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Nebraska Football

Mailbag: Who Would Be Nebraska's Best New Rival?

August 14, 2019
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Another week brings about a new mailbag and Husker nation had plenty of questions. The Hail Varsity staff took a stab at answering as many as possible.

FPI says the game Nebraska is least likely to win is at Minnesota. How do you rank the games from most likely to win to least likely to win? (@JamesStevenson) 

Derek Peterson: From most likely on down, I’d say: South Alabama, Illinois, Northern Illinois, Maryland, Indiana, Colorado, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State. 

Mike Babcock: I like Derek’s list, though I might switch Iowa and Minnesota. 

Brandon Vogel: South Alabama, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland, Colorado, Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State. 

I want nothing more than to be ecstatic about the team and their quality again. Coaches are very positive when talking about the team. And I’ll be hyped for every game no matter what. But is this team ready to step into the spotlight? I’ve been all about Husker football since ‘09 and I don’t think people have been this excited since maybe 2012. It feels like coaches have been talking the team up for years and years, but it hasn’t translated to the field. I guess as a fan who has been burned many times, is this legit? (@SheepishJohn) 

Jacob Padilla: I’m actually in a very similar place to you––cautiously optimistic. I like a lot of the pieces on this team, but I’ve felt that way the last couple years as well and we all saw how those seasons turned out. I do believe they are making progress and I don’t think all the praise is just hot air, but until it all comes together and Nebraska starts to win games, it’s hard to fully buy in. The Huskers had no business being 4-8 last year, but that’s what they were, and that’s what they’ll be until they prove otherwise. I think they will, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of doubt lurking in the back of my mind. 

Greg Smith: I don’t feel like this staff hyped the team up last season. It felt like they were guarded in their praise but also knew the team needed to come along. This season it feels like everyone is more confident across the board. Like Jacob said, there are a lot of good pieces to like on this team. Making it come together is an entirely different story. I think it’s safe to be optimistic about improvement this season.  

DP: I’m with Greg. I saw the phrase “overcompensating bloviation” recently with regards to the way the staff has talked about its team in the past and I don’t see that. Last year there was a clear mandate from the top on down to stress the work that needed to be done and how far away the team was from where it wanted to be. They were realistic. That the staff is much more optimistic this time around I think is a sign some of those optimistic feelings are justified. Ten wins and the CFP? Ehh. Eight wins and competing for the West? I think each coach, if you gave them truth serum, would say that’s perfectly within reason. 

MB: Optimism is typically the order of the day at this point. And we aren’t at practices at other schools on the schedule, so it’s difficult to gain perspective. I’m in the guardedly optimistic camp. Last season’s record was something of an aberration, and you can cite numbers that would indicate as much. However, the final score is all that matters. Would folks be satisfied with a highly competitive 7-5 team this season? I’m guessing there would be some frustration, though I think that’s possible. Still, you gotta believe if you’re coaches and players, right? So be hyped. Fan passion is important, as Luke McCaffrey said today. And, as the coaches preach, trust the process because that’s what it is. Could it pay off this season? Maybe. If not, it will, sooner rather than later. 

Make a prediction. Which position group performs better this season: interior O-Line or Outside Linebackers? (@christopherfort) 

JP: This is a fascinating question. On the offensive line, you’ve got one guy who has proven himself to be capable in Boe Wilson, and I’d expect him to take a step forward heading into this season as a clear starter. But on the other side you’ve got a walk-on who has only played a handful of snaps in his career, and center is a complete wild card. I like the upside of both Trent Hixson and Cam Jurgens (or whoever wins the job at center), but how good will they be this season? I don’t know. On the other side of the ball, you’ve got upperclassmen who either haven’t shown to be productive or haven’t been able to stay healthy as well as some underclassmen who haven’t proven a thing. I’m a little hesitant to fully buy the Alex Davis praise, but at a certain point if everyone is saying the same thing, it’s got to have some truth to it, right? Ultimately, Nebraska needs both position groups to at least be solid to have success this year, but I’ll take the outside linebackers here. I’m high on what JoJo Domann and Tyrin Ferguson can do if they both can stay on the field and I like the upside of a stronger, faster Caleb Tannor and a relentless Garrett Nelson. If Davis really has learned how to get to the passer on a consistent basis, this defense might actually be pretty solid. 

DP: Outside linebackers. 

