Nebraska Must PUT 2019 behind them and Improve in 2020
Coming into the 2019 season I was really excited to watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez was one of the most exciting freshmen in the country a year prior and former UCF coach and Nebraska legend Scott Frost had begun to remodel the team into his image. With a wide open Big 10 West, Nebraska were expected to make a real challenge for a spot in the conference championship game. What followed was a 5-7 season, including a second straight season under Frost with losses against rivals Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue.
It was a disappointment of the highest order. Things began to unravel with a fourth quarter collapse against rivals Colorado in week two, the game going to overtime after Colorado scored 24 fourth quarter points. The Buffaloes won and the Cornhuskers were already on the back foot with their season. Big Ten conference play opened up with a horror show of a blowout by Ohio State, a fate that befell many teams this season. However, after a tight win against a poor Northwestern team, the Huskers would lose four conference games in a row conceding over 30 points in each one. The season would end with a tight loss at home to conference rivals Iowa once again there would be no bowl game for the Huskers.
Martinez must bounce back!
In 2018 Adrian Martinez threw for over 2500 yards and 17 touchdowns, and added eight more on the ground. The freshman looked to be the dominant young playmaker that Frost needed to accelerate his rebuild. However, in 2019 Martinez regressed in all areas, banged up and under pressure he threw for fewer yards and touchdowns and threw more picks than the year prior. Martinez freshman film reminded the viewing fanbase of Texas A&M’s Jonny Manziel, his sophomore play reminded us of the NFL version of ‘Jonny Football’. Martinez has all the talent in the world, a mentality grounded in hard work should see him develop into a top tier signal caller. After a classic sophomore slump, the spring and summer camps are all important. If Martinez can make the jump, Nebraska can compete in the Big Ten West.
Martinez will face off in conference against fellow junior quarterbacks Tanner Morgan, Justin Fields and Sean Clifford. All three led their teams to stellar records and placed well ahead of Martinez statistically. Martinez is going to need to outplay at least two of them if his team is to be taken seriously at the end of the year. Scott Frost should make helping his potential superstar under centre his top priority this offseason. A four-star offensive tackle should help to bolster the line, whilst the continued emergence of Wa’andale Robinson should take eyes away from Martinez.
Running the gauntlet...
With challenging for the Big Ten west being the goal for 2020 and becoming bowl eligible imperative. Nebraska will need to start their season fast. Each of their first seven games are winnable. Both Purdue (Week 1) and Cincinnati (Week 4) will be tough tests but they are games the Huskers would expect to win.
Judgement of the quality of the season for the Huskers will depend on how they perform in the back half of their schedule. Games against the five top Big Ten teams in 2019 close out the schedule. Included are road trips to face an Ohio State side expected to be in the pre-season top five; a jaunt to the bone-shatteringly loud Camp Randall to face Wisconsin and a showdown with the tight space and bright pink locker room of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. Nebraska will need a special performance to win in any of these colosseums of college ball. Home wins against Penn State and Minnesota during this run are going to be musts if Nebraska is going to challenge. It’s going to be a tough ask.
Frost isn't under pressure... yet!
Scott Frost was the quarterback of the last Nebraska football team to win a National Championship. As such he will be given more time than most to establish his program. However, given the success Frost enjoyed in quick time at UCF, many in Lincoln will be expectant of their team this season. Those fans are passionate and expectant, they will roar on their team, but their patience has bounds. Nebraska must start 2020 a minimum of 6-1, even then a .500 with five straight losses to close out the year would be unacceptable. If Nebraska are to make the jump to the next level, they’re going to need to beat the teams they would be jumping.
Feature Image Credit: Cornhuskers.com