Scott Frost said there were plenty of times this summer when it felt like Nebraska was just spinning its wheels in the mud. “Some of the decisions we’re making are good, some I don’t really understand,” the Husker head coach said Thursday night during an appearance on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show. But, he added, what good comes from questioning?
Well, for one, the Big Ten is playing football this fall in part because Nebraska and others in the league questioned why they couldn’t.
“I think we made a bad mistake deciding what we did as a league,” Frost said of the Aug. 11 decision to postpone the 2020 season. “It looked for a long time like they weren’t going to revisit that at all, and I’m just glad we’re going to get a chance to let our kids play football this year.”
But that chance isn’t without its share of hoops to jump through. The Big Ten will arguably have the tightest grip around the abort button as any league this season, its procedures as stringent as any.
Frost is worried about the testing thresholds set by the league (explained here). Nebraska will have to stop practice and cancel games if the percent-positive rate of its team climbs above 5%. For a roster with over 150 players, that means any more than eight active positive tests and the Huskers will have to pause activities for seven days.
“We’re going to have to be really careful,” he said.
But, beyond that, the head coach questioned often Thursday night some of the league’s other decisions regarding its return to play.
Most notably, Nebraska can’t put on shoulder pads until at least Sept. 30, the date daily testing around the league is expected to begin. There’s been some confusion as to when, and even more as to why. Frost has been left scratching his head on the latter topic.
“We’re out doing 11 on 11 right now with guys touching each other and doing as much contact as you can without pads on,” he said. “Nobody in our league is allowed to put pads on until all the conference-provided testing is on each campus. Hopefully that’s done by the 30th. I’m not really sure why putting shoulder pads on will change how the virus is going to react to our team when we’re out there as a whole group anyway.”
Nebraska hasn’t practiced in full pads since November of 2019. It’s been a long time. The team was right there in the spring before the coronavirus’ explosion halted sports, and then nearly out of the acclimation period in early August when the Big Ten came down with the decision to hold before postponing.
“Through this whole process, half the time we were doing everything we could but it wasn’t as much as we wanted to be doing and there were some other times I’m not sure anybody in the league knew what we were supposed to be doing,” Frost said.
“We were stuck in a period of just running and lifting longer than we should of. We were stuck in a period of being able to do everything but 11 on 11 longer than we should have. Once we decided to cancel football as a league, people at the NCAA on committees made up of teams and people from leagues that were playing decided what we could and couldn’t do.”’
As a result, practice is going to be altered as Nebraska prepares for the season. (Frost didn’t go into much detail beyond that.)
Meetings have already been altered. The full team can’t get together in a spot to discuss things like schedule and culture, Frost said, so they have to pass information down throughout the team in other ways. Meeting rooms look different.
Nebraska will have 24 days once the pads go on to get ready to play, assuming things go off without a hitch and Sept. 30 sticks as the day when things open up.
“You would have liked to have had time to work yourself into contact a little more and a little more and build yourself up,” he said. “We’re not going to have the luxury of doing that, so we’re going to have to adjust practices and try to fast-track that a little bit.
“We’re in good shape. I think our guys know their schemes well. It’s going to be a matter of getting in football shape and getting the guys used to contact again.”
Perhaps even the roster gets altered. Asked if Nebraska will need to trim its numbers as a result of testing requirements and testing capacity from the league, Frost said he hopes not, but that “I haven’t heard that answer for sure.”
“A lot of these rules seem to not benefit us at all,” Frost said. “A larger roster is a Nebraska tradition and it’s been an important part of being around here. We have a lot of rules—Title IX and others—that help ensure kids the opportunity to do what they love to do and compete, and it’d be a real shame to tell a number of guys that they can’t be a part of the team for the fall, but we’re waiting to hear a final answer on some of those things.”
Frost also created maybe a seed of doubt as to whether Nebraska has had any unreported defections from the team. Asked if there had been any opt-outs, Frost said not for guys training to prepare for the NFL and noted Nebraska has “the vast majority” of the team preparing for the new season.
“Once they canceled the season I think people lost a little bit of hope,” he said. “It was hard to keep everybody pinned down and focused when they didn’t know what they were working for. So, we’re close. We certainly haven’t had anybody opt out thinking they were going to go to the draft early. Announcing football certainly helps. We have the vast majority of our team out there trying to get better.”
True freshman wideout Marcus Fleming was recently in Florida, but he has since returned to Lincoln.
By and large, though, Nebraska hasn’t had any issues getting the team motivated.
“We’re at a point where the kids aren’t afraid of the virus, they’re afraid of getting the virus and having to sit out,” Frost said.
“We have a light at the end of the tunnel, we have a goal to prepare for, we have competition on the horizon and it’s starting to feel more normal.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.