The comparisons started rolling in as soon as the 2018 season came to an end. Scott Frost’s second year at UCF resulted in an undefeated season, a conference title and a Peach Bowl victory. So yeah, expectations are pretty high in Lincoln.
While not everyone is expecting the Huskers to be the B1G champion and compete in the College Football Playoff in Frost’s second year, there is an expectation that the program should challenge for the B1G West and is capable of being a top 25 team. Even CBS Sports has the Huskers pegged as No. 18 in its way-too-early 2019 rankings.
There’s no doubt that Nebraska will be a more dynamic team next fall, one capable of winning big games against some marquee opponents. The question, really, is whether the Huskers are capable of winning consistently in Year 2 of the Frost era, and living up to those top 25 expectations.
I’ve got a few concerns about Nebraska’s ability to be a top 25 next season.
Nebraska owned one of the worst defenses in the B1G last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in every major statistical category. It surrendered 30 points or more in eight of 12 games in 2018 and was a huge hurdle for the offense to overcome.
Not only does Erik Chinander have to get this unit to improve drastically, he has to do it with several new pieces in the mix. Guys like Ben Stille, Mohamed Barry and Caleb Tannor give the Huskers some hope on that side of the football, but replacing five of the top six tacklers is going to be a tough obstacle.
Will the Huskers’ defense play as poorly as it did in 2018? Probably not. But there are still a ton of question marks heading into the season. And with several up-and-coming offenses in the B1G West, Nebraska might have trouble winning consistently if it can’t get stops.
Compared to last year’s schedule, Nebraska’s 2019 slate is a walk in the park. Frost gets a favorable draw in cross-over games, playing Maryland and Indiana in addition to Ohio State. Non-conference games against Northern Illinois, South Alabama and Colorado are manageable, too.
Where’s the problem? The B1G West appears to be getting stronger by the year. Purdue notched some marquee victories last year. Iowa won nine games and returns plenty of talent. Minnesota won three of its final four games. Northwestern won the division. Wisconsin is Wisconsin.
There’s a balance of power in the West, making each and every Saturday a battle. Yes, at a glance the schedule is much more well-suited for the Huskers to make huge strides in Year 2. But this isn’t the same weak division it once was. Wins are going to be more difficult to get.
Frost is projected to bring in a top 20 recruiting class and QB Adrian Martinez, RB Maurice Washington and WR JD Spielman are all big-time playmakers. Four-star all-purpose back Wandale Robinson is also likely to have an immediate impact. Those are all good things for the Huskers.
Having a full year in Frost’s fast and furious system should allow Nebraska to field one of the best offensive teams in the conference, too. But a lot of the talent on the roster is still relatively young, which leads to inconsistent performance. Just look at Purdue last year, for example.
There’s no doubt Nebraska is going to be a much more productive and entertaining team in 2019. But, when you have so much youth, it’s hard to win consistently. The Huskers will likely get to a bowl game and will post some major wins next season. There will probably be a few really disappointing losses along the way, too.