Scott Frost and the Nebraska Cornhuskers find themselves in a precarious position. The possibility of no postseason for a third straight year appears almost assured with their 4-5 record and only one potential win looking realistic among the remaining slate. If Frost doesn't have the advantage of both additional practices and live snaps post-Iowa, utilizing the rest of this regular season is paramount in building towards 2020.
It's with this in mind that we look to the young guns. There are a handful of freshmen who should become even more familiar with their teammates when the Big Red takes the field while they can this season.
1. RB Rahmir Johnson
Following Nebraska's 13-10 win over Northwestern, Frost touched on Johnson during his weekly Monday press conference.
"He's a kid that's ready to help us," Frost said. "He's practicing really well. He's fast. He's going to give us a weapon somewhere down the road. We got him in for a series and probably didn't play him enough Saturday. But that's two games."
Understandably, the Huskers have the most confidence in Wan'Dale Robinson to help create a dynamic offensive threat. His 779 total yards and five touchdowns generated this year speak to why that is. However, Dedrick Mills hasn't complemented him as often as one might expect, especially as of late.
The team's second-leading rusher behind Adrian Martinez, Mills had eight carries during Nebraska's 38-31 loss to Indiana with none of those coming in the second half. He totaled all of six rushing attempts for 18 yards last week versus Purdue. It's hard not to wonder how well Johnson could perform in Mills' stead.
Of course, Robinson will still be a major part of the Big Red's game plan. But Johnson, a 5-foot10, 180-pound back from Oradell, New Jersey, deserves a shot to see if he can spark the Nebraska running game. If Frost is dead set on preserving Johnson's redshirt, Maryland and Iowa would be appropriate opponents for him to get a crack against.
2. WR/TE Chris Hickman
Hickman was inserted into the offensive game plan versus Purdue and he's now seen action in two contests (also played vs. Northwestern). Hickman has the size (6-6, 215) to serve as a big-bodied target in the passing game.
He towers over any other potential wideout providing the Huskers with what appears to be a lighter, speedier option at tight end compared to relying on Jack Stoll, Austin Allen, and Kurt Rafdal as larger tight ends. With Martinez often overthrowing smaller receivers, Hickman might be able to bail him out while others would be laying their bodies on the line trying to make the same snag.
3. WR Demariyon Houston
Houston (6-0, 180) isn't a towering receiver, but he does have one appealing trait – amazing speed. He won a combined three Oklahoma 3A titles as a high school senior excelling at the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and as a member of the 4×200 relay team.
Martinez has struggled with the long ball at times, but Houston could be used as the third part of a tricky trifecta featuring JD Spielman and Wan'Dale Robinson. Frost could even add the scrappy Kade Warner and Hickman to an empty set giving his quarterback a variety of mismatches.
Robinson has shown Nebraska fans you don't need to be the biggest member of the team to be one of its toughest. Surely he can't be the only Mighty Mouse on the roster.
4. DE Ty Robinson
One of the crown jewels of Frost's most recent recruiting class, getting Robinson experience now can only pay off in the long run. Both current starting defensive ends (Carlos and Khalil Davis) are set to graduate, leaving senior-to-be Ben Stille as a likely Blackshirt replacement come 2020. He'll need assistance and that could be in the form of Robinson, who offers intriguing size (6-6, 315) up front.
Nose tackle Darrion Daniels has been one of the more productive members of this year's defense giving Robinson some measure of a safety net to his side. This isn't to suggest that the brothers Davis should be removed from defensive coordinator Erik Chinander's scheme. But surely there are situations where Robinson can step in and be helpful, with the upside to have an even bigger impact.
5. OLB Garrett Nelson
Yes, Nelson has technically burned his redshirt, but that happening is one of the best decisions Frost and company have made. While the defense has struggled mightily, Nelson is a player who gives his all on every down. He brings an infectious attitude of excitement and aggression.
During the past few games, some players have loafed showing indifference towards tackling or hustling to the whistle. This doesn't compute in Nelson's world. Ever since getting the opportunity to make an impact at the outside linebacker spot, he has given his all.
Sure, he's made mistakes but true freshmen do that. Much like Ty Robinson's potential inclusion in the defense, getting Nelson actively involved is a win all around.