Head Coach: Scott Frost
2018 Record: 4-8, 3-6 Conference
Season Win Prop: 8.5 wins (O -125, U -105)
Make 4 Team Playoff: Yes +2500; No -10000
Nebraska is probably the best team coming off four wins or less in a long time. That sounds like sarcasm, but it really is not. Nebraska, mostly, just got off to a really poor start in 2018, as it dropped its first six games. Winning four of the next six did not necessarily redeem it, but it certainly hinted at a “brighter tomorrow.”
The close loss to Ohio State and victory over Michigan State were sparkly enough to say that.
This is the same Scott Frost that led UCF onto a national stage, and Nebraska will probably begin to reap those effects beginning this season. Vegas oddsmakers concur, setting the over/under a full 4.5 games higher than last season’s paltry total.
The excitement begins, where else, but at quarterback: Adrian Martinez was only the third true freshman to start at Nebraska and he made the Freshman All-American team while setting five school records. Nebraska faithful is believing the hype. Heck, his own defensive lineman, Darrion Daniels, made no hesitation in comparing Martinez to the vaunted talents of one Patrick Mahomes.
Martinez averaged a Nebraska school-record 295.1 yards per game. His improvement will not only be internal but also largely based on how much those around him at the skill positions step up in 2019. It begins with the troubles of Maurice Washington and an off-field (sexual) case that he was likely going to enter a plea on, but if he is unable to play there are some other talents waiting to take his role. Among those are JUCO transfer Dedrick Mills and true freshman Rahmir Johnson. The team lost 1,000-plus yard rusher Devine Ozigbo, but Mills and Johnson should be able to combine to eclipse that production with a healthy offensive line in front of them.
A bigger loss, perhaps, is that of wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. JD Spielman is plenty talented and should pass 1,000 yards with a full season (he missed the final two games last year). Tight end Jack Stroll is also a good receiver. Walk-on WR Kade Warner is talented and has a trustworthy set of hands. There are definitely weaker spots than receiver, despite the questions here.
The OL is led by Brendan Jaimes. He has started the last 21 Cornhuskers’ games. He moved from right tackle to left tackle last year, and that was something of an adjustment, but he should be primed for the role in 2019. The Huskers got better as he adapted to the new role last season. RT Matt Farniok could play guard, but he is more needed at tackle. Cam Jurgens was recruited to be a tight end, but he might end up shining more brightly at the center position.
The outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt is in a battle with cancer. Dewitt was at spring practices, but his health is something to watch with this football team. They seem to rally on his spirits, and it’s looking like he has staved off the cancer–a great sign for his family and for the Nebraska football family.
The Cornhuskers allowed 433.5 yards per game last year and 31.3 points per game. That is abysmal for a program that prides itself on defense, obviously. The team should be fully used to the 3-4 alignment, and it was not an easy thing to grasp—mainly because it really keeps offenses guessing and that takes execution, obviously. The defensive line has sufficient experience to make it work now. Inside linebacker Mohamed Barry returns as last year’s leading tackler, and along with Darrion Daniels, he will guide this defense on the field.
JoJo Domann has bulked up for this season, and he will be a force on the outside. Domann was originally recruited as a safety, but he has rebuilt his body to the specifications of his new position. He might still see time at safety in some sets.
The CB positions are in good hands with Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle. Jackson had two of Nebraska’s 11 interceptions last year. The rest of the secondary does lack experience, though. Deontai Williams started one game and that is the most of the experience in the remaining secondary. The defense will still be better despite this, if only due to the continuity and players knowing what to expect.
Isaac Armstrong took over as a walk-on punter. He averaged 43.6 yards-per-punt, No. 2 in the Big Ten. Barret Pickering hit 40 of 41 PATs and 14 of 18 field goals (including his final 10). The return game has to get better, and it is really up in the air as to who will return both punts and kickoffs.
The Cornhuskers are set to at least double last season’s win total, and one need only look at its second half of 2018 to expect this. The players will be more comfortable in Year 2 under Frost, and a return to Bowl play is nearly inevitable simply due to that.
Prediction: 9 wins (over)