replaced him but before Frost he was looking like the next guy at running back and now he’s looking like a guy facing an uphill battle for snaps at all. Given a tumultuous second season, it wouldn’t surprise me if he just wanted a fresh start. That’s not reporting, just speculation, because it’s also an option that he works his tail off and takes those snaps we thought were going to someone like Dedrick Mills. Didn’t seem like he quit on last season. 

What dynasty will you be happier to see crumble. Bama or the Pats? (@tklim2430) 

DP: Saban at least does things the right way. I’ll be happy when the Patriots aren’t going to AFC champ games every year.  

ES: As a Chiefs fan, I’d be fine with the Patriots’ reign ending. Alabama’s current reign will eventually subside too, but the Patriots can have at it first. 

BV: I’ll go with the Patriots as well. I lived in Boston for about a decade and it’s a place that means a lot to me, so in some regards I’m choosing to make some of my friends unhappy with this pick. But as someone who barely follows the NFL but is all-in on college, I can appreciate greatness at the college level more. So when Alabama is excellent I can better appreciate what it takes to get there. When the Patriots do it, as a mostly disinterested observer, I do experience a little New England fatigue even though I love New England (the region). 

GS: Easily the Patriots.  

JP: I’ll make it a clean sweep. Down with the Patriots! 

What do y'all think of the calls to fire Harbaugh? The U of M fans I know are foaming at the mouth for it. How hot is his seat actually? (@InDaWilderness) 

DP: I think it’s pretty hot. This was his best Michigan team ever with one of the best defenses in the country. Up until this season, the thing “holding back” Harbaugh’s Michigan teams was quarterback play and Shea Patterson took that excuse away this year, yet things still ended the same way. Michigan didn’t look ready to play against Ohio State and got blown off the field, then got blasted by Florida in similar fashion in its bowl game. Easily the two biggest games of the year and Harbaugh’s team folded. This was also Ohio State’s worst team in a while and Michigan State and Penn State were out of the picture. Ryan Day seems to be reloading in Columbus and Harbaugh is losing the teeth of his defense. The question with Michigan has changed from “When will the title come” to “Will it?”  I don’t think Michigan brass could get away with firing Harbaugh after a 10-win season but if Harbaugh were to jump back to the NFL, I couldn’t imagine too many in Ann Arbor being upset. 

BV: Hotter than it should be in my opinion. Michigan is 38-14 under Harbaugh. Ten of those 14 losses have come to teams that finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll. Three others came to end-of-the-year top 25 teams. South Carolina in last year’s Outback Bowl was the only unranked team Harbaugh’s Michigan has lost to at this point. This is what makes the Wolverines fascinating, in my opinion. In many ways Harbaugh’s tenure is a test case for ever-dwindling patience. Michigan’s results to this point certainly indicate that the Wolverines are close but not “there” yet. In the past, that would’ve been OK at most places. (Good for Nebraska that Tom Osborne was given time to get over his Oklahoma hurdle, for example.) But in today’s game failing to get over the hump feels like a much bigger offense than it once did. Look, Michigan’s really close and sometimes it takes even very good coaches five, six or seven years to break through. Problem is that today’s game doesn’t really allow for five-, six- or seven-year breakthroughs. My question for those Michigan fans anxious about the Harbaugh era is “who are you going to get that’s better on Day 1 than Harbaugh is now?” It’s a select group in my opinion and I’m not that confident in Michigan landing any of the immediate yeses to that question. And it’s here that I remind you that for the Wolverines exalted (and deserved) place in college football history, they’ve won two national titles in the past 61 seasons (1948, 1997). They haven’t gotten there under Harbaugh but they’re in the hunt each year and that’s worth more than it’s currently being credited. 

JP: It took a long time for fans to buy into Dabo Swinney. I wonder where the Tigers would be now had Clemson pulled the plug after just four or five years instead of letting him continue with the process and build his team into a juggernaut. 

You can only pick one… a trip to the Sweet 16 or a trip to Indy in 2019? (@TheWeeksy) 

DP: A trip to Indianapolis would mean a storybook second season for Scott Frost. I’d take that 10 times out of 10. 

ES: Sorry, Scott Frost – I’m taking the Sweet 16. Nebraska basketball has never won an NCAA tournament game and getting to the Sweet 16 means they would have not only won one, but multiple. I feel like Frost will get to Indy soon enough, so I’ll let the basketball team have this one. 

GS: I’ll take the trip to Indy. It’d be a bigger deal in the state and would mean a lot to the overall future of where the Frost Era is heading. 

JP: Being who I am, I’ll take the Sweet 16. I haven’t covered an NCAA Tournament since I graduated from college, which deeply saddens me. 

What’s with all this hype with Nebraska all of a sudden nationally? Everyone has Nebraska in their way-too-early polls. (@btran0524) 

DP: The national media is very predictable. Every year, those way-too-early polls, especially when you get into the 18-25 range, are more potential and name brand than anything else. Nebraska fits both. The Huskers are trendy after winning four of their last six, have a highlight reel quarterback and they’re still a blue blood despite what some might say. That’s enough. College football is better when Nebraska is good and you’ll see a lot of national writers that want Nebraska to be good again. Plus, when they are really good, it allows those guys to puff out their chests and say, “Called it.” Win-win. 

BV: It’s remarkable how quickly the consensus conforms on the top 25. Look at all of the way-too-early top 25s, and I have looked at all of them, and they’re all basically the same, which is remarkable considering we know that it’s impossible to predict the best 25 teams in August much less January. That said, you can feel pretty safe in betting on the usual suspects most of the time. Nebraska hits the perfect blend of being a former usual suspect with one of the buzziest coaching hires in recent years plus a 2018 record that isn’t indicative of its actual worth. That’s like nectar for accelerated preseason projections. 

JP: There is also the factor of what Scott Frost did in year two at Central Florida. If Frost can replicate something even closet that at Nebraska, they’ll definitely be a top-25 team. 

With a bunch of B1G quarterbacks departing thanks to graduation or draft, where do y'all see Martinez ranking going into this season? (@InDaWilderness) 

DP: Dwayne Haskins is gone to the draft and Clayton Thorson, Trace McSorley and David Blough are graduated. Michigan’s Shea Patterson is probably the default top guy off pedigree and experience, but I’d argue if you polled all 14 head coaches in the league, every single one of them would pick Martinez over the field. The versatility and size gives him the highest ceiling of anyone. Iowa’s Nate Stanley is a fine quarterback but no one is taking him over Martinez this year. Graham Mertz should probably win Wisconsin’s quarterback job but will Paul Chryst take a true freshman over a senior with the starts Alex Hornibrook has? And no one knows what Justin Fields will look like at Ohio State, or if Tate Martell will try to run him out of town before the season. I’d put Martinez at the top. 

ES: What Derek said. 

GS: I too will echo what Derek said.

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