Recapping Nebraska's 2019 Summer
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Recapping Nebraska’s 2019 Summer

July 31, 2019

On Thursday, Nebraska football reports for fall camp. At 1:30 p.m. CT that same day, head coach Scott Frost will hold a pre-camp press conference. Fan Day is from 5:30-7:30 p.m. that night. When that ends, we will be exactly 42,690 minutes (yes, I did the math) away from the kickoff of the 2019 football season. 

As they say, the dog days of summer are over. 

But seeing as we’re right near the end of that chapter in Scott Frost’s Nebraska rebuild and about to turn the page to a new, hopefully more entertaining one, it seemed a good time to recap some of the stuff we wrote about and some of the stuff that happened this summer. 

A Post-Spring Game Depth Chart Projection

It’s something that probably needs a little updating. After the spring game ended, the Hail Varsity staff got together to formulate a way-too-early two-deep based on what we’d seen and heard in the spring and what was coming in the summer. You can read that here. With fall camp approaching, I asked the team whether anything from what they thought then had changed over the summer, be it because of departures or unexpected additions (which we’ll get to in a minute) or something else. Here’s what everyone said.

It has become clearer since the spring that Nebraska’s staff would like Cam Jurgens to be atop the depth chart, but less clear if he’ll be able to be. I still think AJ Forbes is in the mix at multiple spots, but maybe I was a little too eager putting him No. 2 at center based on what we saw in the spring game.  Here on the brink of fall camp, what happens at center seems to be the central question to answer before sorting out the rest of the depth chart up front. Be an interesting couple of weeks. — Brandon Vogel
If I’m allowed a mulligan I would switch Andre Hunt and Kade Warner and make Hunt my starting X receiver. Aside from positive words from Troy Walters this summer, I think Hunt could be a good camp surprise this year. I’m struggling with not having Nick Henrich in my inside linebacker two-deep but I’m ok leaving him out until we know more about his rehab. The mix at safety and corner will intrigue me all fall. — Greg Smith
I took a stab in the dark at the wide receiver position after the spring game, but I don’t feel like I have any more clarity on that situation as we’re getting ready for fall camp. One significant change is the addition of Cal grad transfer Kanawai Noa to that room. He’ll have to go out and earn it, but he’s the most proven receiver on the team not named JD Spielman. Andre Hunt’s name continues to pop up as well, and he very well might go out there and win a starting spot. — Jacob Padilla
I put Dedrick Mills ahead of Maurice Washington because I wasn't sure about what would happen with his legal situation. Frost said he didn't expect it all to be sorted out for Washington by the start of the season at Big Ten Media Days, and the recent court date proved that to be true. At this point, I could have probably left Washington off the depth chart and been fine. But, how could I have known? Beyond that, I'm not sure I have any better idea of what's going to happen at wide receiver beyond JD Spielman. As for center, I think we're all right that Jurgens is the guy. As long as he's healthy. — Erin Sorensen

As for myself, I’m mostly just unsure of how to place guys on the defensive side of the ball. Cam Taylor is a name I have no clue where to place. Is he a utility cornerback or does he take Marquel Dismuke’s spot as the other starting safety? No idea. Same goes for Will Honas, though his situation is really just a matter of how much do we buy into the notion he’ll play over Collin Miller. We’ll learn a lot about both in camp. Also, I think Kanawai Noa, the Cal transfer wideout, is going to play a lot. He probably bumps Andre Hunt down a spot.

Roster Turnover

As is the case most offseasons, there was player movement for Nebraska. Here’s just a quick rundown of who transferred in and who left.

  • Arrivals: Kanawai Noa (WR), Travis Vokolek (TE), William Przystup (P), Josh Wegener (OL)
  • Departures: Caleb Lightbourn (P), Breon Dixon (OLB), Quayshon Alexander (OLB), Cam Jones (DB), CJ Smith (DB)

A Streak Ended

The draft streak. Not the sellout streak. Nebraska heard at least one name called in the NFL Draft every year for 56 years and for some reason it ended in 2019. Some people still aren’t sure how or why.

Stanley Morgan Jr., a 1,000-yard receiver and two-time school record-breaker for single-season receiving yardage, was invited to the NFL Combine and then passed on by teams who took obscure shots on players no one had heard of. 

