The sleeping giant that is Nebraska football begins the Scott Frost Era this season and the Big Ten’s schedulemakers certainly didn’t do Frost any favors. He has go to on the road to his two key divisional rivals, Wisconsin and Iowa. For the crossover games…Nebraska drew Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, two of them on the road. Nothing like trial by fire for the quarterback of the 1997 national championship team as he returns home to Lincoln.
There’s one thing that’s not lacking for Nebraska though, and it’s a raw talent base, at least when measured by the standards of the Big Ten West. In spite of their recent struggles, the Cornhuskers recruiting consistently ranks at the top of their division—as a Wisconsin fan, I can say that it’s sobering to realize how much better the overall talent pool at Nebraska is, and what might happen in this division if the Cornhuskers ever got a head coach that knew what he was doing.
Nebraska fans have every reason to think Frost is that guy. He turned Central Florida from a winless program into an undefeated one in just two years. He ended his UCF tenure last January by beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl—a Tiger team that had beaten both Alabama and Georgia in November, and it validated the belief many of us had that Central Florida should have been in the Playoff. If he can do that at UCF, how much more might he accomplish at Nebraska?
Anything that’s going to happen this year is going to have start with defense. The Cornhuskers have an experienced front seven. The nose tackle, Mick Stoltenberg, is a good fit for the 3-4 scheme, with his ability to tie up blockers. The ultimate success of this unit will be if a playmaker can emerge on the edge.
Frost’s defenses liked to attack at UCF and will do the same here. If you want to play aggressively in the secondary—and coordinator Erik Chinander does—then a linebacker has to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups afforded by Stoltenberg and create some havoc.
The new head coach’s personal focus is offense and in spite of his status as a quarterback during the power football glory days of the Tom Osborne era, Frost is committed to the spread. There’s a lot of youth there. He might be able to get by with a freshman quarterback, Tristan Gebbia, if there’s enough athleticism and strategic creativity to get the field spread out. But the second string is also filled with freshman and the lack of experienced depth will take its toll in November.
Even so, I’m not prepared to write off Nebraska—the combination of the best talent base in the division and a head coach I believe in makes the Cornhuskers automatically worthy of respect. A good early test will come on September 8 when they host Colorado—a game that once defined Big Eight & Big 12 North football in the 1990s is now a Big Ten-Pac-12 showdown. The trip to Michigan comes on September 22 and Nebraska travels up to Wisconsin on October 6. Those games should be early enough in the schedule to avoid any depth problems.
When I first looked at the betting odds in the Big Ten and saw that Nebraska was a 30-1 shot to win the conference, as compared to Wisconsin at 4-1, I was ready to suggest the Cornhuskers would be worthy of a small investment. A look at the brutal schedule gauntlet gives me pause on that. But they are still better than the oddsmakers say, and will beat the Over/Under of 6 for total wins. And better days are around the corner.