Padding the Stats: Questions Abound for the 2017-18 Huskers
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Padding the Stats: Questions Abound for the 2017-18 Huskers

August 25, 2017

I’ve never been much of a prognosticator.

I love watching games, but predicting which team is going to win and by how much is not something that has really ever appealed to me. Most of the time, I just do not feel strongly one way or the other.

The way my mind works, unless the game involves a team I’m really low on, I usually manage to break down ways that several different outcomes could happen and convince myself that any or all of them are equally likely. That goes for season outlooks and even the impact of player acquisitions as well.

With that being said, I have no clue what to expect from major sports programs at Nebraska this season. If there’s one common theme for the 2017-18 Huskers across the board, it is “the unknown.”

There has been so much turnover in so many of Nebraska’s programs. The volleyball team lost three All-Americans and has eight players on a 15-woman roster who haven’t set foot on the floor for the Huskers to this point. The men’s basketball team lost its leading scorer and has six newcomers as well as two sophomores who need to make a big jump. The women’s team lost star center Jess Shepard  — the only double-digit scorer on the team — to transfer.

And of course, the football team has new faces all over the offense — including at quarterback — as well as an entirely new defensive system.

I truly do not know what to expect from this season, and that makes things all the more fun.

John Cook said his theme for this season is to “reinvent” the program without the Rolfzen twins and Justine Wong-Orantes, the core of two Final Four teams including one national champion. Nebraska does have All-America caliber players returning in senior setter Kelly Hunter, senior middle blocker Briana Holman and junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, but it is also counting on a few returners playing new roles and some newcomers making an immediate impact.

Is Nebraska’s preseason No. 5 rating fair? Will the reinvented Huskers be among the contenders in the country’s best volleyball conference once again? The standard Cook has established for his program says yes, but we’ll have to wait for the volleyballs to start flying before we know if the Huskers are strong enough to overcome those significant losses.

Tim Miles’ program has nothing but questions. Can Glynn Watson Jr. make the leap to being a consistent No. 1 option offensively? Will Isaac Copeland get his waiver for immediate eligibility? Will James Palmer Jr. be a legitimate starting option after two fairly nondescript seasons at Miami? Have Isaiah Roby and Jordy Tshimanga made enough progress to play the roles Nebraska needs them to in their second season? Will any of the freshmen be ready to play right away?

The number of yeses to those questions will determine what kind of season the Huskers have this year.

With most of the main players from the Connie Yori era gone, we’re going to see what a program under Amy Williams truly looks like. Hannah Whitish and Nicea Eliely were very solid as freshmen last year and will have to lead the way for this team without Shepard’s presence in the paint. Williams also added a pair of top-100 recruits in 6-foot-5 center Kate Cain and local product Taylor Kissinger, a standout wing from Minden, Nebraska. The Huskers certainly won’t be contending for a conference title, but it will be interesting to see what kind of progress Williams can make in year two.

Of course, we’ve been writing about the changes to the football team for quite a while now. It’s hard to have a more dynamic shift than going from Tommy Armstrong Jr. to Tanner Lee at quarterback. The praise has been coming nonstop for Lee’s ability, but until he proves that he has gotten significantly better than he was during his two years at Tulane, an upgrade at that spot is not a given. Stanley Morgan Jr. has not been a No. 1 wide receiver nor have any of the running backs been the primary guy thus far. Will the offensive line stay healthy enough to make the progress Nebraska needs with the new focus of its offense?

On the other side of the ball, how long will it take the team to adjust to the 3-4 scheme? Can the young cornerbacks hold up in coverage? Will Nebraska be able to get to opposing quarterbacks?

On special teams, can Nebraska get anything out of the return game (please, please block for De’Mornay Pierson-El this year; I’m begging you, Scott Booker and staff)? Has Caleb Lightbourn found a way to harness his talent into consistent production under Bob Diaco’s tutelage?

The Huskers have what I would classify as three games against conference contenders, four toss-up games and five gimmes. Depending on how many of these questions end up with positive answers, I could see the Huskers ending up with anywhere between seven and 10 wins during the regular season, and though that is only a four-game range, each of those results carries with it very different repercussions.

There are more questions across Nebraska athletics than I can remember. I have no idea what to expect from most of Nebraska’s major programs, and that fact excites me. I can’t wait to see how the 2017-18 season plays out and I’m looking forward to chronicling what should be the most interesting season for me here with Hail Varsity.

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