Here's a potential path to double-digit wins in Year 2 of the Scott Frost era
The kickoff for Scott Frost's second year as Nebraska's head coach is right around the corner, and most think he's due for a rebound. Following a 4-8 debut, it would seem the bar is set rather low, but Frost's expectations are just the opposite. If you've read about any preseason publication or listened to the pundits speak you know that's not limited to the Cornhuskers' camp.
Former Nebraska players have gone on record as expecting eight wins while a couple of Athlon Sports editors and yours truly several experts at Athlon Sports think the Big Red is due for a nine- or even 10-win year. To do that, the Big Red has to win some games that several across the college football landscape don't think they can. Just to show it's not at all impossible, here's how Nebraska comes out of the regular season with double-digit wins.
Let's be fair, in theory, any FBS team has at least a small shot at upending another. However, there are a few games the Huskers have little to no chance of losing barring a tear in the time and space continuum. An easy three victories come at the expense of South Alabama, Northern Illinois, and Illinois.
Yes, the Huskers lost to the Huskies and Troy over the past two years. But as we're all about to see, this squad is nothing like either of those teams.
We move on to the games Nebraska should win in Colorado, Minnesota, Indiana, and Maryland.
While Colorado spoiled Frost's coming out party, keep in mind the game was close until the end. No doubt the Buffaloes' dynamic duo of quarterback Steven Montez and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. will do everything they can to torch the Blackshirt defensive backs for a second year. However, Lamar Jackson has found his lost swagger and Dicaprio Bootle is one of the best pass defenders in the Big Ten.
The Buffaloes are a team once again projected to finish in the Pac-12 cellar. Considering they only generated .069 points per play in 2018 with an offense that returns six starters, that's hardly a surprise. That prediction carries even more weight considering five starters come back from a defense that allowed .072 PPP.
Minnesota received some horrible news earlier this month as quarterback Zack Annexstad injured his foot in practice, giving the starting role to Tanner Morgan. To make matters worse, the depth behind Morgan is razor-thin. He has a solid receiving corps returning, but if he's being harassed by a more experienced and well-suited defensive line for Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander's scheme, that probably doesn't make much of a difference.
The Gophers' best hope of winning would be thanks to the other side of the ball. Defensive end/linebacker Carter Coughlin plays like a madman while linebackers Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber work to solidify the middle of an often seen 4-2-5 scheme. The secondary is susceptible to Nebraska's speed, though. The Huskers should break through and a final score similar to last year's matchup (53-28) looks probable.
Indiana has shown the ability to keep track meet-style games close. But even if the Blackshirts have an off day, couple Nebraska's talent with the home crowd and a score along the lines of 42-24 in favor of the Huskers wouldn't be a surprise.
Maryland now has some Alabama pedigree at the top in Mike Locksley, but it's important to note that his record as a head coach is a whopping 3-31. The Terrapins are more than a culture change away from competing in the Big Ten and as a result, the best thing Maryland can hope for is the Huskers looking ahead to their matchup against Iowa. Three returning starters for the Terrapins on offense and four on defense don't inspire confidence even with this game taking place in College Park.
With those seven wins, it's time to get down to business and show how Nebraska can "shock the world" or some other hyperbolic statement. Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Iowa remain.
Ohio State brings their usual talent to Lincoln and both teams are likely to be undefeated when they meet. The key difference here is that Frost has completely revamped the Huskers into what he wants them to be from the bottom up. On the opposite sideline, Ryan Day led the Buckeyes as the interim head coach early last season against the likes of Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU while Urban Meyer served a brief suspension. Quite a challenge that trio of games.
The going doesn't get significantly harder for Day this season with his first four matchups as the Buckeyes' head man coming against Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Indiana, and Miami (Ohio). Nebraska proved last year that a trip to Columbus doesn't intimidate them. The same goes for Ohio State traveling to Lincoln.
Despite all of the Buckeyes' talent, Nebraska's offense still managed .068 points per play. Interestingly, Ohio State gave up 25.5 points per game in 2018 — the most ever allowed by a Buckeye defense. Day won't see everything the Huskers can do in their first four games and raw talent only gets you so far.
Northwestern has been a thorn in the side of many Big Ten teams for years, but especially Nebraska's upon the Huskers' arrival. When we last saw the Big Red beat a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team in Lincoln, a Hail Mary pass was needed in the final moments of a 27-24 victory.
With Clemson transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson, running back Isaiah Bowser and two returning wide receivers, the Wildcats offense is more than capable of challenging the Blackshirts. One of the conference's best linebackers leads the defensive charge in Paddy Fisher. Add his abilities to those of Samdup Miller and Joe Gaziano on the edges plus fellow linebacker Blake Gallagher and you've got the makings for another tightknit, back-and-forth affair.
Take into account Northwestern will go up against a likely gassed Nebraska squad following the Ohio State tilt, and this is a matchup ripe for an upset.
On paper, Nebraska-Purdue looks to be a fireworks display. Consider everything Frost can throw at the Boilermakers offensively. Then add head coach Jeff Brohm's all-everything athlete Rondale Moore, who can help fellow wideouts Jared Sparks and Jackson Anthrop sneak in under the radar. If running back Tario Fuller hasn't returned from injury, Purdue should have figured out how to approach its ground game two months into the season.
David Blough did most of the damage as Purdue's quarterback last year, but Elijah Sinclair doesn't have to light up the night sky. Merely being efficient and getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers would be enough.
A defense featuring nine returning starters including nose tackle Lorenzo Neal shouldn't be dismissed. Nebraska boasts speed, but the Boilermakers practice against plenty of their own.
Wisconsin has had the Huskers' number for years, but if the Badgers are to be toppled, the time is now. Jonathan Taylor will get his yardage as he's arguably the best running back in college. With a quarterback situation eventually solidified, the Badgers will no doubt lean on their identity: physicality on both sides of the ball.
Head coach Paul Chryst returns most of his secondary, but the front seven are susceptible to both the run and underneath passing game despite their smash-mouth style.
Finally, Iowa also visits Memorial Stadium and the rivalry — yes, it is a rivalry — only continues to get more bitter as the years go on. The Hawkeyes lose their most talented playmakers in tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both who were first-round picks in this year's NFL draft. That said, quarterback Nate Stanley has proven himself a leader and has a litany of running backs that did plenty of damage to Nebraska's defensive front in the Huskers' final game last season.
Frost absolutely has to take Iowa's defensive front into account, starting with ends A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston. This game, like so many others on the schedule, comes down to the big men up front. The Huskers almost slammed the door on the Hawkeyes last year. This year's matchup on Black Friday provides the opportunity to kick it shut and solder it closed.
With a 3-2 record in those games, Nebraska secures 10 wins. Considering Frost's teams have shown themselves to improve as the season goes on, Wisconsin and Iowa look more likely to fall than usual. Ohio State walks into a hornet's nest and will have to play much better football than last year to claim a win. A bold take on the Huskers' season? Sure. An impossible outcome? Absolutely not.