Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Women’s and Men’s Basketball, New Food Ideas For Memorial Stadium and More

December 29, 2021

It’s mailbag time, and this edition is packed full of great questions from our readers.

We tackle men’s and women’s basketball questions, the timeline for solidifying the Husker football coaching roles, which local food joint should get be added to Memorial Stadium and much more.

What are we waiting for? Let’s get to it.

The Husker women’s basketball team went undefeated in the non-conference. What is the key to them having success in Big Ten play? (@dmhusker1) 

Steve Marik: The key for them is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is passing the ball well, scoring, playing defense and being one of the best rebounding teams in the Big Ten. The Huskers are averaging 19 assists per game, that’s 10th nationally. They’re averaging 83.5 points, which is 7th. Their defense is ranked 44th, allowing 55.4 points per game, and they’re averaging 32.3 defensive rebounds per game, 4th best. Nebraska has been doing all of that against, for the most part, a pretty weak non-conference slate. Everyone—head coach Amy Williams and her players included—knows the road will be much tougher in what’s regarded as the best conference in women’s college basketball. But what the non-conference games—and that gritty win on the road at Minnesota—have done is helped show Williams what she has to work with. That’s a team with a deep bench, one that has multiple sharpshooters from the perimeter and some real playmakers with the ball in their hands. Oh, and one of the best players in the Big Ten in Jaz Shelley.

What the heck is up with the remaining coaching staff positions? When will we hear something? (@InDaWilderness) 

Mike Babcock: Not sure if Tony Tuioti’s departure was anticipated and Scott Frost was waiting to see. Candidates might be coaching in bowl games and unwilling, like some (many), to consider other jobs until afterward. If not those reasons, I’m as befuddled as anybody. 

Greg Smith: Well, there was a pause for the holidays and I think the next week or so is when some interviews will happen. Nebraska doesn’t really need to have things announced until recruiting starts again in January. The weekend of Jan. 14 is the first official visit weekend of the month. 

As someone who didn’t think Scott Frost deserved another year, I almost think you have to give him two given the roster and additional staff turnover. Or was that level of turnover already assumed? (@HabsInNebraska) 

Brandon Vogel: Public (and booster) sentiment will probably decide given the unique situation. The buyout drops, but only for a window starting Oct. 1. That’s a bet Frost was willing to make on himself, and credit it to him for that. If Nebraska’s kicking along at .500 in November, things could get dicey. Is 6-6 enough? Nobody knows because I think the determining factor will be fan interest for the future, and that largely depends upon context. If it feels like people are checking out, there’s actually a financial incentive to make a move this year. So, while I generally agree with you—if you’re making the decision to ride it out, give it time to work—I don’t know if it’ll play out that way if it’s another borderline season. It really needs to be a no-doubter. Nebraska’s close losses in 2021 provides the portfolio of a team poised to progress. Nebraska’s returning production, however, will provide the portfolio of a team poised to regress. It’s going to be interesting. 

Drake: I definitely see what you’re saying here, and I both agree and disagree. There’s a lot of turnover happening on the roster, with top offensive players and experienced defensive players leaving. Mickey Joseph is good for more than just recruiting, but the value he’ll bring in that area won’t be shown much on next season’s roster. I’d love to see what the new assistants could accomplish if given a few years. The problem, however, is Scott Frost is 15-29 in year four and his team just won three games. You aren’t going to get the benefit of time very often when that’s the case. It’s more of an unfair spot for the new assistants than it is for Frost, who needs to show improvement now.   

Any updates on the construction project and when it will be completed? (@dmhusker1) 

Mike: Scheduled for completion in 2023. Trev Alberts told Mitch Sherman in an interview for The Athletic that the cost has increased to $165 million, with $100 million already raised through private funds.

If you could bring in any other additional (local) food for Memorial Stadium concessions, what are you adding? (@marcus_scheer) 

Erin Sorensen: This won’t come as a shock to most, but Muchachos. I like the Memorial Stadium’s food is locally focused, so adding more smaller businesses to the fold would be a great way for visitors to experience what Nebraska has to offer. I’ve seen a number of visiting fans get excited to try their first Runza, or get a hamburger pizza in a box from Valentino’s. I think it’d be great to add a Pipeline Burrito to the list of food to try at Memorial Stadium. 

Greg: Erin took my first pick but I have a strong backup plan. Allow alcohol and have The Copper Kettle make the drinks. They do have tasty food too. The mules are outstanding and would be perfect for those cold Big Ten games.  

Steve: I second what both Erin and Greg said. I love me Muchachos and a good mule.

Honest Nebrasketball final-record predictions? And does Fred Hoiberg finish the season as the head coach? (@j_trapp6) 

Jacob Padilla: Ask me again after we see what this team looks like with Trey McGowens back in the lineup. And yes, I do think Hoiberg will finish the season as head coach.