MB: Outside linebackers, depending on health. But then, health is a factor smack-dab in the middle of the line, at center. As I’ve said, Hixson likely will earn a scholarship, so I think he’s got a decent upside. And if Jurgens gets healthy (and plays the way folks seem to think he will), the starters in the middle of the offensive line could be solid. Still, I think the potential at outside backer is better. Domann can really be a force—if he can stay on the field. 

After a victorious Italy trip, who’s the starting five for Nebrasketball at the start of the collegiate season? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

AND 

What, if anything, do you take away from Nebraska's Italy trip? Or was this just more of an overseas team-bonding experience? (@danhoppen) 

JP: The problem with answering the first question is two potential starters did not play during the trip, so while it was nice to see a lot of these new guys in action (in one game at least), we still have more questions than answers. Nebraska played a whole lot of small lineups in Italy, not that Fred Hoiberg had a choice with Yvan Ouedraogo not in uniform. But how well will those lineups work against other college teams, especially those in the Big Ten? Will we see a lot of minutes with Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Matej Kavas as the frontcourt? Or will Ouedraogo and Kevin Cross account for most of the minutes at the five so they have more of a traditional post on the court at all times? Where does Shamiel Stevenson factor in? With his unique physical traits and skill set, he could play anywhere from the three to the five, though we don’t even know for sure when he’ll be eligible yet. 

I don’t know for sure what direction Hoiberg is going to go in with his starting lineup, But I’m guessing he’ll pick his five from this group: Cam Mack, Jervay Green, Dachon Burke, Haanif Cheatham, Matej Kavas and Yvan Ouedraogo. 

As for Dan’s question, the bonding experience was certainly the biggest benefit of the trip, and although it would be unwise to starting thinking Big Ten title because of a 4-0 trip, I think there are some things we can take away from the basketball portion. Burke and Cheatham were the most consistent performers and the team’s top scorers during the trip, and pretty much everyone else showed what they are capable of at one point or another. They played aggressively on defense, hunting turnovers, and pushed the pace every chance they got. This isn’t news to me, but Charlie Easley can really shoot the ball, and so can Matej Kavas. Samari Curtis, and the way Hoiberg talked about him after the last game, impressed me as well and could be a guy that cracks the rotation sooner than I anticipated. All of that said, it’s hard to compare the competition to what the Huskers will face here during the regular season, so I’ll stop here. 

I know it’s early, but who are we going to be talking about in November that we currently aren’t in fall camp (I.e. Ziggy last season)? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: I’ll go with Caleb Tannor. I don’t think he gets enough love for coming in last season very underweight and making the best of it. Year 2 in the defense and additional strength will help him a lot.  

DP: Alex Davis. Too many guys on defense (and too many guys who aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade) are too high on the senior outside linebacker for me to ignore. 

MB: Are we talking about Ben Stille? If so, are we talking about him enough? 

BV: This one’s interesting because the moment any player flashes or gets mentioned by a coach it becomes a fall camp storyline. You almost need someone who is experienced, good and so reliable that he doesn’t really surprise in August but it’s because he was already at a pretty good level (i.e. Ziggy last season). I like Mike’s pick, but since it’s off the board I’ll go with Jack Stoll. He’s not a guy who gets talked about much as the kind of weapon I think he’ll end up being. 

Is there ever a possibility of going down to eight conference games and adding a strong non-conference team to the schedule? (@AlpineAddiction) 

Erin Sorensen: I think the possibility is very real when Kevin Warren replaces Jim Delaney as Big Ten Commissioner. I wrote about the Big Ten’s scheduling issue (if there is one, I suppose) after Big Ten Media Days. The SEC and ACC continue with the eight-game conference schedule, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 have nine. The thing most Big Ten coaches agreed upon was that the lack of consistency across conferences creates imbalance. So, I’d say it’s possible we’ll see the Big Ten revert to eight conference games. As for how strong those non-conference matchups are? Well, suppose that depends on how badly a team wants the resume for the College Football Playoff. 

DP: It’s certainly possible but Jim Delaney is and was very adamant about the benefit of that extra conference game and I don’t expect Kevin Warren to come in and reverse course anytime soon. It’s more likely there’s some change made to the evaluation process for the playoff selection committee than there is a move toward uniformity in scheduling amongst the power conferences. 

