Nebraska football: 5 things we have to see from the Cornhuskers in Week 1
There might not be a coach in the country more eager to get the 2018 season started than Nebraska’s Scott Frost.
The former Cornhuskers quarterback brings his up-tempo offense to Lincoln, where a rabid fan base is geeked by the thought of him replicating his turnaround at UCF. In his first head coaching job, Frost started the 2016 season in Orlando by inheriting a team that had gone 0-12 the year before. By the end of last season the Knights were 13-0 and proclaiming themselves national champions (though nobody else did except the Colley Matrix computer rankings) and Frost was a hot coaching prospect.
Now Nebraska opens its campaign against Akron (8 p.m. ET Saturday; TV: Fox) hoping to avoid the same fate which met the Cornhuskers last season against a MAC foe, when Northern Illinois took a stunning 21-17 victory home from Lincoln.
So, here are 5 things we need to see from Nebraska on Saturday:
1. A strong start from Martinez
The Cornhuskers announced Sunday that Adrian Martinez will start against the Zips, becoming the first true freshman to start a season opener at quarterback in program history. Martinez, Nebraska’s top recruit in the Class of 2018, has been battling redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia for the job. Gebbia is likely to also get some game action against Akron. But the focus will be on Martinez, who is thought to be a strong fit in Frost’s preferred system.
2. A receiver to emerge behind Morgan and Spielman
Stanley Morgan Jr. is the Big Ten’s top returning receiver; last season as a junior he set a program record with 986 receiving yards. What might have slipped past a lot of folks in 2017 is that teammate JD Spielman, above, set a single-game receiving record, with 200 yards on Oct. 14 in a loss to Ohio State. But behind them the Cornhuskers don’t return much production, and Martinez can use all the friends he can get out wide as he launches his college career.
3. Better effort on defense
This stat bears repeating: Nebraska allowed exactly 56 points to Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa in 2017, and surrendered 54 points to Minnesota. The Cornhuskers allowed an average of 36.4 points per game in 2017; they never allowed more than 36 points in any game from 1991-95 when they went 54-6-1 and won two national championships. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has one heck of a rebuilding job ahead of him and it starts against Akron.
4. A reliable kicker
Nebraska will miss the steady foot of Drew Brown, who hit all but two of his 180 career PATs and 59 of 76 field goals (77.6 percent) in four seasons as Big Red’s kicker. He left Lincoln as the school’s No. 4 all-time leading scorer with 355 points. True freshman Barret Pickering was named the starting kicker for 2018 but he will have to do really well to be as dependable as Brown.
5. A charged-up crowd
Nebraska is legendary for having sold out every home game since the 1960s, becoming one of the most passionate fan bases anywhere in America. But no less an authority than Tom Osborne said that, if the school hadn’t hired Froat, that sellout streak might have ended at some point in the near future. It’s not hard to understand why Big Red Nation had turned a bit sour in recent years, but Frost’s arrival seems to have re-lit the fire. Saturday is a chance for the Cornhuskers faithful to show that they are, indeed, still very faithful.