Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2019: 21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Scott Frost returns enough for a Big Ten West Title in second season in Lincoln

J.D. Spielman, Nebraska
Offense: Scott Frost is well-respected around college football as an offensive-minded head coach and his first group with Nebraska did not disappoint. The 'Huskers finished 2018 with a total yards average of 456.2, which was second best in the Big Ten.

Adrian Martinez dealt with early injuries to put together a very productive freshman campaign. He finished the year with 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns, while also opening things up with his legs. Martinez is the perfect for the Frost offense as a mobile QB who can get the ball down the field. Some view him a legitimate Heisman contender, although he'll have to cut down on turnovers.

Frost loves to utilize a deep stable of backs who can do multiple things, but that may be challenging entering 2019. Maurice Washington is their top returning rusher, with 465 yards and three touchdowns, but he has had run-ins with the law. His status for next fall is completely unclear, which will leave the Cornhuskers in a tough place. Nebraska has brought in former Georgia Tech rusher Dedrick Mills. Mills spent this season exploding with Garden City CC of the junior college ranks, but has the talent to be very productive in this Nebraska offense. Freshman Wan'Dale Robinson could see snaps coming out of SEC country (Frankfurt, KY).

Junior wide out J.D. Spielman is a dynamic perimeter receiver ready to up his play in 2019. Spielman led all Cornhusker receivers with eight touchdowns and was a freak in the open field. Nebraska will be creative in getting the lightning-quick target the football. He is an All-Big Ten type of talent who also added 66 catches last fall. 

Martinez will surely miss leading receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. (1,004 yards) but there is still talent beyond Spielman. Sophomore Kade Warner saw solid snaps last year and proved to have reliable hands, bringing in 17 catches. He will see expanded playing time over the course of the season. Jaron Woodyard is another JUCO guy who could play a major role in this offense. Coming out of Arizona Western Community College, he'll be used as a nice complementary piece in this offense.

The offensive line could be a hindrance to this Nebraska offense, as three key starters depart. With that being said both tackle spots seem to be in good hands, as junior Brenden James has 21 consecutive starters entering '19. Right tackle will be manned by fellow junior Matt Farniok.

This could be a very exciting group for Frost, although Martinez will have to take some major steps forward. That isn't implausible considering what past Frost quarterbacks have done, and the other weapons he returns. Spielman and Warner can open things outside, possibly enough to push this team to the Big Ten Championship Game.

Defense: The Cornhuskers allowed nearly 200 yards of rush offense a game in 2018, so the ground defense has to improve. The good news is that the defensive line could get a lot better, which will be crucial in the ground-and-pound football of the Big Ten West.

Junior defensive end Ben Stille is one of Nebraska's top returning rushers, coming off a performance in which he recorded five sacks. The coaching staff is hopeful he can make even larger improvements in '19, as well as senior Carlos Davis, who has flashed potential but is yet to put it all together. The 'Huskers got quite the win when Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels opted to head to Lincoln. Daniels is a gap-eating interior linemen who has played a lot of snaps at the Power Five football, which will certainly bode well for this defense.

Even though three starting linebackers are gone from the Cornhuskers' 3-4 look, the most important piece returns in Mohamed Barry. Barry finished 2018 with 112 tackles, which was the most from any Nebraska defender since Lavonte David all the way back in 2011. He will have to pick up the slack for a group that doesn't have much experience elsewhere. Junior JoJo Domann is a fascinating character to watch, as he is a favorite to start at outside 'backer. Yet, Domann is versatile enough to help out at safety, where he started his college career. Domann has bulked up a lot over the off-season, as has talented senior Tyrin Ferguson.

It may have been ninth in the conference and 78th nationally and yet Nebraska's pass defense was one of their strengths a year ago. A couple of holdovers remain in place, with the most notable piece being senior corner Lamar Jackson. Jackson has the talent to be the No. 1 cornerback, coming off a fall in which he picked off two passes and had seven pass deflections. Dicaprio Bootle proved to be a solid defender next to Jackson, although he didn't pick off any throws last season, which he'll be hopeful to change this fall. Sophomore Cam Taylor impressed during the spring and has a legitimate chance to push for starting snaps in 2019.

Both safety spots will be in a transition phase during this season, with two new starters. Junior Deontai Williams has some starting experience and proved that he could be a playmaker when needed for this defense. Senior Eric Lee is slated to see a major role, hoping to end his Nebraska career with a bang.

This unit has plenty of room for improvement after a rough 2018, but a second year under coordinator Erik Chinader should establish crucial continuity. And, there is a good amount of leadership and experience returning, which will obviously be huge. Barry could be one of the top defenders in the entire Big Ten on the season, while the secondary has enough tools to be a real strength.

Special Teams: Barret Pickering ended his 2018 on a tear as the placekicker, knocking in his final 10 field goals to finish the year 14-18. He will surely be the big leg for this Nebraska team again entering '19. The return game has real upside, headlined by Spielman who had six punt returns for 104 yards (17.3 average) and returned one to the house.

Bottom Line: They might have gone 4-8 in Frost's debut, but most around college football understand that the 'Huskers are somewhat of a sleeping giant at this point. Frost has a roster that looks like it will better fit his offense in 2019, which should strike fear into the rest of the Big Ten West. While most eyes will be on that offense and how Martinez matures, the defense will determine whether the 'Huskers can truly awaken. There are pieces top to bottom and experience, but there is a lot of ground to make up from a group that allowed too many big plays and was very undisciplined last fall. With that being said, Nebraska still looks like the likely favorite in a wide-open West Division, where six schools have a legit chance to win the division title. Playing in Lucas Oil Stadium come early December isn't an unreasonable goal, although the 'Huskers numerous questions will have to be remedied quickly.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten, Loss in Championship Game)
Offensive MVP: QB Adrian Martinez
Defensive MVP: LB Mohamed Barry
Breakout Player of the Year: WR Kade Warner
Impact Freshman: RB Wan'Dale Robinson

Five-Year Trend
2014: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)
2015: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
2016: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
2017: 4-8 (3-6 Big Ten)
2018: 4-8 (3-6 Big Ten)

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.