Steven M. Sipple, Parker Gabriel and Chris Basnett recap a news-filled Wednesday that was headlined by an NCAA investigation.
You know one way you can tell it's going to be an ultra-intense Nebraska football season?
Husker fans already are reading the head coach's body language.
Man, it gets bizarre at times.
A lot of people scrutinized Scott Frost on Wednesday as he stood next to his boss, Husker athletic director Trev Alberts. The situation was inherently uncomfortable. Frost had just walked off the practice field and immediately fielded questions about an ongoing NCAA investigation into his program. Did you expect him to greet media like an evening host at a winery? Should he have brought crackers?
Perhaps I'm awful at reading body language, but nothing about Frost's demeanor was particularly striking to me, except it seemed like he wanted to say more before Alberts cut off questions. I thought back to a one-on-one interview with Frost in his office in November 2019. Nebraska was 4-5 at the time. Frost said he wasn't sleeping well. At one point, though, he set his jaw and said, "Nothing will stop me from getting the job done here."
I trust his jaw is still set, figuratively speaking. It seems that way.
But can you trust his program to reach its potential this season?
Above all, I think that's what most reasonable Nebraska fans desire during his fourth year in charge.
Do you trust Frost to get his team to maximize, or come close? That's a critical question as you attempt to predict Nebraska's final record. In some ways, the entire conversation is predictable. We all know NU needs to cut down on penalties and turnovers and improve dramatically on special teams. If it cuts down on mental errors and plays at an acceptable level on special teams, this roster clearly has the capability to win eight games.
I can't go any higher than eight wins. Seven might make more sense. It's a matter of trust.
Do you trust Frost has grown as a coach?
Think about what he said last month during Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis.
"There's no doubt we have more talent in the building right now, by far, than we've had since I've been at Nebraska," said Frost, who never would've imagined being 12-20 at this point in his tenure in Lincoln.
However, he said, he believes his roster is better in essentially every area. He thinks his team is more confident than ever and more unified. He thinks the leadership is better. Of course, Frost saying all this basically puts much of the onus on the coaching staff. If the talent and culture have improved, you would expect the win-loss record to improve significantly at some point, right?
Some people wonder if the NCAA investigation will be a distraction. I doubt it will affect players. They're young adults and intelligent enough to recognize the situation for what it is. However, I do wonder if it will affect Frost. That said, he's paid handsomely to handle matters that have virtually nothing to do with preparing his team to beat the next opponent.
Along those lines, Nebraska seemingly has had an excellent preseason camp. There apparently have been no major injuries. Players push forward with a quiet confidence. If the Huskers play to their potential, they should start the season 3-0. Oklahoma obviously will be a bear in Game 4, especially on the road. So, make it 3-1.
This is where it gets interesting. A week after playing Oklahoma, Nebraska goes right back on the road to face Michigan State, arguably the Big Ten's worst team. But Sparty's defensive line is deep, experienced and talented. If Frost really does intend to lean harder on the ground game this season, as mounting evidence suggests, this is the type of game that could test his patience in that regard.
Let's say Nebraska gets to 4-1. Next up is Northwestern, another defensive-minded outfit. You know the game will be close. But if the Huskers can get out of their own way, if they are intent on maximizing, they feasibly could get to 5-1. If they get to 5-1, 8-4 would be well in reach.
Yes, the schedule is extremely difficult, especially the second half. Those who try to tell you otherwise clearly have an agenda. They don't want Frost to have an excuse if Nebraska stumbles badly. This is where we need to point out Frost's 5-11 record at NU in games decided by seven or fewer points.
Do you trust Frost to reverse that trend? It's another critical question. For instance, if Nebraska defeats Michigan, it likely will be a close margin. Same goes for a mid-October game against nemesis Minnesota on the road. Pick the Gophers in that one. Meanwhile, Frost and company should hope for an ice storm Nov. 6 when Ohio State comes to town. Otherwise, forget about it.
Wisconsin fielded a top-10 defense last season and it'll be even better in 2021. I don't like Nebraska's chances in Madtown. At all. But I do think Nebraska's ready to topple Iowa, finally, as the Hawkeyes lost a lot of firepower in the trenches.
Bottom line: If Nebraska gets to 5-1, it should be able to win three of its final six. That would set most of the fan base at ease. For what it's worth, I'm predicting 7-5 with a slip-up that simply shouldn't happen (Michigan State? Northwestern?). It's a trust issue. Trust is earned. But, yeah, it can be a tricky discussion.
Sort of like trying to read body language.
2021 Nebraska football guide: All of the Journal Star's preview content in one place
The Journal Star's 2021 Husker preview guide comes out in print Sunday. Keep this link saved — we'll be adding new pieces to it every day.
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