1. The B1G Story

No chance he was avoiding this, or that it wouldn’t be a seminal moment.

Can new Nebraska coach Matt Rhule land quarterback Dylan Raiola — the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit and a Nebraska legacy — and change the fortunes of the once proud program?

“Our athletic department is really trying to step up and allow us to do things at a high level,” Rhule said last week.

That leaves the heavy lifting to Rhule and his staff. More specifically, the work to land blue-chip recruits to resurrect a program that was once king of college football in the mid-1990s.

There’s no more important position than quarterback — and no more important player than Raiola.

His dad, Dominic, is a former Nebraska All-American. His uncle, Donovan, is Nebraska’s offensive line coach.

Meanwhile, there is Rhule, the latest iteration delivered by the university to make it work. Bless their heart, they’ve tried it all.

A coach who worked under Dr. Tom, and a coach who had nothing to do with him. A player’s coach who, try as he might, couldn’t control his temper to save himself.

A good guy with a rare offensive mind at the end of his career, and a former player at the beginning of his — a former player with so much hope and a brief but strong track record that, sonofagun, it just had to work.

Only it didn’t.

It didn’t work for former Huskers star quarterback and son of Nebraska Scott Frost because like the previous 4 coaches, he couldn’t recruit and develop a difference-maker at the most important position on the field.

If you think the coaches were a mishmash of desperately seeking anything, check out this motley group under center over the last 2 decades:

Jammal Lord. Joe Daily. Zac Taylor. Sam Keller. Joe Ganz. Zac Lee. Taylor and Adrian Martinez. Ron Kellogg. Tommy Armstrong. Tanner Lee. And finally, Casey Thomson in 2022.

They tried it all — triple option, single back, spread, spread zone read option, West Coast, pro style — and nothing worked. Bo Pelini had a few 10-win seasons (10 wins!) and nearly won the Big 12 in 2009, before Texas got another second on the clock and hit a game-winning field goal — and I literally feared for my life when Ndamukong Suh stomped off the field and looked like he would seriously hurt someone.

But I digress.

See how easy it is to connect the dots? Nebraska has tried every coach and every system and every type of quarterback imaginable. And still, nothing.

What changes this unthinkable stretch of bad football that has gotten worse since the Huskers joined the Big Ten?

The right quarterback.

2. The path to Lincoln

First, the likely contenders: USC, Georgia, Oregon and Nebraska. Which 1 of these is not like the others?

Lincoln Riley just finished his 1st year at USC and turned a 4-win, wayward program into a team that was 1 win from the Playoff. His quarterback (Caleb Williams) won the Heisman Trophy.

Riley’s 4 quarterbacks at Oklahoma prior to Williams either won the Heisman (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray), finished as a Heisman finalist (Jalen Hurts) or transferred (Spencer Rattler).

Georgia has won the past 2 national titles, and is the favorite to make it 3 in a row. Quarterback Stetson Bennett was the biggest name in the sport over the past 2 seasons.

Then there’s Oregon, whose coach Dan Lanning has been recruiting Raiola since his time as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. It should come as no surprise then that Georgia has so far received more visits from Raiola (6) than any other school.

Then there’s Nebraska, with so much bad recent history and so much unknown — and a streak of 6 seasons where the Huskers won 23 games and didn’t even qualify for a bowl game.

Georgia won as many games (15) in 2022 as Nebraska won over the past 4 seasons.

This is what Rhule walked into with the unofficial mandate to land the best player in the 2024 class. A rare player, a consensus No. 1 player with a ready-made frame (6-3, 220 pounds) and unique arm talent.

He’s rated, by the 247Sports composite, higher than 4 of the past 5 No. 1 quarterbacks in their respective recruiting classes — Arch Manning (2023), Cade Klubnik (2022), Bryce Young (2020), Spencer Rattler (2019) — and is 4 hundredths from Quinn Ewers (2021), who had a perfect rating.

This is a difference-maker. This is what Nebraska has lacked since a guy named Tommie Frazier turned Memorial Stadium into his personal triple option playground in the 1990s.

3. The Big Get, The Epilogue

Look around college football, and see the list of former heavyweights who have gone through extended stretches of average play. They all have 1 thing in common: the lack of a difference-maker at quarterback.

Texas. Florida. Florida State. Miami. Washington. UCLA. And Nebraska.

Fair or not, Rhule is expected to land Raiola. If Frost were still coach, he’d be expected to sign Raiola, too.

It doesn’t matter that Nebraska hasn’t been relevant on the national stage since the early 2000s, when they were emasculated by an uber-talented Miami team in the 2001 BCS National Championship Game — the beginning of the end of the Husker mystique built in the 1990s.

All that matters to long-suffering Nebraska fans is Raiola is a legacy, and losing him is a direct reflection on Rhule and his ability to bring difference-makers to Lincoln.

But if Rhule gets Raiola into the fold, and he continues to recruit the way he did at Temple and Baylor (speed rules everything), there’s no reason to think Nebraska can’t do the same thing Baylor did in Year 3 under Rhule: play for a conference title in December.

