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Nebraska Football: Will the Cornhuskers Make a Bowl in 2020?

Nebraska is 9-15 to start Scott Frost's tenure in Lincoln

Scott Frost's arrival at Nebraska was met with plenty of optimism, but the program is just 9-15 under his watch. After a 4-8 mark in 2018, the Cornhuskers were projected to finish near the top of the Big Ten’s West Division. However, Frost's squad finished 5-7 and matched their conference record (3-6) from the 2018 campaign. Even though the on-field product hasn’t matched the initial optimism or Frost's success at UCF, the program has continued to reel in talent on the recruiting trail and brings back 12 starters for 2020.

 

After missing out on a bowl game in Frost's first two years at the helm, will Nebraska reach the postseason in 2020? That was the question posed to Athlon editors and a few college football contributors.

 

Nebraska Football: Will the Cornhuskers Make a Bowl in 2020?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Yes, I think Nebraska makes a bowl in 2020. The Cornhuskers lost four of their seven games by seven points or less, so they weren't far off from reaching that goal last season. However, if Nebraska is to reach the postseason for the first time under Frost, racking up wins before the midway point of 2020 is a must. The Cornhuskers open with a conference game against Purdue and have to play the top Group of 5 team in Athlon Sports' early Top 25 for 2020 in Cincinnati on Sept. 26. However, the second half of the schedule features games against Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Both sides of the ball need to improve for Nebraska to reach six victories, as the defense allowed 27.8 points a contest last fall, while the offense regressed from its 2018 totals. A bounce-back year from quarterback Adrian Martinez would be a huge plus, but Frost also has to restock a receiving corps that lacked depth last year and may not have go-to target JD Spielman in 2020. The margin for error is small, but I think Nebraska finds a way to get to six victories.

 

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

Nebraska just missed bowl eligibility last season by going 5-7 so it's not like the Cornhuskers have to pull off a significant turnaround to get the required six wins in 2020. However, the schedule doesn't really do Scott Frost's teams any favors. Starting on Halloween, Nebraska's final five games are: Ohio State (away), Penn State (home), Iowa (away), Wisconsin (away), and Minnesota (home). All five of those teams finished last season ranked in the top 15. So that means the Huskers need to make the most of the early part of their schedule. Home dates with Purdue and Cincinnati appear to be the biggest swing games in that respect although Nebraska can't afford to take any team lightly. At this point, I'll say the Huskers take advantage of a home-friendly first half (five of first six at home) and find a way to win at least six games — but seven victories might be the ceiling for this team because of that difficult closing stretch.

 

Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)

One of the great white whales of college football: Is this the year that Nebraska is back? The Huskers are not ready to compete in the Big Ten West yet, but Scott Frost finally has some consistency on offense with eight returning starters. The schedule is harder than usual with games against Cincinnati and Penn State, but another year under Wan'Dale Robinson and Adrian Martinez's belt should be enough to carry the Huskers to six or seven wins. Nebraska also was 2-4 in one-score games last year, so they're unlikely to do much worse in the luck department this time around.

 

Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces)

We'll find out early if the Cornhuskers have what it takes to achieve postseason eligibility this season. Purdue provides Nebraska with what appears to be just as much of an opportunity to rocket out of the gate as it does yet another stumbling block in the Huskers' very first game. Regardless of whether or not they beat the Boilermakers, Cincinnati offers an extremely stiff test as the non-conference finale.

 

We're looking at a team that could quite easily have two losses before the midseason bye week. However, if Scott Frost is able to get victories over both of the aforementioned squads, momentum is probably on their side all the way through an Oct. 24 trip to Rutgers. Beyond that, the going gets extremely rough with visits to Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. While the Big Red does get Penn State and Minnesota at home, that final gauntlet is going to take a great deal of fortitude (and some luck) to run with success.

 

Yet again, Nebraska doesn't have much margin for error thanks to scheduling. Dropping more than one game in their first seven already makes bowl eligibility dicey. Even if JD Spielman returns to Lincoln, barring immediate impacts being made from true freshmen and junior college recruits, the Huskers' chances to go bowling appear up in the air.

 

But if they do, they will have absolutely earned any bid they get.

 

J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)

No. Adrian Martinez, between injuries and weight gain, is simply not the player many thought he would be heading into his junior campaign. On top of that, Nebraska hasn’t recruited enough elite athletes under Scott Frost to reverse their fortunes. 

 

Lastly, the 2020 schedule does not set up well for the Huskers. They open with Purdue, essentially a coin toss. They should pull off a win over Central Michigan, but they follow that up with a South Dakota State team that has established itself as an FCS program that need not fear sub-.500 FBS teams. Then comes Cincinnati, who will likely be favored. If they start 2-2, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

 

The next three are against Northwestern on the road, home against an Illinois team that went bowling last season, and then a trip to New Jersey to face a Greg Schiano-coached Rutgers team. I'm calling 2-1 during that stretch.

 

That means they'll need to win two of their last five games to become bowl eligible. The problem? Those games are at Ohio State, home against Penn State, at Iowa, at Wisconsin, and home against Minnesota.

 

If the Huskers can pull six wins out of that schedule, with that roster, Frost should be a Big Ten Coach of the Year candidate.

 

Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)

It is going to be imperative that Nebraska gets off to a strong start in 2020, because their schedule from Halloween until the end of the season is brutal.  Looking at the schedule, the season may hinge entirely upon the non-conference game against Cincinnati on Sept. 26.  As of right now, I am going to vote no for a bowl game in 2020, putting Scott Frost on a hot seat going into '21.

 

Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)

Nebraska is a very difficult team to handicap in 2020. Last year’s results weren't especially promising, but I haven't given on Scott Frost as the program savior just yet. Similarly, I haven't given up on Adrian Martinez, and if he stays healthy the Cornhuskers could have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten. I believe the Cornhuskers should make a bowl game, but it won't be easy because the schedule is brutal in the second half of the season.

 

According to my early point spread projections, Nebraska should be favored in eight games, including each of the first seven. Taking care of business would seal a bowl bid by Halloween. However, my numbers also suggest Nebraska has a less than 60 percent chance of winning games against Cincinnati (58 percent), Northwestern (56 percent), and Minnesota (51 percent). And it's important to note, those projections assume the Huskers would play with a fully healthy roster, and with receiver JD Spielman (who took a leave of absence from the team this spring) in the starting lineup. If the Huskers are operating at less than full capacity, winning those toss-ups — and gaining bowl eligibility — will be more difficult.

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