If the Huskers have any serious playoff aspirations, Adrian Martinez will need to have a huge season
No one is expecting Nebraska to be among college football's elite four in 2019 except maybe the hardest of the hardcore Husker fan. But you can't deny that we see crazy things in this sport each and every year.
Feel-good stories are part of the roller coaster. Considering Scott Frost led UCF to an undefeated season during his second year in Orlando and defeated a 10-win SEC team, who are we to say the impossible isn't simply improbable?
Still, the likelihood of the Big Red toppling Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney isn't great. Despite an amount of hype that has some Husker fans nervous, here's both why you should and shouldn't consider Nebraska a title contender this season.
Three Reasons Why Nebraska Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Adrian Martinez
What more needs to be said about this guy? He's one of the best players in college football, a Heisman Trophy dark horse, and if you missed Big Ten media days, he cleans up nicely.
Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco has compared Martinez to former Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and it's easy to see why. His leadership, poise, and sheer athletic talent are enough to give any defensive coordinator night terrors. If you're going to hold college football's supreme trophy high, you need an athlete like "2AM" on your roster.
2. A rock-solid defensive front and secondary
The Blackshirts' big men were nothing to be scared of in 2018. They barely pressured quarterbacks and were gashed for huge chunks of yardage on the ground. To be honest, they were about as intimidating as an egg salad sandwich.
That looks to change in 2019 as two pairs of brotherly beef help give the defensive depth chart some much-needed punch. The Davises (Kahlil and Carlos) and Danielses (Darrion and Damion) offer coordinator Erik Chinander four mammoth linemen to not only plug an opponent's offensive interior but provide a legitimate sack attack.
3. The Sea of Red will wash over the toughest opposition
We learned something important late in the 2018 season when Nebraska gut-punched Michigan State 9-6 during a snowstorm: the Huskers' home crowd can play a major factor. Big Red season-ticket holders should be thrilled with this year's slate as Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa all come to town. When big moments arise in a contest, Big Red backers can go toe-to-toe audibly with any group in the nation.
Three Reasons Why Nebraska Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. There's not enough talent... yet
Other teams in the Big Ten like Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State recruit well enough to reload at most positions year after year. Right now, the Huskers can't claim that level of plug-and-play capability. Frost has shown tremendous skill in identifying high-caliber players early. However, picking up 4- and 5-star recruits early in the process needs to be part of an eventual championship formula.
2. Culture and depth still needs to grow
Today's Nebraska football program is much like a year-and-a-half old dog: it's still got plenty of puppy left in it. While it can run with the big boys and do some amazing tricks, there are still going to be some messes to clean up.
Frost did an excellent job of separating the wheat from the chaff in-house last season as his new mantras became law. Now, he must continue to bring in players who are recruited with those messages in mind. As that happens, we'll be able to look at College Football Playoff as a realistic opportunity for him.
3. The Ohio State rematch
It seems like just about everybody has the Cornhuskers winning the Big Ten West this year. Regardless of whether or not the Big Red beats Ohio State during the regular season, Michigan continues to give us no good reason to expect them in Indianapolis.
A Buckeye loss in Lincoln honestly wouldn't surprise. However, Ohio State simply has a better program at this point. A second go-around in the Big Ten Championship Game doesn't favor Nebraska even if they knock off the Scarlet and Gray in late September.
It's been said repeatedly, but yes, Frost restoring Nebraska to what it once was is going to take some time.
What that means is you're unlikely to see the Huskers representing the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff any time soon. In fact, a trajectory not unlike Dabo Swinney's at Clemson seems far more realistic. However, Frost doesn't need to be Nick Saban or any other elite coach in the game today. He should focus on carving his own path to the national championship and don’t think that's not what he's doing.
In the meantime, this writer isn't telling you to not put down five dollars on Nebraska finishing among the last four playoff contenders in 2019. Just don't expect to see a return on your investment.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 17
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5