It’s safe to say that for every nervous and unsure Northwestern fan this season, there is an equally nervous and unsure Husker fan. And because there are more Husker fans than Northwestern fans just by virtue of how massive the UNL alumni base it, that leaves the remaining Nebraskans up for interpretation.
Thankfully, Inside NU had the pleasure of asking Corn Nations’ Andy Ketterson and some of his crew a few questions ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Here’s what they had to say:
Inside NU: Adrian Martinez was a weapon last year for the Huskers before transferring to Kansas State. Now, with Casey Thompson from Texas slated to take the helm, what are your expectations for QB play this year compared to last?
Brian: I don’t expect Thompson to be as big of a playmaker as Martinez. Thompson is more of a distributor who will move the ball around and occasionally pick up yards as a runner. I also expect there to be fewer turnovers.
Andy: I can safely say for the first time in a few years, the QB will not lead the ‘Skers in rushing, and when Thompson is in, very few to zero runs will be designed for the QB. He is mobile and will punish a defense who doesn’t respect his scrambling ability, but expect more patience and willingness to check through the reads. Turnovers should be down — or at least the TD/INT ratio up — as he managed to go 24/9 last year in Austin playing most of the season with a broken thumb.
Basically, we’d all like to see the guy who threw for 388 and 5 TD’s against Oklahoma.
Inside NU: Speaking of transfers, Frost pulled in tons of talent from the portal on both sides of the ball during the offseason. Who are some players you expect to make an immediate impact?
Mike: I’ll start with defensive end Ochaun Mathis, who should immediately upgrade the Huskers' pass rush.
Jill: Mathis is one that is getting a lot of camp hype. We need the pass rush to be improved over past years, so I really hope this hype has some basis in reality. There are also some wide receivers (cough, Trey Palmer, cough) getting some love from the insiders. However, my choice is going to be the specialists. After special teams cost Nebraska more than one game last year, I hope that Timmy Bleekrode (kicker) and Brian Buschini (punter). Both are coming in from FCS schools and Buschini was the FCS punter of the year.
That phase of the game has to be better, right? Right?
Greg: Mathis seems to be a big name, and I appreciate that he came into Lincoln with a sense of humility. Hunter Anthony provides the OL with a little experience. Stephon Wynn Jr should immediately see the field as well. And while I’m not thrilled with two starters on DL being transfers as it’s something of an indictment of recruiting/development, at this point…desperation and such.
Inside NU: In your opinion, what are the Huskers' biggest strengths and weaknesses this year?
Mike: I’ll be honest; I don’t know. There’s so much roster turnover that I don’t think anybody outside the program can really say what the strengths and weaknesses of the program are. I do believe the roster is upgraded across the board, but I don’t believe talent has been the issue.
Greg: Biggest strength would be depth at defensive back. We have 25 guys at that position. I also think the RB group will be a net positive if it actually stays healthy. Biggest weakness? About that offensive line…
Andy: Weakness, I think the biggest fear is the offensive line mostly due to losing starters Cam Jurgens to the Eagles and Nouredin Nouili to the piss cup of death. However, I am cautiously optimistic the change in philosophy brought by new O-line coach Donovan Raiola is the kind that can produce immediate returns.
Also — have you heard about their puking?? It’s legendary. Vomiting brings championships.
Strength, ehhh, the last few years have done enough emotional damage. I’m not saying a word for fear of jinxing by saying it out loud and subsequently getting chainsawed into mulch by some wingnut who grows his shrubs into a giant N every year.
Inside NU: The Huskers did about as poorly as Northwestern did in 2021 record-wise and struggled to finish out close games. We asked it last year and we’re gonna ask again — what temperature is Frost’s seat heading into the season, and what do you think he needs to accomplish with this year’s team to regain the confidence of the program and fanbase?
Mike: Borderline scalding. In some respects, it’s rather ironic because the argument for firing Bo Pelini was getting blown out in losses. Some even said that as long as Nebraska wasn’t getting blown out, it was fine. Well, Nebraska didn’t get blown out in any game…and there you go. What does he have to do? Well, bare minimum is simply to become bowl eligible. For some, he’s got to win eight or nine games.