What role will Jahkeem Green play this year? (@treadnot25) 

GS: I believe he will be in the rotation from Game 1 with the potential to start by conference play. I think he is that good. That isn’t a knock on any current defensive lineman because the group is good. I just think the Huskers got a massive steal in Green. 

DP: What Greg said.

Thoughts on what it means if the McCook ILB from CO does walk on at NU? Is he eligible to play this season or is this to build depth in the group for next year? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

JP: He was on scholarship at Colorado State, so I’m assuming he’d have to sit out a year before he’s eligible to play, although he did redshirt already in 2018. Unless I’m mistaken, unless he applies for and receives a waiver, he’s giving up a year of eligibility by deciding to transfer. 

GS: I agree with Jacob. 

Summer workouts are done, knowing Duval’s #wardaddy mantra, are they going to keep lifting weight as much during the season? Or it’s going to be slightly lighter? Some players missed the summer conditioning, are there any sessions for them to catch up during the season? 

AND 

The most common activity we know is practice. Can you give us further details about fall camp football activities? Things that they do behind the scene to prepare, from practice to film study session and weightlifting. What’s the frequency of all of these activities? (@CedestasCedric) 

DP: The team will still be doing lifting once the season begins, it’ll just be a lighter load. There aren’t any make-up sessions for late-arriving players that I know of. As for a fall camp rundown, they’ve got practice in the mornings, then they’re sort of free for food and class before coming back later in the afternoon for meetings. 

Besides the rivals we have now, what team would be the best rival for Nebraska? (@HerbieHype) 

ES: Who are Nebraska’s rivals at this point? I don’t mean that in jest. It feels like any time I write someone is a rival (or not), I get comments telling me I’m wrong. So, I’m curious who most people believe to be Nebraska’s rivals at this point. Aside from my own question to your question, I sincerely believe the best “rival” for Nebraska is whoever is keeping them from winning the Big Ten West. That’s where rivalries are built. When there’s something to lose, you have a little more skin in the game. Maybe that’s Iowa. Maybe that’s Wisconsin. Whoever it is, it’s someone on the same side of the conference and I think Nebraska is getting there. It takes time. 

DP: I think a Michigan-Nebraska game played on a semi-regular basis could be incredibly entertaining if it’s Harbaugh vs. Frost and both teams are fixtures in the top 15. I think that would be must-see TV, honestly. And there’s the Michigan-Nebraska history. Sign me up. 

MB: Rivalries develop over time. They can’t be designated, though back in the day, Bill McCartney designated Nebraska as Colorado’s rival and he earned a national championship with that as a starting point, even though everyone thought he was crazy for such a designation. Also, rivalries develop through competition, meaning teams at essentially the same level of winning (or losing). Nebraska-Oklahoma wasn’t really a rivalry, even though they were conference rivals beginning in 1921, until the Bob Devaney era, when the Huskers consistently won some games in the series. Then it was established. As odd as it seems, Nebraska is still trying to establish an identity in the Big Ten. A rivalry can emerge from that. 

BV: I think Michigan-Nebraska would come naturally if that were a yearly series. That said, my pick is Ohio State because it isn’t natural. If there were an eight- or 10-year stretch coming up where Huskers-Buckeyes felt huge on a national stage that would mean two things: 1) Ohio State maintained its best-in-the-Big-Ten level post-Urban Meyer and that’s good for the conference, and 2) Nebraska got to that level. 

Top three teams, not counting traditional rivals such as Oklahoma, that you’d like to see the Huskers schedule a football series with. (@hotovy) 

ES: Good question. LSU, Boise State (just to see the blue field) and Florida State. Does FSU count as a “traditional rival” though based on history between the two? 

BV: Texas (but make the Longhorns do a two-for-one; they’d do that, right?), Virginia (the two have never played and I like novelty) and Louisiana-Lafayette (home-and-home). 

MB: I’d count Florida State as something of a traditional rival, but still, for old times sake. I’d like to see USC on the schedule. And, atop my list, Notre Dame. 

DP: Georgia (for the recruiting), Oregon (for the #content and to go back to Eugene) and Oklahoma State (because that game would be like 58-42 and that would be awesome).

Based on the potential talent on the Defensive Line, is this a group that could make Diaco look like a good coach? (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: Well, some of the linemen set to play big roles this season also played for Diaco, and we saw how that went. However, Diaco did have success at Notre Dame when he had NFL talent in the trenches. Are the likes of Darrion Daniels, the Davis twins, Ben Stille and perhaps Jahkeem Green NFL players? We’ll have to see this season. As much as I like that defensive line group, we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch. 

