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Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Will College Football Ever Have the Kind of Parity College Basketball Enjoys?

March 31, 2021

It’s Wednesday, let’s dive into the mailbag.

There’s so much parity in college basketball, will we ever see it like that in college football? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

Brandon Vogel: Shakes Magic 8-Ball: “My response is no.” College football has always been closest to an oligarchy. The teams in that ruling class change a bit from time to time—Clemson wasn’t part of the elite prior to this past decade—but for the most part the sport is run by familiar names. I think part of the reason it stays this way is because it takes a lot of resources to build up those advantages. In basketball, you can overhaul a roster quickly. Nice facilities are nice, but at its core the sport is still a hoop and a ball. Meanwhile, it takes hundreds of people and a war wagon hauling armor halfway across the country for, say, Oregon to get a crack at Ohio State. That said, if there is something that could introduce a little more parity to the sport, NIL legislation could be it, but even then I think it would be a pretty slow revolution. 

Derek Peterson: I’ll just add one more point to what Brandon said, because he pretty well covered everything. Across four quarters of a football game, the better team is going to win. You’re going to have your App States over Michigans here and there, but by and large the team with bigger, stronger, more athletic dudes is going to win. In basketball, all it takes is getting hot from the field one night and a 16-seed upsets a 1-seed. Or the favored team shoots poorly and they lose. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but probably not, UCLA’s last four opponents in the tournament have all shot under 30% from the 3-point line. Those teams, for their years, have shot the 3-ball anywhere from 34% to 38% and yet against the Bruins they’ve shot 18%, 21%, 25%, and 27%. Meanwhile, UCLA has shot 38% in the tournament. Football doesn’t have some athleticism-neutralizing element like the 3-point line in basketball. That plays a role.  

Jacob Padilla: I think the postseason set-up itself plays a big part in that disparity in parity as well. If a recruit wants to make the College Football Playoff, there are only a handful of programs they can go to that will likely give them that opportunity.  Basketball players, on the other hand, can go all over the country and have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. More teams in general plus fewer roster spots plus more opportunity to make the postseason equals a much more parity. 

Is this the year that Jurgens finally plays to his potential (and with him, the line)? (@InDaWilderness) 

Greg Smith: I’m going to say yes on Jurgens. The snapping was better down the stretch run of the season. When he’s snapping well and confident, he seems to play well. I feel most confident in him of the Husker starting linemen. For them to live up to the potential Bryce Benhart, Ethan Piper and Turner Corcoran need to make strides. They can do it but it’s wise to expect some bumps in the road.  

Erin Sorensen: He certainly hopes so. He said on Monday that he’d like people not to know him for a bad snap any longer. I felt like the offensive line had the potential to be really strong in 2020, and that didn’t pan out exactly as we thought. I can excuse some of that to the pandemic and how strange 2020 was overall for preparation and more, but this is the year the line has to play to its potential. There is plenty of it along the line, including Jurgens. I think this can be the year, but I’m saying that without having seen any practice to go off of. However, the fact that I’m saying there’s practice I haven’t seen implies there is practice which wasn’t the case in 2020. That’s at least a start.   

True or false: Nebraska will have a top-25 defense this year? (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: False. Nebraska’s defense is trending up and it has a level of experience returning that is typically predictive of improvement, but top 25 is a little too high for me. It also, of course, depends upon how you look at it. I would assume yards is the most common measure, and Nebraska’s on a good track there going from 77th to 54th to 49th in yards per play the last three years. But keeping points off the board matters most, and the Huskers have never ranked better than 61st (in 2018) in points per play and never better than 64th in third-down percentage. The defense has also never been higher than 64th in success rate. Those are the building blocks of what I would consider good defense, or more specifically defense that would merit a top-25 label (even if the ranking is a few spots short of that). It’s not an impossible jump, to go from average to very good in one season—it happens—but I’d call it improbable. 

DP: Top 25, no, but top 35, yes.   

