At one point, Nebraska had a 2020 schedule that could set the Cornhuskers up for bowl eligibility for the first time in the Scott Frost era despite a formidable final five games. Seeing their spring practices nixed was only the start of frustration the Huskers would grapple with down the line. The Big Ten then responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing a 10-game, conference-only plan in early August. The league then opted to hit the pause button entirely and Nebraska got steamed.
If toe didn't meet leather per usual, it wasn't going to be because Frost and his team didn't make every effort to force its conference to reconsider. After whipping fellow league colleagues into a froth about pressing ahead as other Power 5 members did, the Big Ten found itself reversing course. Eight-game itineraries were passed out along with the promise of a ninth come Big Ten Championship Game weekend.
The Huskers saw most of the fat trimmed from their list of one-time future opponents resulting in a schedule tougher than a two-dollar steak while adversity continues to mount. Purdue's Rondale Moore — one of the conference's most important players for 2020 — opted back in to headline the Boilermakers' offense. Star Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman is working to do the same for the Golden Gophers despite already signing with an agent.
Nebraska will no doubt feel the effects of facing the Big Ten's best one week after another. But there are some encouraging factors when charting the Huskers' year, however success may be defined.
Third-year starting quarterback Adrian Martinez returns and the prospect of bouncing back from a sophomore season riddled with miscues and injury has to be enticing. He finally claims an offensive line that looks the part and all skill positions around him are loaded with talent capable of lighting up scoreboards.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has two major concerns. First, he has to replace an entire starting defensive line that featured players now on NFL depth charts. Second, the Blackshirt linebacking corps has consistently struggled since his arrival and those issues look to bleed into Year Three.
He has Travis Fisher's salty defensive backs to rely on but they can only provide so much support as the front seven gels. New senior special teams analyst Jonathan Rutledge has already addressed glaring problems that plagued Nebraska last year. Daniel Cerni flew 25 hours from Australia to handle punting duties while LSU transfer Connor Culp looks to give the Huskers a placekicker that can last a full season.
So how will things shake out for the Huskers with all of these factors taking into consideration? Two Athlon Sports editors and a college football contributor weigh in on the eventual results of Nebraska's revised (for a second time) slate.
Nebraska Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Cornhuskers drew arguably the toughest schedule in the revamped Big Ten slate, so coach Scott Frost has his work cut out in 2020. Getting quarterback Adrian Martinez performing at a level closer to his freshman season would be a huge boost, but the offense also has to get better play in the trenches and identify a couple of playmakers to join Wan’Dale Robinson at receiver. The Cornhuskers also feature a revamped front on a defense that allowed 27.8 points a game and struggled to stop the run last fall. Considering the tough schedule, just getting to .500 would be a step in the right direction for Frost’s team in 2020.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
The Cornhuskers were one of the teams that made the most noise when the Big Ten initially announced it was postponing the fall season. Well, as the adage goes, be careful what you wish for. Scott Frost and company have their work cut out for them, especially when you consider they open their truncated schedule playing the two teams that played in last year's Big Ten Championship Game back-to-back. Penn State, a road game at Iowa, and the finale with Minnesota also loom, and let's not forget that Northwestern has played Nebraska tough recently, Illinois turned things around last year, and Purdue looks different now that Rondale Moore has opted back in. The Huskers wanted to play really badly, and they'll get plenty of chances to back up all that talk.
Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces)
To be blunt: this schedule has the comfort of asphalt. Despite the unforgiving nature, its benefits still far outweigh any negatives. Nebraska gets in badly needed live snaps, Adrian Martinez has his shot to bounce back, and paused eligibility gives Frost the ability to both refine and test out his entire roster.
Opening at Ohio State is what it is as the talent differential is still massive. Getting Wisconsin earlier in the season may benefit the Huskers, though. Last year's win by the Badgers wasn't a runaway and the Blackshirts don't have to contend with the freak of nature that is Jonathan Taylor. This isn't a team Nebraska faces 10 games into the year, either.
Northwestern's been a consistent nuisance for the Huskers and their defense isn't going to be kinder than in '19. Assuming linebacker Micah Parsons doesn't opt back in, Penn State's still going to be tough to navigate especially if quarterback Sean Clifford and running back Journey Brown have early success.
The slate's second half offers a chance to end the year strong. Illinois appears to be the "easiest" opportunity to notch a win. Despite Iowa being on a five-game tear against the Huskers, the game's probably a toss-up like the past two meetings. Purdue should be entertaining with Rondale Moore's return and they'll have an established starting quarterback by that point. Minnesota's offense doesn't return the same amount of talent compared to last year, but quarterback Tanner Morgan's a superstar and he'll get his numbers.
Going 4-4 over this stretch with no rest likely shows Nebraska taking further steps in the right direction under Frost. Having a ninth game on Dec. 19 is a plus regardless of opponent. There's also the chance of being bowl eligible with relaxed requirements. Getting 10 games in would be huge for this program considering the curveballs the pandemic has thrown at it.