1. The B1G story

By every measurable indicator, the timeline for Matt Rhule’s rebuild at Nebraska has been expedited.

It’s no longer about patience and building to last. It’s now a sense of urgency and how quickly it can happen.

With 8 simple words during his December signing day press conference, Rhule redefined the timeline of expectations.

“I expect us to have a good team,” he said.

What else could he say? The events of the past 6 months have completely changed the way Nebraska does football under Rhule — and will do in the years to come.

— The college football postseason expanded from 4 to 12 teams beginning with the 2024 season, tripling the pool of potential national championship contenders and making the tournament more attainable for those teams that don’t win their conference championship.

— The Big Ten added 2 more schools to the fold, bringing the total expansion number for the 2024 season to 4: USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon. There are no gimme putts in that group — only 4 more eager and willing programs with the ability to blow past a program preaching patience and building to last.

— It’s difficult to look at the November collapse and not think it has changed the horizon for Nebraska and Rhule. The Huskers entered the month with a 5-3 record and full of momentum — and needed only 1 win to reach the postseason for the first time since 2016.

They lost all 4 winnable games (at Michigan State, Maryland, at Wisconsin, Iowa) by a combined 16 points.

— The signing of 5-star quarterback Dylan Raiola, when all seemed lost in Nebraska’s pursuit of its legacy recruit, has changed the way everyone thinks about the 2024 season.

And by everyone, I mean everyone on staff and every, dyed-in-the-wool, loyal Nebraskan.

2. It’s the QB, always

They’ve watched this same show, over and over, season after season, since Eric Crouch won the Heisman Trophy in 2001.

Different players, same result: The quarterback position at Nebraska has been an unmitigated disaster for 2 decades. A haven for turnovers and game-changing mistakes.

Want to know why it ultimately didn’t work for coaches Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini, and Mike Riley and, yes, even beloved alum Scott Frost? Because they never figured out the most important position on the field.

This time — with this unique player — might just be different. But what can Nebraska expect to get from Raiola, you ask?

Everything — from Day 1.

There won’t be a soft rollout, or limitations on his workload or concerns about mistakes damaging his psyche. Raiola will get first-team repetitions from the first week of spring practice and will be the focus of the offense from the moment he steps on the field.

Overachieving 2023 starter Heinrich Haarberg was a nice story, and he did his best to bring the Huskers back to the postseason in Rhule’s debut season. Haarberg isn’t Raiola. In any way, shape or form.

Raiola is an elite thrower who was committed to Georgia, but instead of signing with the hottest program in college football, decided to embrace his family heritage and lift Nebraska from the scrapheap of college football. He’s not sitting and learning — or any other corny coaching cliche.

He’s playing from Day 1. Rhule and new QBs coach and co-OC Glenn Thomas will do everything possible to get Raiola ready to play in 15 spring practices and then build on it in fall camp.

Anything else would be ignoring reality — and a complete failure.

3. The immediate future

Rhule spoke in December about the state of the offense, and how it needed to significantly change.

The ball has to go downfield (Nebraska completed just 5 passes of 40+ yards last season, tied for 109th nationally), defenses must be stressed vertically and horizontally by multi-positional players. And the quarterback is the key to everything.

He added Thomas as the QBs coach, and moved 2023 QBs coach/OC Marcus Satterfield to tight ends coach and co-OC. Rhule declared he wanted the offense to look like the San Francisco 49ers, who in 2023 led the NFL in average yards per attempt. (Nebraska, at 6.2 ypa, ranked ahead of only 5 other Power 5 programs.)

Rhule wants the passing game to significantly develop under Thomas — and that’s not happening with Haarberg or any other quarterback not named Raiola.

The road is set from here until the season opener against UTEP on Aug. 31: Get Raiola ready to play. He’s the first step to returning to the postseason, the next step in the rebuild of Nebraska football under Rhule.

He’s also the “now” for the program. If it doesn’t work here — with a 5-star quarterback and a coach with a history of turning around programs — when will it?

You better believe it’s fair to expect more from Nebraska in 2024, much more than what the Huskers showed in the last month of last season.

4. The first move

The announcement Tuesday was lost amid the hype and hoopla of Super Bowl prep. But it’s significant — and could have a lasting impact on college football (and the Big Ten) moving forward.

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but it’s certainly odd that within days of the SEC and Big Ten announcing they were joining together to find answers to the problems of college sports — and everything that goes with it down the road — ESPN, Fox and Warner Brothers announced a new sports streaming service.

Fox has a controlling interest in the media rights of the Big Ten. ESPN provides of all things SEC. Just a coincidence, right?

Fox, ESPN and Warner Brothers will each own 1/3 of the service. You can connect the dots from there, a road that could easily lead to the SEC and Big Ten combining media rights and opening a massive increase in payouts.

With pay-for-play on the horizon, there is a critical need for new revenue streams. The only way the 2 super conferences could demand a significant increase in their current $1 billion-plus annual payouts: a future where both play in the same association.

In other words, an NFL-type model with the NFC and AFC, and a postseason championship Playoff.

If college football eventually arrives at pay-for-play — and most in the industry believe it will sooner than later — it’s a logical move.

5. The Weekly 5

The top Day 2 or 3 Big Ten prospects for the NFL Draft.