Jill: His seat is quite warm. Very toasty in fact. What does he need to accomplish? That is very simple. Win more games. A lot more games. Frost talks a lot about culture and building a program, but he has spent more time learning how to be a Big Ten coach and fixing mistakes that gets in the way of creating a culture and a program that knows how to move forward. To his credit, he does seem to be learning and fixing some mistakes, but this is big-time college football and he’s got to create an identity for this program VERY soon. I don’t know the magic number of wins, but he took a salary cut and reduced buyout to coach the Huskers in 2022. The leash is short.
Greg: Husker Twitter is fun. There’s a section of the fanbase that will always always support him, no matter what. And there’s a section that thinks he should have been gone last year and is taking bets on which game will be his undoing. I think Scott’s seat is far from Frost-y, and beyond lukewarm. I would say that if season five isn’t a winning season with a late December bowl game (none of that Jimmy’s Famous Seafood Crab Cake Bowl ten days after the conference championship weekend), then it’s time to part ways. I think it needs to be an 8/9-win season. It has to be definitive.
Brian: The hot seat is blazing. Frost needs to win this year and just making a bowl game likely isn’t enough. He needs to show that he’s fixed the problems that have plagued the program and that they’re set up for success in the future.
Andy: On a scale of 1-10, it’s at about Arizona wildfire. Just kidding, sort of. He enjoys fairly solid fan support despite the howls of the interwebs, but the goodwill is about used up. Any losing record with this schedule will be sayonara. 6-6 and maybe 7-5 and the subsequent return to a bowl game probably keeps him around, but the oven stays on.
8-4 or better keeps the wolves at bay but any regression after that and we’re right back here.
Inside NU: Finally, the current spread has Nebraska as -13 favorites against the ‘Cats on Saturday, but Frost is 1-3 in its last four season openers (losses to Colorado (2018), Ohio State (2020) and Illinois (2021) and win over South Alabama (2019)). Who do you think takes home the win this weekend and the coveted title of Aer Lingus College Football Classic champion and why? Feel free to include a score prediction as well.
Mike: The Scott Frost era has been full of mind-boggling (if not mind-numbing) ways to lose a football game. It’s almost as if it were a curse. It’s clear that Frost inherited a mess with the roster that was lacking in leadership, but the statute of limitations on blaming Mike Riley is long over. I think that’s one of the big intangible benefits of all of the transfers; guys coming in who know a little bit more about how to win football games and can share it around. It shows in Dublin. Huskers 38, Northwestern 9
Jill: I don’t trust the Huskers to consistently win. I also don’t trust Northwestern to be bad two years in a row. I think we return to the wild, competitive, flip a coin, series that we’ve traditionally seen between NU-NU. Since I’m writing for the Huskers, I’ll be a homer and say that Nebraska’s shiny new kicker comes through in a clutch and hits a fourth-quarter field goal that puts the Huskers over the top.
But I’m not putting any money on that.
Greg: My esteemed colleagues make good points. Mike Riley can no longer be blamed for Scott Frost’s shortcomings. Nebraska DOES have a new kicker, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call him shiny. But honestly, the notion of this game being played in Ireland is one weird aspect that I think will add its own personality to the game. I like the coaching hires Nebraska made. I like the players they brought in, even in desperation mode where they have to “win now.” And I think Nebraska wins and covers the spread, 31-13. But college football is back, and we can all celebrate that.
Brian: The kool-aid is flowing as I believe Nebraska made some major improvements to both special teams and ball security at the quarterback position. Those should lead Nebraska to their second straight win over Northwestern with a 20-point victory.
Andy: The 56-7 win in Lincoln last year was definitely an aberration in this series - you could almost hear Shane Falco giving his quicksand speech from The Replacements as that one got out of hand. I don’t expect that again. Northwestern has made some upgrades but so has Nebraska and I don’t believe the Huskers have made a 49-point turnaround’s worth. I expect a few hiccups with all the new blood, but I also expect some of that talent to start revealing itself. Let’s say Huskers 37-17.
You know. Or else two first quarter pick-6’s by Thompson followed by a fumble on our 15 to trail 21-0 eight minutes into the game and a stirring Husker comeback comes up just short 37-35 on a missed 29-yard field goal. We know that script.
Yeah, I better hit the liquor store tonight and beat the crowd.