Unfortunately, the Nebraska Cornhuskers fell to the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Red’s de facto “Iowa City Bowl,” and of course, there will be no official postseason for Scott Frost’s first roster. The 31-28 defeat is especially bitter for a Husker squad that wanted to send this crop of seniors out with another signature win after its Tundra Tussle victory over Michigan State.
The Huskers’ season ends with a 4-8 record, the same as in 2017. However, only someone who hasn’t watched this team over the course of the season or chooses to not acknowledge what it has accomplished on a deeper level can claim Mike Riley’s last year mirrors Frost’s first. Nebraska had its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 in Devine Ozigbo and its first 1,000-yard receiver in program history with Stanley Morgan Jr. topping the mark by four yards. True freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez obliterated records left and right showing himself to be arguably the most dynamic prospect the Huskers have ever had at the position.
Where does Nebraska go from here? Frost and his staff finds itself in a situation somewhat similar to the one it did when they first came into Lincoln, though there are some major differences. The culture Frost wanted to instill has taken a firm root as players hold each other accountable no matter what side of the ball they play on. Attention to detail in nutrition has never been higher and perhaps most importantly, head of strength and conditioning Zach Duval has another offseason to mold still-growing bodies.
On that topic, running back Maurice Washington had an incredibly impressive freshman year with 455 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 77 attempts along with 24 receptions for 221 yards and one score. The numbers alone don’t do him justice. Not only did he prove he provides the Nebraska offense with yet another electric athlete, but it’s hard to argue that he was playing significantly undersized. Wide receiver JD Spielman will no doubt have his eyes on breaking Morgan’s freshly-minted 1,000-yard achievement as he will likely be looked to as the new star of the receiving corps.
The offensive line has a solid foundation despite the departure of captain Jerald Foster and fan favorite Tanner Farmer with the return of Brendan Jaimes, Boe Wilson and Matt Farniok. Those three could easily comprise the starting left tackle and guard spots, respectively if the Big Red is able to find a replacement for Farniok on the outside. All eyes will be on homegrown (Beatrice, Nebraska) talent Cam Jurgens to see if the highly regarded prospect coming out of high school can make a run at replacing Farmer at the center position once he recovers completely from injury and gets used to the shift from tight end.
While other teams will be enjoying bowl locales — some more luxurious than others — Nebraska’s staff will have no distractions when it comes to recruiting and that’s an acceptable tradeoff for the lack of extra practices after Year One. Frost’s offense has playmakers but loses two of its biggest contributors in Ozigbo and Morgan. Nebraska also badly needs offensive line depth and finding someone who can immediately take over the right tackle spot for Farniok so he can move to the interior would be a blessing.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Blackshirts’ true playmakers came at a premium. Linebacker Mohamed Barry has staked his claim as a team leader heading into 2019 and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander should expect to continue getting quality effort from cornerbacks Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson. Several players showed tremendous potential this season, but depth is an issue across the entire unit. The staff is well into the process of a nationwide grind to address this. Coveted recruits such as defensive end Ty Robinson, junior college linebacker Dru Mathis and fellow JUCO defensive back Markquese Bell are all strongly considering the Huskers and could contribute immediately in Chinander’s system.
Long story short, there’s a great deal of work to be done so that Nebraska can be primed for a potential major upswing next season. They can easily afford to sacrifice fun in the sun this year to put their noses to the grindstone early, bring in a fresh crop of recruits and prepare for a run at a divisional title leading to a conference championship game berth.
Oh, speaking of Barry, he has a message for those who’ll be crossing Nebraska’s path next year:
Those words may seem easy to brush off coming from one member of a 4-8 squad. However, look deeper into the Huskers’ season to see how they evolved and you’ll realize that it’s a rather ominous warning considering the messenger.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.