Why can’t we get this football program turned in the right direction? (@craig_denoyer) 

Brandon: The million(s of) dollar(s) question. All of the change at Nebraska, and I’m talking ADs as well as coaches, has left the football program without much of an identity since Frank Solich. Bo Pelini probably got the closest with his defense-first approach, but Nebraska changed offensive coordinators during that stretch and also had to deal with the conference switch. Football isn’t so much about what you do as how well you do it. When I look back at Nebraska football of the past 20 years, it’s hard for me to say: This is what Husker football is. I can tell you what Wisconsin is. And Iowa. And Northwestern. It doesn’t have to be scheme, though that’s often the easiest thing to point to, but there needs to be some overall vision of what a program must do well to have success and then how it’s going to do it. Too often this century, I wasn’t sure what the answers to those questions were beyond whatever offense or defense the Huskers were choosing to run. 

Steve: I agree with Brandon—having an identity would help turn the program around. Right now, you can’t point at Nebraska and say what it’s good at doing, except gaining a lot of yards on offense without scoring the amount of points you’d expect. I guess you could point at the defense for the 2021 season, but do you feel confident about how that unit will perform in 2022 after losing what it did? Like Brandon said, you can see the identities with Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern. I’ll even throw in Purdue and Minnesota. You know what you’re going to get when playing those programs. I wouldn’t know what to say for the Huskers.

Of this year’s redshirt freshman class, who steps up and contributes next season on offense and defense? (@TheRealSteveFox) 

Jacob: Thomas Fidone is the easy answer, and it’s probably the correct one. Travis Vokolek is coming back, but Austin Allen’s departure leads plenty of targets out there at the tight end position for other players, and Fidone seems like a guy who will rise to that challenge now that he’ll be a full year removed from his injury and have a few game snaps and a second fall camp under his belt. Gabe Ervin will likely get a chance to factor into the running back conversation once again after he returns to full strength, and since his injury happened before his fifth game he does get to use his redshirt for this past season. I have no idea what to think of any of those freshman wideouts (Will Nixon, Kamonte Grimes, Latrell Neville, Shawn Hardy) and how close any of them might be to seeing the field. Randolph Kpai and Wynden Ho’ohuli are both intriguing on the defensive side of the ball, but Nebraska has a lot of experience coming back at linebacker. The same goes for Blaise Gunnerson (a third-year redshirt freshman), considering Garrett Nelson, Caleb Tannor and Pheldarius Payne are all set to return at the moment. We could see one of the young defensive linemen (Mosai Newsom, Marquis Black, Ru’Quan Buckley, Jailen Weaver) break into that rotation considering the guys they’re losing from that room. 

Steve: I agree with Jacob. It’s Fidone. The way he attacked his rehab process so he could sneak in some live game reps late in the season tells you a lot about how serious he is about football. I’m really interested to see what he can do under the guidance of Sean Beckton and Vokolek.

If Nebraska doesn’t land a high-profile transfer portal quarterback, what are the chances Richard Torres beats Logan Smothers for QB1? (@JeremyWallace4) 

Drake: I’m not sure, but I have to imagine they’re pretty low for a few reasons. First of all, Torres is going to be coming off of an ACL tear. I’m not sure what the timeline for his recovery is there, but it could set him back in terms of being ready to start. Second, which plays off of the first point, is that he’s not only going to have to beat out Smothers. Heinrich Haarberg doesn’t seem to be far behind Smothers in that battle for a starting spot, and a not-high-profile transfer quarterback could be in the mix too. We can’t rule anything out this early, but Torres might have to wait until 2023 or so for a solid shot.  

Jacob: If I had to rank likelihood of each of Nebraska’s options for next year’s starting quarterback, Torres would be at the bottom of that list. I’d go 1) transfer quarterback, 2) Logan Smothers, 3) Heinrich Haarberg and finally 4) Torres. I just don’t see a true freshman coming in off a torn ACL being able to win the starting job. Of course, I didn’t see a true freshman who missed his senior season in high school being able to win the starting job in Lincoln when Scott Frost first arrived, and we saw how that turned out. 

Greg: I’d put the chances of that at next to zero. That’s a really tall task for a true freshman coming off an ACL injury. I do like Torres’ long-term outlook with Whipple though.  

Steve: I’ll put the chances of Torres beating out Smothers at next to zero. I just can’t see that happening when he’s going to be rehabbing the injury and going through a learning curve as he adjusts to being a quarterback in college.

Do you think anyone could have guessed a few years ago that the Scott Frost and Fred Hoiberg hires would be duds? (@BetsBruce) 

Brandon: If they did with Frost, I certainly didn’t see it. The Hoiberg hire polled really well, too, though he wasn’t riding in off an undefeated season, so maybe there were a few more questions there (though I don’t recall many). Coaching hires are hard. Any hire can work, and any hire can fail. That’s always been true, but consuming coaching hires rarely lends itself to such a clear view of reality. 

Mike: I know some cynical fans . . .  

Drake: Probably not. Although there’s still the chance either turns things around, I don’t think anyone expected both to look this bad at these points in their tenures. You could probably find a good amount of people that were skeptical of one or the other, but both going this poorly is shocking.

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