After a 4-8 season in 2018, head coach Scott Frost and the Nebraska Huskers are receiving national attention after going 4-2 in their final six games. ESPN ranked Nebraska 24th in its “Way-Too-Early Top 25” in January. A favorable schedule will help Nebraska, as its marquee games will be played at Memorial Stadium.
Players to watch:
Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez took the open quarterback position by storm in 2018, becoming the third true freshman in Nebraska history to start at quarterback. In only seven games, he set a school record for passing yards by a freshman. Martinez was also named first-team freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. He ended the year with 2,617 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air and 629 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Martinez is expected to have another big season, as Westgate Las Vegas Superbook gave Martinez the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy in 2019. With the rest of the offense having some serious question marks, Martinez is no doubt the cornerstone of the offense and the team.
Martinez’s number-one target this season will be junior wide receiver JD Spielman, who has lived in the shadow of potential NFL draftee Stanley Morgan Jr. the past two years. Despite being overshadowed, he managed to put up solid numbers in his first two seasons. As a freshman, Spielman picked up 818 yards through the air while hauling in two touchdowns. Last season, he improved with 830 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Spielman has never been the main target while at Nebraska, but that will change in 2019, as he will be vital to Nebraska’s offensive success.
Coming off a team-leading 112 tackles last season, senior linebacker Mohamed Barry will continue to be the leader on and off the field for not only the Nebraska defense, but the entire team. Barry took on the role as vocal leader last season, speaking at nearly all of the press conferences throughout the season, even amidst tough stretches. Barry will be the most experienced player at the linebacking position and will look to take this young core under his wing in 2019.
On Sept. 29, 2018, then-junior cornerback Lamar Jackson was benched by Frost for the second half of the Purdue game due to his lack of productivity and his continued on-field attitude problems. The coaching staff was hoping this would light a fire under Jackson and propel him to use his full talent. It worked. With just 28 tackles and two interceptions last season, Jackson doesn’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet because most offensive coordinators try to avoid him. They are running plays opposite of the side Jackson is on because receivers are not getting open when Jackson covers them. These two factors don’t allow Jackson to record many tackles, pass deflections or interceptions, but Jackson will be the leader of a talented secondary.
Games to watch:
Sept. 28 - Ohio State @ Nebraska
This will arguably be the biggest game at Memorial Stadium in many years, as both teams have a favorable schedule leading up to the game and could both be ranked inside the Top 15. Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten in recent seasons and most likely will be a preseason national title contender. Nebraska went on the road last year and was leading the No. 8 Buckeyes at halftime before falling 36-31. This game may not only have implications within the Big Ten, but across the nation.
Nov. 16 - Wisconsin @ Nebraska:
In a Big Ten West battle, Nebraska will need to come away with a win against the Badgers if it wants a shot at winning the division. In the last five years, Wisconsin has won three Big Ten West division titles. Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska has beaten Wisconsin once in nine tries. Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 41-24 last year in Madison, and Nebraska will be looking to break through and defeat the Badgers for the first time since 2012.
Nov. 29 - Iowa @ Nebraska:
If Wisconsin isn’t the team to beat in the Big Ten West, Iowa would be next in line. The Hawkeyes have taken five out of the last six meetings from the Huskers, including a 31-28 victory over Nebraska last year in Iowa City. The Iowa-Nebraska game always means a little more, as the winner takes home the Heroes Trophy. Nebraska will try to take back the trophy on Black Friday in Lincoln.