Nebraska enters its fourth year under coach Scott Frost looking to take a big step forward in the win column. The Cornhuskers are just 12-20 over the last three seasons and have yet to earn a bowl trip under Frost. The four-year postseason drought is the program’s longest streak without a bowl since 1955-61. Frost was considered a home-run hire, but he’s still looking to get his alma mater on track going into a critical ’21 season. Nebraska’s defense seems poised to improve this fall with a veteran core in place, while getting to a bowl could hinge on whether or not Frost can push the right buttons on an offense that averaged only 23.1 points a game in ’20.
Will Nebraska make a bowl game in 2021? Or will the Cornhuskers fall short of six wins against a difficult schedule? Those were the questions posed to Athlon editors and college football contributors.
Nebraska Football: Will the Cornhuskers Make a Bowl Game in 2021?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
If Nebraska is going to make a bowl game, it doesn’t have much room for error and needs to get a good chunk of victories in the first half of the season. The Cornhuskers are expected to be underdogs in games against Oklahoma, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa, while matchups versus Northwestern and Michigan State are no guarantee. However, despite the tough path to bowl eligibility, I’ll take Nebraska to find a way to get to six wins. The defense showed improvement last fall and should continue on that path with eight starters returning for 2021. Offensively, getting quarterback Adrian Martinez back to his freshman level of performance would significantly boost a group that has regressed after averaging 30 points a game in ’18. Martinez isn’t the only question mark on offense, as the Cornhuskers need to get more out of their receivers and must solidify the line and ground game. Getting to six victories isn’t going to be easy, but the guess here is Martinez and the defense take a step forward to find a way to a bowl.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I want Scott Frost to succeed at his alma mater but 12-20 after three seasons is tough to swallow. I'm not saying he's on the hot seat but a bowl berth, at minimum, would be a welcome sight for everyone associated with the Nebraska program. So will it happen in 2021? Maybe. There are enough winnable games on the schedule to get to bowl eligibility, but there also are just as many tough matchups to make life difficult for the Cornhuskers. A strong opening month is critical and outside of a mid-September trip to Norman to face Oklahoma, Nebraska has a decent shot of starting 4-1. That doesn't mean the rest of the schedule is a cakewalk, however. October home games against Northwestern and Purdue could determine the Huskers' postseason fate, especially since Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota are five of the last six opponents. The margin for error between a .500 campaign, which should be good enough to get a bowl invite, and another losing season is razor-thin, and it's not like Frost has gotten many breaks since coming home.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Hats off to Nebraska for scheduling (and then following through on playing) Oklahoma in a non-conference game. Plenty of teams will try to load up the schedule with easy wins to get to the magic number six, but the Huskers will give fans a fun old rivalry game. Unfortunately, that near-lock loss may cost them a bowl bid, as their schedule looks rather unforgiving in the second half of the season. Nebraska will have to come up with wins early on while figuring out who the main skill position players will be following the departures of Wan'Dale Robinson and Dedrick Mills. The question also remains whether Adrian Martinez is the answer at quarterback. If everything starts clicking early on, this team could conceivably win seven or eight games. But if they don't find those answers quickly, they'll miss out on winnable games, and this could be a long season that ends with fans calling for Scott Frost's job. The latter feels more likely at this point.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
It has been four consecutive seasons without a bowl game played by Nebraska, a streak not seen in Lincoln since the late 1950s into the '60s. If Nebraska is going to reach a bowl game in 2021, the Cornhuskers will certainly have to earn it. Nebraska faces two potential College Football Playoff teams in Oklahoma (Sept. 18) and Ohio State (Nov. 6) and the Huskers make potentially tricky trips to Minnesota and Michigan State. With November’s schedule consisting of games against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska may have to hope they have their bowl eligibility wrapped up by Halloween. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to accumulate six wins. As much as I think it has to happen soon for Scott Frost, I’m inclined to believe Nebraska comes up just short once again.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
Let's look at it this way: best-case scenario, Nebraska gets out of September with a 4-1 record. After that, they would need to find two wins against these teams: Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Iowa. If the Huskers can do that they are going bowling. Realistically, however, Scott Frost and his Nebraska club are looking at a schedule where they may be the better team from a combined coaching staff and talent standpoint in only five of their 12 games. They MIGHT be favored in all five of those contests, which means they would need to win all five of those games and pull off one upset. I just think that's a tall order for a program with a 12-20 record over the last three seasons. I think Nebraska shows improvement, but they'll be home for the holidays once again in 2021.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
It seems like we've been saying this for a few years now, but this really should be the year Nebraska gets back to a bowl game. In fact, my early projections have the Cornhuskers favored in eight games (all but against Oklahoma, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa), with a more talented roster in nine. That said, getting to six wins will be difficult because the Huskers are only favored by more than a touchdown in one contest and will need to avoid upsets and win a few coin-flips along the way to get bowl eligible.
Specifically, I project Nebraska as less than a two-point favorite at Michigan State, home versus Michigan, and at Minnesota, giving the Cornhuskers no better than a 53 percent chance of winning in each of the three. If Nebraska takes care of business in the five games it is "supposed" to win, and beats just one of three of the Spartans, Wolverines and Gophers, it'll go bowling. But if the Cornhuskers suffer another round of close losses to defending Big Ten West champ Northwestern and Minnesota, for instance, there would be no room for error the rest of the way. Because of the tricky schedule with so many evenly-matched opponents, Nebraska is a difficult team to predict. Eight - or even nine - wins are possible. But a 5-7 record is, too.
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