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Mailbag: Which Non-Volleyball Husker Team Wins a Big Ten Title First?

February 24, 2021

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s Mailbag Day. The Hail Varsity staff returns to answer your Huskers questions, so let’s dive in.

When Coach Cook decides to stop coaching at Nebraska, will Tyler Hildebrand be the favorite to take over or are there other names to consider? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Jacob Padilla: John Cook said when Tyler Hildebrand agreed to return to Lincoln as associate head coach that it wasn’t necessarily a coach-in-waiting situation and that it didn’t signal that Cook was close to calling it a career. However, it’s clear how highly Cook regards Hildebrand’s knowledge of the game and coaching acumen. Hildebrand will have a chance while working alongside Cook to make a strong case to be named his successor. That being said, Cook has an incredibly strong coaching tree from which Nebraska could choose. Considering the program’s place in the college volleyball landscape, Nebraska could probably go out and hire nearly anyone in the country away from his or her current program as well. Nebraska is going to have plenty of options once Cook decides to call it a career. 

Other than volleyball, which Husker team sport, men’s or women, do you think will be Big Ten champion next? (@dmhusker1) 

JP: Perhaps there’s an Olympic sport that I’m missing that’s close to contention, but I think baseball is probably the right answer here based simply on the hurdle the program would have to clear to win a title compared to other programs. The Big Ten just isn’t a great baseball conference. The wrestling team can be really, really good, but Iowa is still sitting there at the top of the conference. The football and men’s basketball teams have a lot of work to do before even finishing above .500 in conference play, let alone contending for a title. Perhaps with some of the things Amy Williams’ program has shown this season and the 2021 recruiting class she signed, the women’s basketball program could get there in a couple of years. That’s still a high bar to clear, though. 

Brandon Vogel: Jacob’s probably right with baseball (and probably for the right reason), but here’s a crazy thought: It might be football. Nebraska’s not playing close to a championship level right now, but the short season makes it possible (for any Big Ten team) to have a magic ride-type season. For the first 30 minutes of this year’s championship game, it looked like Northwestern was going to win the Big Ten after going 3-9 the previous season. The 2016 Huskers, through smoke and mirrors, got to 7-0, and had they beat Wisconsin in overtime, needing just a touchdown and the extra point, that team almost certainly would’ve played Penn State for a conference title. The Nittany Lions were much better and would’ve been huge favorites but get into a one-game scenario and almost anything could happen. The nature of football itself, not to mention the amount of resources every school pours into it (including Nebraska), almost makes this the de facto answer. Almost. I’d probably still side with Jacob and baseball, but it’s close. 

Derek Peterson: I’m surprised the first two disregarded basketball. From an opportunity standpoint, basketball has two chances in a year while football has just one. As with Jacob, I’m gonna disregard the Olympic sports because I don’t follow any close enough to provide any meaningful input, so we’ll just focus on the top-line teams. I think it’ll be men’s or women’s basketball. First, and most obvious, you could have the best regular-season record and be Big Ten champs, or you could have a hot week and be Big Ten conference champs, which is still a championship. Fred Hoiberg’s teams can theoretically do either. A 3-point-oriented system just needs one hot stretch and the right go-to player; with a roster that flips over every year or two, Fred could get there quicker than someone like Scott Frost with the right one-year concoction. I don’t think that’s crazy to say. I also think Amy Williams is building a team that can do it. She’s recruited really, really well of late. She had a trio of players heading into this offseason in Sam Haiby, Leigha Brown, and Ashtyn Veerbeek who looked like they could be as potent offensively as any in the league, then lost two of them, and still rebounded as well as could be expected. Veerbeek’s departure opened the door for Issie Bourne to take a big role in the offense, and I think she can be a capital S star. As a four/small-ball five she can be one of the three or four best players in the Big Ten by the time it’s all said and done. So she’s recruiting those “it” factor players and building strong teams. That’s an under-the-radar team that could do it. 

What is the best team at Nebraska and why is it volleyball? (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: I believe the wrestling team has the exact same record as the volleyball team right now (7-1) and is also ranked in the top 10, so Mark Manning’s group deserves a mention. That being said, volleyball has everything you could ask for right now: a hall of fame coach and great assistants, star-power, experience and promising young players.  

Nebraska historically generated quality offensive linemen. What has changed in the coaching, recruiting, or developing that has allowed that position to take a step back relative to historical standards? (email submission) 

BV: That’s a question that could require an entire magazine feature to answer. My gut reaction is that the talent or ability of the linemen Nebraska is getting probably hasn’t changed significantly. The biggest difference is that for 30 or so years Nebraska had one coach on the offensive line. Sometimes two with duties divided, but Milt Tenopir was a fixture, and it wasn’t just continuity that paid dividends. Tenopir was also a technician when it came to offensive line play. Coaches like that don’t come around often, but even if Nebraska had one post-2003—Bill Callahan’s reputation with that position group is certainly sterling—the constant churn of coaches over the past 20 years would’ve dulled that.  

