The Cornhuskers will face a difficult schedule in Scott Frost's debut season
When Scott Frost was named Nebraska’s new head coach last December, everyone in Husker Nation was ecstatic. That hasn’t changed one iota in the months since.
Still, expectations are relatively level-headed with most fans feeling that a six-win season with a bowl appearance would be a fantastic start to Frost’s head coaching career at his alma mater. Regardless if Nebraska wins five or nine (some fans dream big, no shame in that), Frost has done about as good of a job reshaping this program as anyone could’ve thought possible. Immediate junior college and graduate transfers have already begun laying the foundation for 2019, a season already underscored as Nebraska’s next chance to really do some damage in the Big Ten and on the national scene.
With 51 new faces on the roster, Nebraska boasts one of the best wide receiver corps in the conference thanks to Stanley Morgan Jr. delaying his eventual NFL career and JD Spielman providing an Oregon-like speedster as the tip of the iceberg. Both sides of the football should be entertaining to watch with Frost’s offense complemented by defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s take-no-prisoners style. He even gets one of his standouts from UCF to utilize again in graduate transfer Tre Neal.
Will Nebraska win the Big Ten West? The magic eight ball says, "No." Will these Huskers take on the personality of their head coach and fight until the bitter end? That’s far more likely.
Just how will Frost’s tenure as the Huskers’ head man play out in terms of wins and losses? Athlon Sports polled several writers to get their take on the Big Red’s 2018 effort and how it’ll all shake out.
Nebraska Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
In coach Scott Frost’s first year, I expect Nebraska to improve over the course of the season. However, the schedule is very difficult. The Cornhuskers play three out of the top four teams from the Big Ten East and catch swing games against Northwestern and Iowa on the road. Considering the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel question marks facing this team, 2018 is a transition year for this program. Offensively, there’s potential for this team. Freshman quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Tristan Gebbia are promising, and Frost has a solid group of skill players at this disposal. Nebraska’s defense has to show marked improvement after giving up 36.4 points a game last fall. The Cornhuskers will be more competitive and a tougher out under Frost’s watch than they were in 2017. While Frost won’t return Nebraska to the top of the Big Ten in Year 1, this fall could set up bigger things in 2019.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Enthusiasm for Scott Frost is at a fever pitch — as it should be — but the former Cornhusker quarterback inherited a team that struggled mightily on both sides of the ball a year ago. Getting to six wins and a bowl game would be a nice accomplishment in Year 1. Nebraska should handle Akron in the opener with relative ease, but the other two non-conference games — Colorado and Troy at home — are far from gimmes. Assuming the Huskers take of care of business and win all three, can we find three wins on the Big Ten slate? Let's start with Minnesota and Illinois at home. Then I'm calling for a late-season upset over Michigan State in Lincoln. There it is: Six wins and a trip to a bowl game.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
I'm a big believer in Scott Frost doing some big things in Lincoln long-term but like his mentor Chip Kelly, Year 1 should have some ups and downs given how stacked that schedule is in 2018 (especially on the road). I think Frost will figure out the quarterback position early and whoever winds up with the job will improve as the year goes on to the point where an upset in November shouldn't be ruled out. The defense probably holds the Huskers back from being anything but a .500 team but the baby steps they take this season will pay off largely in Year 2 and 3.
Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces)
Several factors went into these projections, though the primary ones were Nebraska’s small amount of established depth on the offensive line, struggles that the secondary is likely to face (though improvement from last year is expected), mistakes made due to playing in new offensive and defensive systems, Frost’s coaching ability and which teams could go toe-to-toe with the Huskers in a shootout.
The biggest thing Nebraska has going for it is the excitement around the program in all aspects. Fans are juiced, the roster’s ready to run through a brick wall for Frost and though the schedule is treacherous, the Big Red should be able to at least be able to get some solid shots in even if they ultimately come up short.
Offensive line coach Greg Austin would kill for a fraction of the depth that other skill positions have. Running back and wide receiver are loaded. Regardless of who starts at quarterback (likely Adrian Martinez or Tristan Gebbia), Nebraska will have a dynamic playmaker at the position. What will make or break the Huskers’ offensive performance is keeping the starting five linemen healthy and, should the worst happen, whether or not the next man up can adequately do his job.
The defensive front seven should be a treat to watch. However, despite the talent injection the secondary’s received, including the aforementioned Neal, I still think the Big Red gets picked on from time to time by teams who can click through the air. Also, knowing Chinander takes risks, I do expect some of those chances to not go his way simply due to the law of averages.
While I think my picks are ultimately realistic, I’ll catch some flack for picking a loss to Purdue. The Boilermakers only return 12 starters, but they do have two quarterbacks with starting experience returning in David Blough and Elijah Sindelar. Whoever wins the job will have fantastic wide receivers to throw to. They also return several key specialists including kickers Spencer Evans and J.D. Dellinger, punter Joe Schopper and kick returner D.J. Knox.
I don't believe Jeff Brohm's 2017 success to be a fluke. He consistently helped Purdue beat teams with better talent last year, both home and away. The Boilermakers also didn't have one embarrassing loss and it should be noted that despite losing to then-No. 7 Wisconsin on the road, the Boilermakers actually stymied the Badgers in the second half while adding a field goal of their own. In fact, Wisconsin didn't score a touchdown after the first quarter.
This is a game I can see with a score hovering around the 35-32 mark. It doesn’t help the Huskers that these two clash after what will no doubt be an emotional trip to Ann Arbor to play one of the best defenses in the nation.
Also, dismiss Troy’s visit following what will be a passionate tilt with former conference-mate Colorado at your own risk. That said, I expect there to be offensive fireworks, an improved turnover margin (considering 2017's mark was minus-seven, there's not really any way to go but up) and... wait for it... Nebraska to force Ohio State to punt for the first time since 2012.