We have hit a tipping point in college football during 2020. It took an unprecedented year for us to get here.
College football players just experienced a year unlike any other. Limited campus life, muted game day atmospheres and daily protocols made things different. As a result, the NCAA transfer portal is bursting at the seams. There are more than 850 players currently in the portal. A blanket extra year was granted because of COVID-19, while the expected one-time transfer rule also looms. Roster management is going to be difficult for college coaches around the country.
Meanwhile, the opportunity is there for schools to upgrade the roster if they desire. The Huskers will be looking to find ways to bring talent to Lincoln. Coach Scott Frost has mentioned keeping a few spots in their back pocket for transfers. That’s part of fitting puzzle pieces together in recruiting now.
What are the top positions the Huskers could look at?
Let’s get the big one out of the way because it’s not on my list. I don’t believe Nebraska will pursue a transfer at quarterback. Despite uneven play, I think Frost has seen enough glimpses of how good Adrian Martinez can be. That will have him stick with the captain for another season.
The first position I’d like to mention is defensive back. Safety is specifically an area of concern heading into the 2021 season. The natural progression would give us Myles Farmer and Noa Pola-Gates as the starters next season. Yet, Farmer suffered an injury this month and we haven’t seen much of Pola-Gates on the field. Isaac Gifford will be in the mix as well. Could Nadab Joseph make a move at safety? Either way, the Huskers will need more depth at the position and can provide a pretty clear path to playing time.
Running back has become more of a concern. All the Huskers’ backs missed time for one reason or another during the 2020 season. The results were also a mixed bag. The potential is still there for Ronald Thompkins, Rahmir Johnson, Marvin Scott and Sevion Morrison. But has enough been shown by any to think they are ready to be the clear-cut starter next season? TJ Pledger and former Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser are in the portal. It would make sense for Frost to take a look.
There are two other positions in the mix that Nebraska might be able to wait to decide on. Wide receiver is the first. The position could look a lot better in 2021 with a solid offseason of development. There are enough scholarship players and developing walk ons to produce a good unit. If Zavier Betts takes a leap that provides a huge boost. What happens with Omar Manning? There are questions but they may not be sorted until spring ball.
The other position that Nebraska’s staff may just need to see more from is outside linebacker. This season didn’t feel like outside linebacker was the glaring hole. It had been in previous seasons for Nebraska. Garrett Nelson has locked down a spot. His play really improved down the stretch of the 2020 season. Opposite Nelson is a bit more shaky. Caleb Tanner, Pheldarius Payne, Niko Cooper, Blaise Gunnerson and Javin Wright will all be in the mix. There isn’t much reason to give up on all those players. The team could wait to see how they develop through winter or spring. Then see who else has entered the portal. Unless, of course, a big-time pass rusher is available that has interest in Nebraska.
Figuring out how to best use the portal will be a huge part of the offseason for Nebraska. The coaches will need to work through these decisions quickly. Players are already making decisions on what school they will attend next. That’s what makes picking the right players trickier.