Greg Smith: Brandon had a great point here that’d I’d like to add on to. Nebraska has had such wild swings from coach to coach in the last 15 years of the type of linemen the team wants. That has also led to stunted development. Consistency with coaching and body types within the system would surely help the group out.  

Was bringing in Stepp an admittance that the coaches don’t have much faith in the RB room, especially considering that Stepp’s numbers USC didn’t really jump off the page? Is our RB issues development or recruiting? Should we look at getting a new RB coach? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: I don’t think so. It is a young room, and even though Stepp was only able to appear in 16 games over three seasons at USC that’s still nearly as much experience as Ronald Thompkins, Rahmir Johnson, Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III have combined (17 games). At this stage, I’d chalk it up as an experience play with more time needed to assess the development/recruiting part of the equation. It’s true that none of backs recruited thus far, with the possible exception of Dedrick Mills, have truly hit, but we’re really only talking about two guys there (Mills and Greg Bell). Maurice Washington, I think, was what they thought he could be as player but obviously that situation didn’t work out. Point is, there are reasons to have some questions, I just think it’s still too early to have answers. 

GS: I view it as an experience play too. It also reduces the amount that Nebraska will have to rely on young players to step up. If Stepp is the starter then only one of Morrison, Scott III, Thompkins and Johnson has to become reliable. Anything above that is gravy. I’m still hoarding Morrison stock for what it’s worth.  

DP: What Brandon said. And what Greg said in his closing sentence. I don’t think it’s a sign of faith, but rather an insurance policy, which might be better described as an admittance that they know this year has to be it on offense, that things have to start coming together. So maybe a pushing of the chips into the center of the proverbial table, perhaps with gusto. We’ll see. I like Sevion Morrison’s potential quite a bit. 

When do y’all expect the recruiting dominoes to start to fall for the class of ‘22? What are the expectations (if any) for the 2 remaining scholarships for 2021? (@tschmidt723) 

GS: I don’t expect any commitments for Nebraska until we get through the spring. It doesn’t feel like anyone is particularly close to being the first in the class. I think one of the remaining scholarships goes to a quarterback and then best player available. Getting through winter and even spring ball will help determine what position that is.  

There has been an Edwards on the Nebraska softball team since 2011, with the exception of two years, and Tristen is a senior. Tatum works at UNO as an assistant coach and Taylor is on Team USA. Are there other families that had this type of impact on any other Husker sports? (@dmhusker1) 

JP: In terms of impact, I can’t think of one. That being said, I will note that Bret Porter, a redshirt freshman walk-on on the men’s basketball team, is the first fourth-generation Husker. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all played football at Nebraska. It’s pretty cool that the Porter family has produced Cornhusker athletes stretching back over a century. 

Erin Sorensen: This doesn’t span four generations like Jacob’s answer (which is a good one), but how about the Cottons? You have a dad who played for Nebraska and then coached for the team with three sons who all played for the Huskers as well. Now you just need one of the three sons to have a child and get them to Nebraska to keep the legacy going. Regardless, the Cottons have certainly had an impact on Nebraska Athletics. You could also say the same thing about the Ruud family. Tom played for the Huskers and then both of his sons did, with one now coaching the team. There’s also Fred Hoiberg. His grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached the Nebraska men’s basketball team from 1954-63, and Hoiberg has quite literally followed in his footsteps. One last name because I can’t help myself. Daniel Pearson, a golpher on the men’s team, should be on the list too. He is the great-grandson of Bill Jennings, who was the head coach for Nebraska football from 1957-61, and the grandson of Noel Martin, a linebacker whose senior season coincided with Bob Devaney’s first year as head coach. All of this to say that Nebraska has quite the number of family connections that span generations. 

We are approaching almost a year in the pandemic and living this new life as we know it. What is something you’ve learned about yourself, sports, and life in the past 347 days? (@Corn_Huskers) 

ES: I actually answered this question with Sausha Durkan on the latest episode of the Mind Your Own Podcast. Shameless plug. 

GS: I’ve learned to enjoy the things that bring me peace. I think when we were in “normal life” the tendency was to just go, go, go at times without stopping. So slowing down being ok and allowing myself to enjoy the things I like and not care has been great for my mental health. 

What should be the expectations for the Husker women’s basketball team next year? NCAA bid? (@dmhusker1) 

DP: Assuming they don’t lose their top players again like what happened last offseason, yes, the expectation should be competing for a top-four seed at the conference tournament and an NCAA Tournament berth. Sam Haiby will be a senior, Issie Bourne a junior, and both should be some of the better players in the league. It’ll be a big deal having to replace Kate Cain, but if she’s the only departure I think Amy Williams can fine-tune some things to mitigate the blow. You won’t find a comparable shot-blocker, but Bella Cravens can be a force on the boards. If they were healthy all year this season, Nebraska would have earned one of those tail-end tourney spots, so a bid next year should be the baseline. But again, that’s assuming no major offseason attrition.  

Serious question: is the basketball team cursed, and if so, did they catch it from the football team? Should we quarantine the other sports for safety? (@InDaWilderness) 

ES: I don’t know. Volleyball seems to be doing just fine so I don’t think we mess with it. 

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