Mark your calendars if you haven’t already! For the first time since joining the Pac-12 conference, the Colorado Buffaloes will face off with a familiar foe in Lincoln on September 8th. Fresh off leading Central Florida to a “National Championship”, Scott Frost returns to his alma mater to take over a Cornhuskers team that finished 4-8 last season. Nebraska holds a 49-18-2 record in the series which dates back to 1898 and have won five of the last six games against their former Big XII rivals.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Offense (Returning Starters: 5)
“The number one trait that a quarterback in our offense has to have is he has to be a fast blinker,” Frost said at Big Ten Media Days last week. “…he has to be able to process information really quickly and be a step ahead of the game.” Projected to lead Frost’s up-tempo spread offense will most likely be redshirt-freshman Tristan Gebbia or true freshman Adrian Martinez, both of whom were four-star recruits. Frost has not tipped his hand as to who will start, but my money is on Martinez who is more of a dual-threat option.
There’s also uncertainty at the running back position. Last year, Nebraska’s rush offense ranked 119th in the nation at 107.5 yards per game. Junior Tre Bryant rushed for 299 yards in the Cornhuskers first two games last season (vs. Arkansas State, at Oregon), but he has been rehabbing a knee injury and its unknown exactly when he’ll return. JUCO transfer Greg Bell could very well start the season atop the Cornhuskers depth chart. Bell rushed for 1,217 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns at Arizona Western College last year.
The Buffaloes secondary will have their hands full as the Cornhuskers return their top two receivers from last year’s squad. Senior Stanley Morgan Jr. caught 61 passes for a school-record 986 yards last season, while sophomore JD Spielman added 55 receptions for 830 yards. Frost will also have an experienced offensive line to work with (59 career starts returning), but will they be able to transition to his up-tempo offense is the big question.
Defense (Returning starters: 7)
Erick Chinander, who Frost brought with him from UCF, takes over a Nebraska defense that ranked dead last in the Big Ten in total defense - 436.2 yards per game allowed - last season. The Blackshirts will remain in a 3-4 base led by senior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg. Inside Linebacker Dedrick Young (80 total tackles last season) is the team’s leading returning tackler, while safety Aaron Williams (2 INT last season) should anchor a secondary which allowed 221.4 passing yards per game in 2017. Expect the Cornhuskers to be much more aggressive at forcing turnovers under Chinander. Last season UCF ranked second in the nation with 32 takeaways, while Nebraska ranked 115th with only 12.
True freshman Barrett Pickering takes over for four-year starter Drew Brown at placekicker. Pickering, who connected on 39-of-55 field goals during his career at Hoover H.S. (Hoover, AL), was ranked as the 7th best kicker in the class of 2018 by 247Sports.com’s composite rankings. Caleb Lighthorn, recently selected to the Ray Guy Award watch list, returns in 2018, as does kick returner JD Spielman. Nebraska will need to find an answer at punt-returner, where they averaged just 6.20 yards per return last fall.
Prediction: Colorado 27, Nebraska 20
It didn’t take long for Frost to turn around a Knights team that finished 0-12 the year before he arrived. I have no doubt that he’s the right man for the job in Lincoln, but it might take a little longer for him to make the Cornhuskers a national powerhouse again. Despite playing in Lincoln, Colorado’s secondary should be able to shut down Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman, keeping Nebraska’s fast pace offense off field. The Buffaloes will control the clock with a heavy dose of Travon McMillian and defeat the Cornhuskers on the road for the first time since 2004, 27-20.