1. For once, common sense prevailed in a Nebraska football game
It’s been a while, but Nebraska took care of business against a hapless Maryland team on Saturday. It was one of the first no-doubt dominations of a conference opponent in quite some time, with only two other games from the past five seasons coming to mind that were similar.
Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez had his share of shaky moments, but he kept the ball moving despite having very limited help. One of his primary receivers in the game was third-string, true-freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who actually showcased better fundamentals at wide receiver than most of Nebraska’s actual wide receivers.
Speaking of McCaffrey, Maryland had to have known Nebraska would run a double-reverse pass for him at some point, right? That play was far too predictable yet still worked with ease.
Junior running back Dedrick Mills had another solid performance, rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. On the season, he’s up to 651 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Not bad numbers for a late-summer arrival. I’m curious to see what his workload evolves into next fall after an offseason of conditioning.
Now at 5-6, Nebraska can officially say it has improved from year one. Maybe not by much, but there was certainly progress. Instead of trailing their top-10 opponent 39-0 at halftime like last year, the Huskers kept it within 38 at the half this year. More importantly, Nebraska didn’t lose to another opponent from the Sun Belt Conference this year, which is why the Huskers still have a shred of hope for the postseason.
2. Black Friday will be the defining moment of the first two years of the Frost era.
I’ve had a gut feeling since the Indiana game that Nebraska would be 5-6 some way or another going into this game. Alas, here we are.
This is going to be a fascinating matchup. Iowa takes this rivalry seriously, and Scott Frost appears to be taking Iowa seriously, calling the Hawkeyes one of the best teams in the Big Ten in his postgame press conference.
In terms of talent, Iowa is likely the team right ahead of Nebraska in the Big Ten. This will be a good litmus test for Nebraska’s defense, which struggled with the physicality of Iowa’s offensive line a year ago in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes have struggled to run the ball all season long, which has hindered the entire offense. Iowa has only scored more than two touchdowns in a conference game twice this season.
Iowa’s running game struggled for most of last season, too, but junior running back Mekhi Sargent still managed to gash the Huskers for 173 rushing yards. It was one of just two career games where he topped 100 rushing yards.
Nebraska’s defense looked significantly improved against an unmotivated Maryland team. If it can sustain that momentum against Iowa, that will do wonders for both confidence and recruiting over the offseason.
Nebraska has played in five Black Friday contests while sitting at four or five wins. The Huskers lost all five of those games. If Nebraska can gut out a win in its sixth try, the narrative will immediately improve the program.
3. A quick update on the possibility of getting a bowl bid with just five wins.
It’s not looking great. Currently, 72 teams are bowl eligible, and 12 teams are one win away, although five (including Nebraska) play opponents that have won eight or more games this year.
If six or more of those 12 teams don’t win this week, then the NCAA’s APR Rankings system will determine which five-win teams get bowl invites. So far, there are only two five-win teams ranked ahead of Nebraska. One is Ohio, who faces 0-11 Akron this week and will most likely get that sixth win. The other one is Boston College, who faces 7-4 Pittsburgh on Saturday. As the second-highest ranked team in this group, it will likely get a bowl invite no matter what.
The top pick of the five-win teams would be Duke, if the Blue Devils can knock off Miami. After them, it would be Boston College. Assuming Ohio will win, that leaves a pair of 4-7 teams, Middle Tennessee State and Ole Miss, ahead of Nebraska. They both play road games, with Middle Tennessee State playing at Western Kentucky and Ole Miss playing at five-win Mississippi State.
The best-case scenario for the Huskers would be Ohio and Boston College each winning, Duke and Middle Tennessee State losing and at least nine of the 12 five-win teams losing. The chances of that are highly unlikely, though.
Beating Iowa would make this so much simpler.
4. Nebraska basketball continues to be a wild ride.
Nebraska needed some late-game heroics to knock off Southern, which went into the game ranked 343rd by kenpom.com. Sophomore guard Cam Mack and junior guard Jervay Green provided those heroics and then some, and that’s something fans should get used to seeing.
I’m not sure if the Huskers will be able to win 10 games this year, but I have a good feeling most nights at Pinnacle Bank Arena will feature some tight contests. Tickets are going to be cheap this season, which won’t be the case for much longer, so I suggest getting to as many games as possible this year. You never know what may happen any given night with this team.
5. Hoiberg’s Huskers have an interesting two weeks coming up.
The Huskers immediately left for the Cayman Islands the day after escaping against Southern. They play Washington State on Monday night in the first round of the Cayman Islands Classic. The Cougars, ranked 150th by Kenpom (Nebraska is 139th), are also off to a 2-2 start with equally embarrassing losses to Santa Clara and Omaha. Kenpom has Nebraska currently listed as a one-point favorite.
The following day, the Huskers will face either George Mason or Old Dominion. George Mason is off to a 5-1 start but recently lost at Maryland by 23 on Friday night. Old Dominion is 3-2 with an impressive win over Saint Joseph’s but also a pair of tough losses against Northern Iowa and James Madison. Either team would be Nebraska’s toughest opponent to date.
To close out the tournament, Nebraska will face either South Florida (2-2), Loyola Chicago (3-2), New Mexico State (2-3) or Colorado State (3-2). All eight teams are fairly evenly matched, and that’s not exactly a compliment.
After getting back from the Cayman Islands, Nebraska travels to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have only played three games so far but have an impressive win over North Carolina State.
To close out this stretch, the Huskers will go up I-80 and take on Creighton. The Bluejays appear to be the real deal this year and will likely be the best team Nebraska faces in its non-conference slate.
Two weeks from now, we will have a much clearer picture of what Nebraska’s ceiling could be and what its basement may be.