Are short shorts making a comeback in college basketball? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

GS: I hope not. We don’t need TJ Ford with the Bucks length but leave the short shorts in the 70s.  

ES: I am fine with athletes wearing whatever they want that makes them the most comfortable, but I think somewhere in between those extremely long and baggy basketball shorts and the runner-like short shorts is probably the move. But if someone wants to wear short shorts? All power to ‘em. 

DP: I dig it, if only because it makes the baggy shorts of the previous eras look so jarring when you get tournament flashbacks. As a short guy, though, I am required to be Team Short Shorts.  

How do you think Nebraska could upgrade their Baseball/Softball facilities? (@JacobKrueger5) 

Mike Babcock: Not sure what upgrades would be needed from what I’ve seen. If there were some sort of need, I’d guess the resources could be found. I’m not familiar with facilities around the Big Ten, but Nebraska’s seem state-of-the-art. The first thing that comes to mind would be a large indoor facility dedicated to baseball and softball, maybe, because the baseball and softball(?) teams use the Hawks Championship Center at times, but that can’t be the case when spring football is in session. But I’m not sure where such a building could be added close to Haymarket Park—and yes, the baseball field is shared with the Saltdogs; it’s not exclusively a university facility.  

What are you most interested in seeing with regards to spring practices and how it pans out? (I.E… RB depth chart, Bootle replacement; WR organization) (@tschmidt723) 

GS: Inside linebacker depth chart. We can pencil Will Honas in. But who plays the most next to him? Luke Reimer, Nick Henrich or Chris Kolarevic? All four of those players will need to be on the field to give Nebraska its best chance to succeed in my opinion.  

MB: As always, how the offensive line develops. With so many young players, it appears the future is bright. Also, it’ll be interesting to see how transfers such as Stepp and Toure, and early-arrival freshmen, in particular Fidone, perform. 

DP: I want to see how the running back position shakes out. Greg Austin said Wednesday Nebraska has tweaked some of their designs to get backs going downhill a little faster and a little more often. I’m pretty high on the talent in that room, and I’m really curious about what it’s going to look like. 

JP: I’ll go with the wide receivers because that position seems to be as wide open as any. I think we know at least four of the starting offensive linemen and the candidates for the fifth spot and top reserve positions. Like Greg said, inside linebacker is interesting, but I think that’ll be solid no matter how it shakes out. Same for the secondary, defensive line and tight end. Samori Toure came here to start, right? Oliver Martin grabbed a starting spot late last year despite not really knowing what he was doing yet. I think most of us are high on Zavier Betts’ potential. Levi Falck is back. Are any of the young guys ready to take on a larger role? Lot of questions to answer in Matt Lubick’s room, and those answers need to be good for this team to take a step forward. 

If you had to pick three, which position group could you see proving to be maybe a little overvalued right now, which do you think is properly rated, and which do you think is being undervalued? (email submission) 

BV: Perhaps overvalued—wide receiver. The coaches have been effusive publicly about that group, and they know better than me, but until I see some production on the field, I just can’t get all the way there. Properly rated—tight end. That might help with the receiver thing. This group should be as good as advertised. Perhaps undervalued—linebacker. Getting Will Honas and JoJo Domann back was a nice boost, word is Nick Henrich had a very strong winter and I like the addition of Chris Kolarevic. Still need some more out of the other outside linebacker spot, but I think the group overall could be the strength of the defense. 

DP: I’m in the same boat as Brandon when it comes to the receivers. Can I totally see the group being everything they’ve been billed as? Yup. Do I need to see it actually happen first before I can get behind the “most talented group we’ve had” narrative that’s sort of come out? Yup. Properly rated—the secondary. It’ll be salty. Undervalued—the running backs. See above. 

What is your performance index score? (@HuskersX) 

BV: I can show you, actually (or at least what it was when I was 15 and about to be a sophomore in high school). 

JP: Pretty sure Brandon is the only one on our staff who played a sport in college so I’m going to go ahead and just let him represent all of us because I’d embarrass myself if I were to try to find out mine. 

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Tags: Mailbag