Scott Frost’s expectations in Lincoln are pretty cut and dry. At least they are to me.

The long-term goal is that Frost will bring his alma mater back to national relevancy. That means winning division and even conference titles as a consistent top-15 program in the country.

For the smart Nebraska football fan — there are a whole lot of them — nothing about that seems too crazy. I mean, that’s basically what Wisconsin is doing right now. From a proximity standpoint, the Badgers have similar recruiting disadvantages. Still, they’re coming off consecutive division titles and are set to play in their second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl.

To think that Frost, who just took an 0-12 UCF team and turned it into the cinderella story of college football in two years, can reach Wisconsin-like levels of success is perfectly realistic.

But for the sake of this argument, let’s focus on Year 1.

What should we expect from a coach who just inherited a four-win program? That’s not an easy one to answer, but it might be easier if we break this down by some parameters.

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The Recruiting

This is tricky because I don’t think Frost should be expected to churn out top-15 classes on a yearly basis, and especially not in Year 1. To be clear, I don’t think he needs to do that in order to establish his foundation.

Remember, even when Frost was on Chip Kelly’s staff at Oregon and that program was an unquestioned national power in the early part of the decade, they didn’t have a single top-10 class. Frost’s offensive system is not about getting the freak, five-star athlete.

Accurate, tough mobile quarterbacks are obviously important. Expecting Frost to land the 6-4 QB with the rocket arm isn’t realistic. Expecting Frost to go out and land more McKenzie Milton-types is realistic. Any Nebraska fan against that idea might’ve missed the part where Frost turned a recruit outside of the top 1,000 in the 2016 class and got him to No. 8 in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Now, Frost could certainly get a couple more Adrian Martinez-type quarterback recruits. Given Frost’s recruiting ties on the West Coast and now in the state of Florida, he’s going to be able to occasionally pluck one of the more-heralded quarterbacks, as long as they fit the system.

Close your eyes and that almost sounds a bit like the Mike Riley recruiting pattern, at least with his success in California. There’s actually a decent chance that Riley’s first class, which was No. 30, ranks higher than Frost’s first group. Will that matter? No. If this job was all about recruiting solid classes, Riley would still be coaching in Lincoln.

Frost’s first class is filling out quickly after basically all of the out-of-state recruits dropped their commitments. As long as Frost continues to salvage the 2018 group and not finish at say, No. 54 (the current ranking), he will have done his job in an extremely tight window.

In Frost’s first full recruiting class (2019), I wouldn’t be surprised if it ranked somewhere between 20-30. Those numbers could look similar to Riley, but the on-field numbers are far more important.

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The Offense

Nebraska fans should expect to see the B-word. No, not that B-word. A better B-word.


UCF’s up-tempo offense was also extremely balanced. The Knights actually threw the ball 46 percent of the time, which is telling considering how many blowouts they played in. A lot of the frustration that Husker fans had about Riley’s inability to establish the run should fade in Year 1 with Frost.

While a lot of it was game-flow dependent, I doubt Nebraska throws the ball 40-plus times like it did in half of its games in 2017. That doesn’t happen that often a system that incorporates the run-pass options like Frost will ask his quarterback to do. And if it does, it’s because it’s a back-and-forth shootout like the American Athletic Conference Championship (UCF still ran the ball 39 times for 232 yards that day).

Nebraska’s offense is going to be the most notable on-field change in Year 1 of the Frost era. The quarterback will make quicker decisions, and the offense should be less predictable because of the RPOs. Having a quarterback who can complete at least 65 percent of his passes for at least 8.5 yards per attempt seems reasonable, too.

Does that mean we should expect Nebraska to immediately replicate UCF’s top-scoring offense in the country? In terms of production, of course not. If the Huskers put up 49.4 points per game against B1G defenses in Frost’s first season, I’ll run to Wood River.

But I’d be stunned if a unit that ranked No. 86 in the country didn’t see a noticeable improvement, even if the Huskers suffer a bunch of transfers/early NFL departures. I’d expect this unit to finish somewhere near the top 40 in scoring in 2018. That’s not asking for a lot. Arizona State was the No. 40 scoring offense in the country at 31.9 points per game.

Reaching anything better than that kind of offensive production, in my opinion, would be a great sign going forward.

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The win-loss total

Man, I hate predicting a win-loss total for a season that’s still over eight months away. There are a billion factors that could change Frost’s Year-1 outlook.

But because I know it’s a question that many Nebraska fans have, here’s the way I’d predict Frost’s first season playing out today.

Nothing in non-conference play looks scary. Go figure that Troy could actually end up being a tougher game than Colorado (ask LSU about that). What does look scary — and what should temper expectations — is Nebraska’s start to B1G play in 2018. It’s brutal. In case you don’t know it by heart already:

  • at Michigan (Frost actually played there with UCF in 2016)
  • vs. Purdue
  • at Wisconsin
  • at Northwestern

Those are four games against bowl teams, three of which are on the road. Just splitting those games would be a win in my book.

Then the rest of the season looks like this:

  • vs. Minnesota
  • at Ohio State
  • vs. Illinois
  • vs. Michigan State
  • at Iowa

Yikes. Nebraska’s three crossover draws are against teams with teams who averaged nine wins in 2017. It’s also the Huskers’ year to play five B1G road games. On top of that, Nebraska has to travel to face three of the top four finishers in the B1G West. Bru-tal.

It’s because of that schedule that I’d say expectations shouldn’t be too high. While outsiders might deem it a failure if Frost finishes 6-6 in Year 1, I wouldn’t. Remember, that’s what he did in Year 1 at UCF. The bigger questions are going to be about the defense and if it can look better than the doormat it was in 2017. Frost’s UCF squad, for as well as it played in 2017, wasn’t exactly stout in the defensive side.

Having said that, I expect Nebraska to at least go 6-6. Is it possible that Frost could finish 7-5 or 8-4 with an upset of one of those B1G East teams? Sure, it’s possible. What’s more likely is that Nebraska fails to hit eight wins for the third time in four years, which would mark the first time that happened since the pre-Bob Devaney/pre-sellout streak era. Get ready to hear that stat thrown out by the skeptics.

But remember that the Year-1 bar should be a lot closer to Riley than it is to Devaney or Tom Osborne. This is still a four-win team that has one of the tougher conference schedules in America in 2018.

Wisconsin is the realistic long-term goal. Chances are, though, Nebraska isn’t getting there during Frost’s honeymoon phase.