In just a few days Nebraska's 2021 football season is going to begin with a game that had been originally scheduled to be played in Dublin, Ireland. But due to the pandemic, it was changed to Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. Kickoff is set for this Saturday, August 28th at 12:20 p.m. CDT.
After three consecutive losing seasons under Scott Frost, it's no wonder football pundits have given thumbs down to the Nebraska football program this fall. And consider this: For long time Husker fans like I am, did you ever think in your wildest dreams (nightmares) you would see teams like Liberty, Coastal Carolina, UAB, Appalachian State, Nevada and Wake Forest ranked ahead of Nebraska?
That the Husker program has fallen this far should give every Husker football player, coach and fan a sense of embarrassment and disgust.
Husker football is supposed to be so much better than this. And to make matters worse, sportswriters have been nipping at the heels of the Husker football program since last year when they accused Scott Frost of wanting the Huskers to bolt from the B1G Conference. And this summer, they're after Frost for wanting to replace the Oklahoma game this September with a lesser non-conference opponent.
Of course, Frost denies both accusations. And to make matters worse, several preseason football publications have Nebraska listed as fifth - in the B1G West Division!
And now, the NCAA is investigating the Husker football program for unauthorized practices that involve a Husker football analyst. Can't Nebraska get a break?
Just like the late Rodney Dangerfield used to say, "I'm tellin' ya, I don't get no respect!"
So what's a struggling football program like Nebraska's supposed to do? Should the Huskers just crawl in a hole, wave the white flag and surrender?
Not only no, but hell no. All Nebraska can and should do is just win, baby.
The perfect season
As most Husker fans know Nebraska has a tough schedule - tenth most difficult in the nation according to football guru Phil Steele.
Daunting? You bet, but what a better way to prove their critics wrong! What's the saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going"?
Nebraska will have several chances to prove their mettle. NU faces two Top Four teams (Oklahoma and Ohio State). They also play Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
A champion is someone who gets up when he can't.
It's time for Scott Frost & Company to pull themselves up this fall. It's time for the Nebraska football program to show what they are made of.
So how are the Huskers all of a sudden going to be bad-asses this fall? Great question. Here are some goals
Here is a list of guidelines for the Huskers to strive for this fall. I believe if the Huskers come close to achieving them, they might have a turnaround season this fall.
So Danny Boy, give me some specifics.
Okay, I will.
As the basis of comparison between where the Huskers were to where they need to be this fall, I'm going back to the last "real" Husker football season (2019) that was played with a normal fan base and had a full 12 game schedule.
I believe these goals are achievable, but talk is cheap. As the Huskers go through the season, you may want to use these guidelines to see how the Huskers stack up each week. The Oklahoma and Ohio State stats may temporarily put a dent in those goals, but there are also the Fordham and Buffalo games to make up for them.
1.) Turnover Margin
It should come as no surprise that turnover margins have been one of the the main reasons Nebraska has had such a dismal win-loss record over the last three years. For the record, NU was ranked 123rd out of 130 D-I football programs in turnover margin last year. You can't get much worse than that.
2019 Ranking: 64th (0.0)
2021 Goal: (+.7)
In 2019 Iowa was tied for a #18 ranking and had an overall 10-3 W/L record. Data show that teams with a +.7 margin have a good shot at winning at least 8 games. If the Huskers can reach this goal, the Huskers may find themselves playing in a late December bowl game.
Nebraska has not been a very disciplined football team and not surprisingly has been one of the conference's leaders in penalty yardage. And all too often, the penalties have been drive-killers for the Huskers.
2019: 61 penalties for 518 yards
2021 Goal (45 penalties for 425 yards)
3.) Offensive Averages
Scoring averages have fallen each of Scott Frost's three years from a high of 30 points per game (2018), to 23 points a game last year. Some of the reason for the drop in offensive output has been the loss of talent. In 2018, Nebraska had a 1,000 yard rusher (Devine Ozigbo), two great receivers (JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan, Jr.), but despite that, a rash of penalties and turnovers caused the Huskers to finish the season with a 4-8 record.