1. S Tyler Nubin, Minnesota

2. WR Roman Wilson, Michigan

3. TE Cade Stover, Ohio State

4. LB Curtis Jacobs, Penn State

5. S Beau Brade, Maryland

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes the prospects of a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan NB Mike Sainristil.

“He’s undersized, there’s no doubt about that. But we’ve had undersized safeties and nickels that have had nice careers. He’s a football player. A high football IQ, and a sure tackler. He’s solid in coverage and mirroring, and he can run. He has great instincts, but he’s not an outside cornerback. I think you put him inside, where he can use leverage in coverage.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: best transfer portal addition.

1. Oregon: QB Dillon Gabriel (Oklahoma). A career TD/INT ratio of 125/26, and 151 career TDs (26 rushing). A 6th-year of eligibility, and a potential championship Playoff run.

2. Ohio State: S Caleb Downs (Alabama). It’s more than just adding 1 of the top 3 defensive players in college football. It’s an elite presence and leader on a defense that has lacked both.

3. Penn State: CB AJ Harris (Georgia). Former 5-star recruit was a key reserve in 2023 and will be a star in 2024.

4. Washington: CB Ephesians Prysock (Arizona). By the end of 2023, was one of the top 4 cornerbacks in the Pac-12.

5. Michigan: LB Jaishawn Barham (Maryland). He’ll play more inside, but expect Michigan to move him around along the front 7 to get him more involved in the pass rush.

6. USC: S Kamari Ramsey (UCLA). Nothing quite like taking the best young player from your crosstown rival’s defense and adding a potential All-Big Ten player in the process.

7. Iowa: OT Kadyn Proctor (Alabama). Iowa native and former 5-star recruit struggled early in his freshman season, but he played better in the second half. Big upside, and should play better closer to home.

8. Wisconsin: QB Tyler Van Dyke (Miami). We’re 2 years removed from Van Dyke’s best season. How does he respond in Wisconsin’s Air Raid offense, and can he replicate a redshirt freshman breakout season — when he threw 25 TDs against only 6 INTs (29 TDs, and 17 INTs since).

9. UCLA: WR Rico Flores (Notre Dame). Played well as a freshman in 2023, averaging 14.5 ypc., and showing explosive speed and suddenness.

10. Illinois: DL Dennis Briggs Jr. (Florida State). Seventh-year senior can play all along the defensive front and will give the Illini a presence in the pass rush.

11. Minnesota: QB Max Brosmer (New Hampshire). Gophers zeroed in on Brosmer, an FCS All-American, early on in the process. Can he deliver stability in a pass game that has struggled since 2020?

12. Nebraska: WR Isaiah Neyor (Texas). One of the top portal signings of 2022, he blew out his knee and didn’t play — then couldn’t get on the field in 2023 after Texas recruited over him from the portal. Can he be the elite player he was at Wyoming in 2021?

13. Northwestern: Wildcats haven’t signed a player from the portal, but will likely add after the spring portal opens for 15 days.

14. Maryland: OT Aliou Bah (Georgia). Played in 3 games in 2023 as a reserve, but has the size and athletic ability to compete for a starting tackle spot on the right or left side.

15. Rutgers: WR Dymere Miller (Monmouth). FCS volume receiver had 168 career catches and 17 TDs. Had more than 2,000 career receiving yards, and could give Rutgers an explosive No. 1 receiver it has lacked.

16. Michigan State: QB Aidan Chiles (Oregon State). Many coaches believe Chiles was the No. 1 quarterback in the portal this offseason, a talented, strong-armed and impact dual-threat.

17. Indiana: WR Elijah Sarratt (James Madison). Had 82 catches and 8 TDs last season for new IU coach Curt Cignetti, and has scored 21 TDs in the last 2 seasons.

18. Purdue: CB Nyland Green (Georgia). Green is 1 of 4 Georgia transfers for Purdue, including edge CJ Madden and WRs CJ Smith and De’Nylon Morrissette. All 4 will likely start.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: What kind of transition do you expect for the 4 new teams in the Big Ten next season? — Darren Cooke, Denver.


Take a quick look at the Power Poll. That should be a quick indicator.

Based on offseason moves and recruiting and transfer portal additions, Oregon is the strongest team in the Big Ten entering the 2024 season. Michigan loses too much on both sides of the ball, and I’m not sure Ohio State got significantly better at quarterback with Will Howard.

Oregon, meanwhile, looks more like an emerging version of Georgia under coach Dan Lanning, who landed a top-5 recruiting class and added a handful of impact transfer portal starters.

Washington was reloading even if Kalen DeBoer had stayed, and the Huskies are in good shape with new coach Jedd Fisch and transfer QB Will Rogers (Mississippi State). Then there’s USC and UCLA, where uncertainty rules.

The Trojans lost 5 games with an elite quarterback, and UCLA was just average again under coach Chip Kelly. The transition for both will be difficult initially, and possibly into 2025.

9. Numbers

17. The Michigan skill players accounted for 64 TDs in 2023, but only 17 of those TDs (26.5%) were scored by returning players in 2024. RB Donovan Edwards is the the top returning scorer (5 TDs).

10. Quote to note

Washington coach Jedd Fisch: “The job that was done here is fantastic. I understand that. I recognize that. We are not going to rebuild, but we are going to reconstruct.”