'We Need to Go to a Bowl Game': On Nebraska's Quest for Six
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

‘We Need to Go to a Bowl Game’: On Nebraska’s Quest for Six

November 21, 2019

Austin Allen. Dicaprio Bootle. Marquel Dismuke. JoJo Domann. Matt Farniok. Trent Hixson. Will Honas. Brenden Jaimes. Cameron Jurgens. Adrian Martinez. Collin Miller. Garrett Nelson. Wan’Dale Robinson. JD Spielman. Ben Stille. Jack Stoll. Caleb Tannor. Cam Taylor-Britt. Mike Williams. Boe Wilson. 

Twenty names. Twenty starters, or co-starters. 

Nebraska lists 28 guys as No. 1s or co-No. 1s on its depth chart for both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Only eight of them have played in a bowl game during their collegiate careers. 

Three of those eight—wideout Kanawai Noa, running back Dedrick Mills and defensive tackle Darrion Daniels—did so at other schools. 

“We need to go to a bowl game and I think everybody knows that,” senior running back Wyatt Mazour said. 

There are 64 FBS programs that have already reached the minimum win total required for a bowl bid. There are only 26 who have already been mathematically eliminated from contention for one. Fourteen teams sit on five wins. Nine of them are in a Power Five conference.

With the explosion of sponsor money and TV interest, a bowl bid isn’t so much a statement on where you are as a program anymore. Of the 130 FBS programs this season, 80 will earn an invite to some game somewhere. 

Nebraska probably isn’t getting in at 5-7. Which means the Huskers, at 4-6, have to win out. 

“You guys do plenty of talking about those things for us,” head coach Scott Frost said Monday when asked about bowl eligibility. “We’re talking about Maryland. We are focused on practicing and playing the best we can this week.”

Because, spoiler alert, in order to set up what would essentially be a play-in game at home on Black Friday against rival (don’t yell at me, it is) Iowa, Nebraska has to beat Maryland on the road this weekend first. 

But if Frost sounds a little prickly about the topic of bowl eligibility, it’s because he has every right to be. 

When Athletic Director Bill Moos extended Frost’s deal two years last week, he met with the media ahead of the Wisconsin game to talk about the timing, and inevitably was asked about the goal for this season still being six wins. Moos set the floor before the year even began, saying back in July that Nebraska needed to return to the bowl scene after a two-year hiatus. Nothing has changed for him. 

For Frost, though, he probably thought this conversation would have been put to bed by now. Nebraska had leads against Purdue and Indiana that eroded. Indiana isn’t in the Big Ten’s upper class and Purdue can’t even sniff it. Nebraska had a 17-0 lead over Colorado in the second game of the season that vanished. Colorado then lost six of its next seven games. 

“You would love to be eligible before,” senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said, but Nebraska’s closing setup is still all that one could ask for. “You beat Maryland and then it’s Iowa at home, everything is on the line. Fans in there. We play better at home anyway. It’s a great setup. We did well against Wisconsin and I think that was a confidence booster for the team. It’s prime for a grand finale.”

Barry wants to return to the postseason. He is one of only eight players on Nebraska’s roster to represent the Huskers in a bowl game. Since that 2016 Music City Bowl against Tennessee, Nebraska is 12-22. Even though it isn’t as hard to get into a bowl as it used to be, it’s still a measuring stick of sorts. 

“I just want to show progress,” Barry said. “It would mean everything to me to show progress this season, so winning these next two games and going to a bowl game, as a senior leaving here, that would mean everything.

“That’s what it’s about.”

It presents a way to actually progress, too. 

Because making a bowl brings with it rewards that don’t just include backpacks and pullovers and gift cards. It means 15 extra practices. 

For a team with 27 underclassmen on the two-deep, those are invaluable. 

Consider, for a moment, the quarterback room. What quarterback coach Mario Verduzco could work on with an extra 15 days of work before an offseason of minimized contact. 

“It would be a catapult into detailing our drill work in the summer that much more,” he said. “Just having more reps, period. As many reps as a young guy can get, whether you’re taking them”—like Adrian Martinez, who still, mind you, is very young—“or you’re a Luke McCaffrey taking mental reps, the more you can get of that the better.”

Work on footwork. Work on timing. Work on developing chemistry with receivers. 

Jamie Nance and Darien Chase could use those extra reps going against a veteran Nebraska secondary. 

Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers could use that extra work on the defensive line. 

Rahmir Johnson gets more opportunity. 

Myles Farmer gets more opportunity. 

Guys like Carlos and Khalil Davis get one final chance to play with brothers. 

“I will do anything to be able to play with my brothers and this team,” Khalil said after last Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin. “I’ve been here for five years, and I’ve been with these guys every day. It means everything to have another game to play with them.”

It’ll take a good amount of those 20 names listed earlier making plays against Maryland Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT for this conversation to continue another week. 

If the Huskers win, and they’re a win away, maybe Frost will be in a place where he’ll drum up the Super Bowl-like tone of the game. Then again, maybe not; he’s not really one to play up the stakes in already high-stakes games. At least he hasn’t to this point. Nebraska hasn’t played in many during his tenure. 

Here we go.

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