2019 Offensive Numbers
Scoring: 28.0 points per game
Rushing: 2,439 total yards
Passing: 2,551 total yards
Total Offense: 4,990 yards
The 2021 Offensive Goals:
Scoring: 33.0 ppg
Rushing: 3,200 ty
Passing: 3,200 total yards
Total Offense: 6,400 ty
4.) Defensive Averages
If Nebraska is going to break out of its losing shell this fall, the Blackshirts are going to have to find a way to reduce opponents' offensive averages. Here are some targets for the defense to achieve.
2019 Defensive Numbers
Scoring: 27.8 points per game
Rushing: 2,257 total yards
Passing: 2,409 total yards
Total Defense: 4,666 total yards
2021 Defensive Goals:
Scoring: 25 points per game
Rushing: 2,200 total yards
Passing: 2,200 total yards
Total Yards Allowed: 4,400 total yards
5.) Reduce the Number of QB Rushing Yards
In 2018, Husker QB Adrian Martinez rushed for 629 yards and the next year, he rushed for 626 yards. And last year with only 8 games (he started 6 of them), he ran for 521 yards. Two things we've learned about when Husker QBs are the leading rusher for the game: The Huskers usually lose and the QB stands a greater chance of getting injured.
Case in point: Last year, Husker QBs (Martinez and McCaffrey) combined for 885 yards rushing and the Huskers went 3-5 for the year.
This year's goal for 12 games: 500 Total Rushing yards for the QB spot. Through 12 games would be about 42 yards a game. Remember, the more Husker QBs run the ball, the greater chance for losses and injury.
6.) Home Games
Take care of Memorial Stadium. So far this fall, there are no restrictions on attendance. If there are no limits on attendance, Nebraska needs to win a minimum of 5 of the 7 home games on their schedule. That goal is not out of the question.
7.) Road Games
Most of the Huskers' 5 road games this fall are going to be very challenging (Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State). The Huskers need to go at least 3-2 in those games. The wins are going to have to come against Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State - not an impossible task.
If the Huskers reach all of those goals, the Nebraska football program may go a long way in silencing their critics.
This just in
Last week, news broke that the NCAA was investigating the Nebraska football program for unauthorized use of a Husker analyst during the 2020 Husker football season. Apparently, the analyst in question may be Jonathan Rutledge who was in charge of the Husker special teams unit.
You may be wondering, what the bleep is going on with the NCAA? Are they so bored this summer that they're going after a football program that has won just 12 games over the past three years?
Why are they going after an analyst who's special teams unit ranked almost dead last in performance last year?
Is the NCAA contending that the Huskers had some kind of unfair advantage over other Power Five football programs last year? How does that "violation" even make a blip on the NCAA's radar screen?
I have no idea. But maybe the NCAA senses its power has been diminished and is going after low hanging fruit. The NCAA is looking rather foolish by going after Nebraska. The Huskers aren't going to be assessed any serious penalty, so why even bother with going after a Husker Bluegill when there are Blue Marlin to be fished for? This is silly and petulant on the part of the NCAA.
And how did this violation get leaked to the press? I smell a rat. I believe someone inside the Husker football program who had an axe to grind, spilled the beans. I'm not for covering up infractions, but really Mr. NCAA? This is all ya got?
Speaking of the Huskers
I don't get a chance to do many speaking engagements, but the people of the Northeast Kansans for Nebraska (a University of Nebraska Alumni chapter) were kind enough to invite me to speak at their annual picnic in Topeka, Kansas last month.
For years, NEK4NU has been involved with the community of Topeka, Kansas. One of the things they do is provide scholarships for needy high school kids who want to attend the University of Nebraska.
And a special thanks goes to NEK4NU President, Kenlon Johannes, who was kind enough to invite me. The food was great, but even better were all the fantastic people I got to meet!