A Hail Varsity reader posed an interesting question recently—“What would a COVID-19-restricted football travel roster look like for college football?”—and that’s going to be the subject matter for the next 900 or so words.
The sport is grappling a bit at the moment with testing.
Unlike the professional sports leagues with commissioners and a board of owners and a player’s union all collectively bargaining at the same table, college football is much more fragmented. It’s a top-down structure that leaves individual discretion up to the conferences. In recent months, some conferences (the Big Ten) have passed on that discretion to the individual institutions.
Bring your players back when you would like to bring them back, as long as you’re coordinating with local health and safety officials. Voluntary workouts can resume when the individual universities like. Most of the Big Ten’s member institutions have similarly-looking protocols in place for how they brought student-athletes back to campus and how they returned to team activities, but that wasn’t because of some mandate from the Big Ten.
If we get to August, and this kind of nuance throughout the country is still in place, issues are going to pop up. Who is testing who, and how regularly? Who is following the same rules you are? College football coaches love control. One thing they’re going to have to care about even more during this 2020 season is risk mitigation.
Should a coach get a little uneasy taking his team on the road and into an environment that either hasn’t been following the same playbook as them, or worse yet, hasn’t been forthcoming with what they’re doing?
Maybe at that point the safest thing to do is to restrict the travel roster.
Currently, teams can bring 75 players on the road. Travel isn’t as big an issue considering most major universities charter for football, but it could become one for small schools whose budget can’t support that, or mid-level schools whose 2020 budget was Week 2 Nevada playing Oregon (what a mess, those dude’s got outscored 70-0 over the final 40 minutes of that game).
What if, for all the issues present with taking a huge group of people and (Patrick hand gesture) pushing them somewhere else, teams decide to limit the travel roster to 40 players?
Nebraska would look something like this on the road:
(Traveling teams are already at a disadvantage with travel limits as is, and no, some don’t even like the current restriction, but for the sake of this, just assume the conference has stepped in and instituted some kind of equalizer rule limiting the number of people who can stand on the home sideline on any given weekend.)
Nebraska would obviously be able to take its starting 11 on both sides of the ball and fit that comfortably into the 40-player limit.
Let’s just project:
Adrian Martinez (QB), Dedrick Mills (RB), Travis Vokolek (TE), Wan’Dale Robinson (WR), Omar Manning (WR), Chris Hickman (WR), Brenden Jaimes (LT), Trent Hixson (LG), Cam Jurgens (C), Matt Farniok (RG), Bryce Benhart (RT).
The question becomes what to do with the other 18 travel spots?
Because NU would have a handful of positions it would deem a requirement to bring multiple guys. It would have to bring a backup quarterback, but because of how much NU rotates at the skill positions, maybe Luke McCaffrey’s versatility saves a spot that would otherwise go to a wideout for the defense. It would also probably bring a few running backs/wideouts/tight ends.
Let’s say Rahmir Johnson, Zavier Betts, Alante Brown and Jack Stoll make the trip.
Add a reserve tackle, Brant Banks, and a reserve guard, Ethan Piper, and Nebraska’s at 18 guys on offense.
You might be thinking, “Why Banks and Piper and not Boe Wilson or Christian Gaylord?”
Both could flip sides. Not easily, but both arrived at NU playing on the defensive line. Nebraska has some two-way flexibility that would need to be utilized.
Because 22 spots remain for the other two phases of the game. With this configuration, guys like Stoll, Vokolek, Warner, maybe Manning, and maybe Mills would need to play special teams. Robinson would need to be the return guy.
The Defense & Special Teams
Again, NU could bring its starting 11. Again, let’s project:
Ben Stille (DE), Damion Daniels (DT), Ty Robinson (DE), JoJo Domann (OLB), Will Honas (ILB), Collin Miller (ILB), Caleb Tanner (OLB), Dicaprio Bootle (CB), Deontai Williams (S), Marquel Dismuke (S), Cam Taylor-Britt (CB)
Eleven spots left.
Nebraska needs to bring a kicker, so we’ll add Chase Contreraz (or Connor Culp, I have no insight here).
Ten spots left.
Nebraska needs to bring a punter, too, so add Daniel Cerni.
Nine spots left.
Nebraska needs to bring a long-snapper as well.
Eight spots left.
Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti needs some rotational pieces on the line, and even though the backup o-linemen can flex, we’ll add Keem Green and one other guy, maybe it’s Jordon Riley or Deontre Thomas on a rotating basis.
Six spots left.
Garrett Nelson will go. A rotating inside linebacker will go, maybe it’s Eteva Mauga-Clements one week, Nick Henrich the next, Keyshawn Greene the next, Luke Reimer the next. (Wow, it feels like Nebraska is really well set at inside ‘backer framed in this manner.) I also want to add Javin Wright here because of his ability to play defensive back and outside linebacker.
That leaves three spots left for defensive backs. Add Myles Farmer, Braxton Clark, and Eli Sullivan. Sullivan was a special teams standout a season ago as well as a serviceable safety. Nebraska probably wouldn’t need to rotate much in the secondary if numbers are tight, that top-line foursome might be as good as any in the Big Ten.
And with that, every spot is full. Those filled up fast, and some seriously intriguing names got left off the list. Forty isn’t a lot when you’re talking about the way Nebraska rotates.
There’s no protection for injury. One targeting penalty and you’re behind the eight ball. Guys having to play special teams and either offense or defense to the degree this restricted-roster would require would put conditioning at a premium.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments below about who you’d have in your 40-man travel roster.
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.