Devine Ozigbo, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2018 and one of the bright spots of a rather bright Husker offensive attack, was expected to be a late-round selection and then didn’t hear his name at all. Neither did linebacker Luke Gifford, who had some momentum heading into the draft. 

Nebraska doesn’t have many seniors on this 2019 squad, and if Mohamed Barry is somehow passed on by teams, it might be two years in a row without a draft choice, but this might not be a developing trend as long as things stay on the upswing. The 2019 draft may have represented a down moment for the program, but perhaps a blessing in disguise for the individuals involved. 

Morgan signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ozigbo signed with the New Orleans Saints. Gifford signed with the Dallas Cowboys. All seem to have found good spots with teams that like what they bring to the table. With camps getting underway around the league, we’ll see how guys fare in the preseason and who can make some 53-man rosters.

Summer of Hype

The bold prediction before spring ball was that Nebraska would win the Big Ten West. 

The Huskers checked in at No. 24 in ESPN’s initial Way Too Early Top 25 in January, then climbed to No. 20 in May. ESPN’s FPI has the Huskers No. 31 and Bill Connelly’s updated S&P+ rankings debuted with Nebraska at No. 45. But in the human polls, the Huskers are trendy. 

From USA Today to CBS Sports, Nebraska was in the 17-25 range around the time spring ball wrapped up. The CFP title odds in late April gave the Huskers a 40-1 shot. 

As the summer went on and we had nothing to do but talk and talk and talk some more, Nebraska got hotter. Now the boldest of bold predictions is that Big Red not only win the Big Ten West, but win the Big Ten conference. 

June came around and Athlon picked Nebraska to win the West, then Phil Steele named Nebraska his “Most Improved Team of 2019” while also picking it to win the West, then stassen.com showed the Huskers’ as the consensus pick to win the West among the major preseason magazines, then cleveland.com’s annual media poll revealed the Huskers as the favorite to win the West. With all of those different publications predicting the same thing, it becomes expected rather than anticipated. 

Anticipated now is the College Football Playoff, which, as of mid-July, SuperBook USA gave the Huskers 6-to-1 odds to make. If you’re buying the idea that Vegas just doesn’t want to pay out 40-1 odds on a Nebraska team that, if it does win the West, is technically one more win away from having a legitimate case, then that’s your prerogative, but Nebraska being up there on a list with Florida, Auburn, LSU and Texas is still slightly jarring after back-to-back four-win seasons.

Nebraska, for its part, has handled the lovefest about as well as you could hope. Scott Frost told media in Chicago he leaves predictions for the media (while poking fun at the fact we’re all usually wrong) and has just focused on the fact his group is better than it was last year and ready to earn respect. Athletic Director Bill Moos said six wins and a bowl game is his expectation. And Tom Osborne wouldn’t even talk win totals, just saying Rome wasn’t built in a day.

This was a team trending up at the end of 2018, it was trending upper all summer long this year and it will be the trendiest team in the country if it wins out in the nonconference. How a relatively young group handles that will be interesting to monitor. 

Intrigue List

For the second straight year, we came up with a list of the 10 most intriguing Huskers entering into 2019. Not the most important, not the best, the most intriguing. Who looked like a surefire star but is still waiting for their breakthrough? Who is looking for a bounce-back season? Those kinds of questions. Here’s the list. 

Paul Bellinger
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez has had an eventful offseason, being named to numerous preseason award watch lists as well as landing the cover of the 2019 Hail Varsity Yearbook.

 

A Sign of What’s to Come

Nebraska’s sophomore quarterback landed on the cover of the 2019 Hail Varsity Yearbook (order your's before they’re gone) and that was just the appetizer course for what was to come. 

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg ranked the Huskers No. 23 in a future power ranking in large part because he ranked Martinez the eighth-best future quarterback in the country. USA Today’s Paul Myerberg slotted him at No. 7 in his quarterback rankings right now.

He became the first sophomore to ever be selected to represent the team at Big Ten Media Days (Nebraska has sent three guys a year since 2011 and only ever sent four non-senior players), saw his name added to preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award (best player), the Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback) and the Walter Camp Award (best player). 

As of July 23rd, Bovada gave Martinez the fourth-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s been steadily creeping up that list, too. 

It’s important to remember Martinez is not a finished product. He’s still getting better, he’s still developing as a leader and he’s still working on his game

Summer’s Greatest Hits

These were the most-read stories from the last few months.

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