When the Huskers rolled into Chicago for Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, three players accompanied Coach Scott Frost—two on defense and one on offense.
The lone offensive representative was Adrian Martinez, a sophomore quarterback. He was one of just five sophomores chosen to attend media days; the other 38 players were upperclassmen including 30 seniors.
Why was Martinez chosen?
"It was a pretty easy choice, honestly, to bring Adrian, because number one, he deserves it,” Frost told the media during his time at the podium. “He's as good a player as we have, and I think as good a player as a lot of people have around the country, so he deserves to be here.
“Just letting you guys in on a little secret, usually we would bring seniors. We're not going to have any seniors, or very many seniors on offense this year. Coaches also kind of think we've got to bring a guy that is going to speak well to represent us and say and do the right things, and he's the poster child for that. He deserves to be in the spotlight. He can handle it, he's ready for it, and he's here.”
Martinez’s qualifications aside—those can’t be disputed and most expected him to be one of the players chosen anyway — Frost’s statement about the seniors, or lack thereof, caught my attention. So I took a look at the roster.
There are 24 seniors on the roster right now, and only 15 of them are on scholarship (not including Wyatt Mazour who started as a walk-on but was placed on scholarship last year). Only seven of those seniors are on the offensive side of the ball, and only four of those players are on scholarship (again, not including Mazour). Those four are Christian Gaylord, Kanawai Noa, Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard.
Gaylord has been a back-up tackle his whole career and likely will be one again this season. The three receivers are all battling for playing time; any of them could start or none of them could. Noa has yet to take a snap as a Husker after joining the team as a grad transfer from California this offseason. Williams and Woodyard were junior college transfers who joined the team last season. Williams opened as a starter but lost that job mid-way through the season while Woodyard recorded just one catch as a junior.
Pretty much every established starter or key playmaker on the offense is entering his junior or sophomore season. With that being the case, Martinez was truly a no-brainer to represent the offense in Chicago, and it also points to the overall lack of experience on the offense. Left tackle Brenden Jaimes and wide receiver JD Spielman are the only projected starters with more than one season of starting experience already under their belts.
Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer and Devine Ozigbo and Stanley Morgan Jr. played a lot of football for Nebraska and they played big roles last season, and now they’re gone. Nebraska has to replace two offensive linemen, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher, and it seems most are expecting the offense to be just fine, or better yet, to take a step forward. With so many wildcards and questions marks (the Maurice Washington legal situation, Dedrick Mills’ return to Power 5 football, Cam Jurgen’s health, the entire wide receiver room outside of Spielman), that many are expecting Nebraska to compete for the Big Ten West division title is a testament to the belief, both locally and throughout the conference, in Frost and Martinez.
Of course, the defense is a different story. First took two senior defenders with him to Chicago including perhaps the most vocal upperclassman on the team in Mohamed Barry. There are seven seniors on the defense who have played or project to play significant roles this season including Barry, Khalil Davis (the other player who attended Big Ten Media Days), Carlos Davis, Darrion Daniels, Alex Davis, Tyrin Ferguson and Lamar Jackson.
The defense has a lot more room for improvement than the offense, but the Huskers are also a lot more experienced on that side of the ball. According to Frost, the early returns shine favorably on the defense as the head man said in Chicago that Erik Chinander’s group is a little ahead of Troy Walter’s at this stage.
Frost shut down the comparisons of Nebraska in Year 2 to Central Florida in Year 2, and it is going to be tough for the Huskers to match that kind of rapid improvement. However, with the 2019 schedule, the Huskers have a big opportunity ahead of them. If they’re ahead of schedule, a conference title is within reach. We’ll see if the team has the kind of leadership in Martinez and Barry to get them there. Personally, I wouldn’t bet against them.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.