GS: Short answer is no. I think if the line performs well this season, Tony Tuioti will get a lot of credit. Also being in the same defensive scheme for a second year in a row will be a big help. 

MB: Don’t think they could understand what Diaco was saying, any more than anybody else could. 

Who is the hardest hitter on the team? (@dellrakes44) 

JP: With Mikaela Foecke no longer on the roster, that’s a hard question. I haven’t seen the newcomers in person yet, so I can’t say what kind of arms they have. Of the returners, I’d probably have to go with Lauren Stivrins, although Lexi Sun has a heck of a swing as well. What, that’s what you were getting at with this question, right? 

DP: It’s probably a toss-up between Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke. 

BV: Mark me down for Deontai Williams. 

Who is the next WR to be drafted? Or who is the next defensive lineman or linebacker to be drafted? (@matta3421) 

JP: As long as JD Spielman can stay relatively healthy, I think he’ll get drafted in the next two years, even if he lacks ideal NFL wideout size. I think at least one of those seniors on the defensive line will get a shot at the NFL as well. At linebacker, bet against Mo Barry at your own risk. As long as Nebraska doesn’t fall on its face this season, I think the Huskers will get a new streak started in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

DP: JD Spielman gets drafted no problem. Then on defense, I think Mohamed Barry and Darrion Daniels are both getting taken in this next class. 

MB: A stay-healthy Spielman. I’m uncertain about the other two positions. 

How would Husker fans react if the football team beat Colorado, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin but lost to Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, and Maryland? Would people consider it a “good” season or just absolutely infuriating? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: Infuriating. Defeating the best teams on your schedule doesn’t mean much if you can’t beat the teams you should. 

GS: 100% infuriating.  

BV: Initially disappointing, but ultimately satisfying in the larger view of Nebraska football’s effort to get back to the top. If that were to happen, at best Nebraska finishes 8-4 in the regular season and gets a mid-tier bowl game. Then you fast-forward to the offseason and Nebraska made a bowl game for the first time since 2016 and maybe finishes ranked for the first time since 2012. At that point, with Adrian Martinez returning for his junior season, Nebraska is extremely buzzy/hyped for 2020 because when you look at what teams need to do in the offseason to take the next step, it’s much easier to say “well, they beat the best teams on the schedule, they just need to avoid the letdowns” than it is to say “Nebraska got back to a bowl with a favorable schedule but still needs to prove it can beat the top teams in the conference.” Losing games you shouldn’t feels like an error. Not beating the top teams in the league is a hill a team still has to climb in terms of perception (and on the field). In the first example Nebraska has proven it can beat the best. In the second it hasn’t. 

Where do we look positionally in the Big 10 for Soccer? Anything new on the Rhonda Revelle/softball situation? (@AlpineAddiction) 

DP: I thought the Huskers were one of the most talented teams in the conference last year and I’ve seen nothing that changes that. They have a seasoned goalkeeper, one of the best central defenders in the league, intriguing youth and two forwards I’m really, really high on. At one point last September, Nebraska was atop the Big Ten table; they have that same kind of potential this year. And no update on softball. 

How is the overall defensive team speed? Are there 11 hats on the ball or do we still need to recruit that? (@JIPeterson89) 

JP: I do think Nebraska’s overall team speed on defense has improved. Speed wasn’t exactly the defining characteristic of most of the senior starters on last year’s team, so I think there’s a bit of addition by subtraction in that aspect of the game, at least. Mo Barry talked a bit in the piece I wrote on Tuesday about the competitiveness among the defenders in terms of rallying to the ball and making plays, so if they’re not all the way there yet it certainly seems like they’re making progress

What kind of reps is Cam Jurgens getting? Is he full speed/full contact? (@dellrakes44) 

DP: Greg Austin said Wednesday that Jurgens is still a couple weeks away from being back to full strength. He is not going through team reps but getting light individual work in during practice.  

As hard as the team is practicing can they get through camp whole? (@huskerk1960) 

DP: On the whole it shouldn’t be an issue. Trust in the coaching staff’s ability to manage the team. This is the kind of stuff you want to be happening in fall camp. 

MB: No different than any other season. The team practices in the context of what it is prepared to do. Regardless, there’s always a chance for injury. It’s the nature of the game, of course. 

 
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