- Despite coming off a 4–8 season, expectations are raised for SI's No. 24 team heading into 2019: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which will be collected here. Next up, it's No. 24 Nebraska.
THE BIG STORY
Despite a second straight 4–8 finish in 2018, there are expectations in Lincoln because, well, it's Lincoln. A 4–2 finish to last season—a stretch that included a win over Michigan State and a nail biter that should have been a win over Ohio State—gives the faithful hope that a return to prominence is on the horizon, and favorite son Scott Frost enters his second season at Nebraska with a top-20 recruiting class under his belt. Make no mistake: the Cornhuskers are a clear cut below Michigan and Ohio State, but with an improved offense led by second-year quarterback Adrian Martinez, a return to nine wins for the first time since 2016 is realistic. In Lincoln, it's expected.
True, Martinez’s Heisman hype may be a tad premature, but the signal-caller’s first season was unquestionably impressive. Martinez logged a school-record 295.1 yards of total offense per game as the Huskers’ first true freshman QB. In Frost’s RPO system, Martinez, who ran for 625 yards with eight rushing TDs, is the playmaker to continue Nebraska’s legacy of impressive dual-threat quarterbacks. Don't be shocked if Martinez is invited to New York come December.
The Cornhuskers sported the Big Ten’s worst defense last season, allowing 31.3 points per game. How will the D take a big step forward in 2019? The line should be stronger, with the addition of senior Darrion Daniels, a transfer from Oklahoma State who could be one of the Big Ten’s most dominant tackles.
Martinez can’t do it alone. How big a jump Nebraska makes in Frost’s second season will depend on a number of first-year players, after losing both a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver from last year. Cal grad transfer Kanawai Noa, who had 96 catches over four seasons as a wideout for the Bears, joins the program, bolstering the inexperienced receiving corps. The most intriguing addition is four-star recruit Wan'Dale Robinson, who flipped his commit from Kentucky to Nebraska over the winter. Robinson has the ability to play at running back or receiver, and Frost’s creative play-calling should make the most of his skills.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 8.5 wins. The road schedule is relatively weak while Nebraska’s toughest opponents (Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin) travel to Lincoln. Expect the Huskers to be in the Big Ten West title chase deep into November.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Things looked bleak after a dismal start to the Frost era, but the Huskers are trending in the right direction after a strong finish to 2018. They’re ready to contend in the Big Ten West.