That 2019 Baylor team would’ve made a 12-team Playoff, and Raiola’s first season at Nebraska would coincide with the expanded 12-team Playoff.

The seminal moment, the Raiola commitment, starts everything. There’s no avoiding it.

4. 3 QBs, 1 job

Mel Tucker made it clear at the end of last season: no one, at any position, should be comfortable.

That includes 2-year starting quarterback Payton Thorne, who is being pressed this spring by junior Noah Kim and redshirt freshman Katin Houser. Kim played in mop-up time last year in big losses to Ohio State and Minnesota, and completed 13-of-17 for 152 yards and 2 TDs — and likely has the best opportunity to win the job from Thorne because of his ability to stress defenses with his legs.

All 3 are splitting reps this spring, and all 3 will get reps with the 1s in scrimmages. There’s no timeline to name a starter, but it’s obvious the spring portal will play a factor.

Kim is in his 4th season, and will have options if he doesn’t win the job. So, too, will Houser, a former 4-star with elite arm talent who redshirted last season.

5. The Weekly 5

The 5 teams with the best odds to draft Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who missed all but parts of 2 games in 2022:

1. Houston Texans (450): Texans get a quarterback at No. 2 (maybe CJ Stroud), and get a wide receiver at. No. 12 (Smith-Njigba).

2. Chicago Bears (700): If Bears trade back again, reuniting Smith-Njigba with QB Justin Fields is a definite option.

3. New England Patriots (900): New OC Bill O’Brien needs a true No. 1 receiver for QB Mac Jones.

4. Green Bay Packers (900): Pairing Smith-Njigba with last year’s 1st-round selection Christian Watson would ease transition for new QB Jordan Love.

5. Baltimore Ravens (1,000): Ravens could trade up from No.22 to give QB Lamar Jackson a true, dynamic No. 1 receiver.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Illinois S Sydney Brown.

“I really like him as a person. A character guy you want in your locker rom, and that’s not even addressing his talent. He’s a big, big hitter in run support. Active and quick in pressure packages. Always around the ball, and always around a big play. I love guys that like. Don’t kid yourself, that’s real. He can cover and match up with tight ends, but I don’t know that he’s a true slot cover guy.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll — and 1 big thing: Every team’s NFL Draft sleeper.

1. Michigan: DE Mike Morris. Has the frame and athleticism, lacks consistency.

2. Ohio State: DE Zach Harrison. Strong and long, needs to develop variety of pass rush moves.

3. Penn State: TE Brenton Strange. Underused because of inconsistencies at quarterback.

4. Wisconsin: LB Nick Herbig: Can he continue to play edge in the NFL?

5. Minnesota: CB Terrell Smith: Size, speed, length — just didn’t make enough plays.

6. Iowa: TE Sam LaPorta. Hard to evaluate with Iowa’s poor QB play/offensive scheme.

7. Illinois: RB Chase Brown. Terrific hands, a difficult cover in 3rd-down situational packages.

8. Purdue: QB Aidan O’Connell. Not fleetest of foot, but has an NFL frame, live arm, accurate thrower.

9. Maryland: WR Dontay Demus Jr. Great size (6-3, 212) and vertical (36 inches), will win 50-50 balls.

10. Michigan State: WR Jayden Reed. 4.45 speed, and dynamic ability after the catch. Could make impact on special teams.

11. Indiana: LB Cam Jones. Likely a core special teams player.

12. Nebraska: WR Trey Palmer. One of the fastest receivers in the draft. Can he further develop and perfect his craft?

13. Rutgers: P Adam Korsak. Big leg, and 1 of 5 punters invited to the NFL Combine.

14. Northwestern: DE Adetomiwa Adebawore. Sub 4.5 40 and 38-inch vertical at the Combine moved him into mid rounds.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Cade McNamara led Michigan to the CFP. What’s to say he can’t do the same for Iowa? — Jerry Gold, Chicago.


Michigan had better (and still has better) skill talent, and a better offensive line and run game. Other than that, sure, why not?

The Iowa offense has to be better with McNamara, if for no other reason, it means the quarterbacks of the past 3 seasons aren’t under center. To be fair, the quarterbacks aren’t entirely to blame.

The scheme is predictable and not effective when the Hawkeyes can’t run the ball (2.9 yards per rush in 2022). There’s also legitimate concern that none of the quarterbacks developed over the past 3 years. Does McNamara play well despite OC/QB coach play caller Brian Ferentz?

9. Numbers

54. In the past 2 seasons, North Carolina rushed for 4,914 yards and 54 TDs in OC Phil Logo’s Air Raid offense.

In that same span, Wisconsin rushed for 5,079 and 47 TDs in a run-oriented, play-action offense.

Translation: Don’t think Wisconsin will stop downhill running under Longo, who had 4 1,000-yard rushers in 4 seasons at North Carolina.

10. Quote to note

Purdue coach Ryan Walters: “I’m still getting used to it and not being so centric to one side of the ball. It’s good to be around the offense, too, building relationships and seeing where we’re at on that side.”