There is a buzz surrounding the Nebraska football program coinciding with the return of Cornhusker legend Scott Frost as head coach. Frost led UCF to a perfect 13-0 record last season, including an impressive Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
The expectations are high for Frost’s homecoming but what are realistic results for his debut campaign? Don't forger that Nebraska went 4-8 in 2017 under Mike Riley.
Not only is the program undergoing a complete overhaul in terms of scheme and culture, but the Cornhuskers also must navigate a schedule that includes three of the toughest matchups in Big Ten cross-divisional play (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State) as well as road games against Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern.
No one is expecting Frost to lead Nebraska to the Big Ten Championship Game in his first season in Lincoln. But can he at least get the Huskers back to a bowl game? Athlon’s editors and contributors dust off their crystal balls to offer their take on how successful Year 1 of the Frost era will be.
Will Nebraska Make a Bowl Game in Scott Frost's First Season?
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of Nebraska football with Scott Frost at the helm, but Year 1 could feature its share of growing pains. While Frost did take a UCF team that went winless in 2015 to a bowl in his first season, I think that task will be more difficult with the Cornhuskers. The main reason? A schedule that offers just two games that fall into the “gimme” category — Akron and Illinois. Some may put Troy and even Colorado in that group, but let’s not forget what the Trojans did at LSU last year and the Buffaloes won the Pac-12 South in 2016.
Otherwise, Nebraska’s Big Ten slate is about as rough as it gets with cross-over games at Ohio State and Michigan as well as a home date with Michigan State. The Huskers should certainly be more competitive than they were last year and I am expecting Frost and company to pull off at least one surprise this fall, but I think their margin of error is too thin to produce the six wins needed to qualify for a bowl game.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Absolutely the Cornhuskers will be back bowling. After all, if Frost and that staff can take an awful UCF team to a bowl in their first year, they can do it again with much more to work with in Lincoln. Nebraska's defense should be fairly solid in 2018 and even if it takes a few weeks to figure things out at quarterback, the offense will be a breath of fresh air come Big Ten play. While Akron is the only gimme on the non-conference slate, the Huskers have four of their first five at home and they're in the easier of the two Big Ten divisions. It may not be much over the six-win mark but I'd be pretty confident in them making it to the postseason in Year 1 of the Frost era.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Yes, I think Nebraska finds a way to six victories and gets to a bowl game in coach Scott Frost’s first season. Of course, it’s not going to be easy with a schedule that features crossover games against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, along with road trips to Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin. However, just having Frost in charge should be worth an upset or two for Nebraska in 2018. The Cornhuskers aren’t completely devoid of talent for Frost to build around this offseason. Running back Tre Bryant could push for all-conference honors if healthy, and the receiving corps features two standouts in JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan. Nebraska may not have a clear No. 1 quarterback, but Frost should be able to help this position grow and improve over the course of the season. The path to six wins is tough, but the Cornhuskers should return to the postseason in 2018.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Scott Frost may want to get comfortable with taking a loss here or there in his first season at Nebraska, because the schedule throws him absolutely no favors. A tough cross-division draw that includes road games at Ohio State and Michigan and a home game against Michigan State paired with a division schedule that takes Nebraska on the road to Wisconsin (with the Badgers coming off a bye week), Northwestern and Iowa?
That leaves a very small margin for error, and if Nebraska doesn’t improve on defense or settle on a quarterback with much confidence, the Huskers’ bowl hopes may be put on ice quickly even though there is reason to be excited about the direction of the program. If Nebraska gets to a bowl game, it will come by the slimmest of margins.
Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces)
Obviously, Frost’s success will be one of the biggest storylines in all of college football next season and whether or not the Huskers make a bowl will be a major benchmark of success. Regardless of how Nebraska does, Frost gets an automatic mulligan. However, being the competitor that he – and by proxy his team – is, I can’t see another collapse like we saw under Mike Riley.
Three factors play into a potential Big Red bowl game and two of them go against Nebraska right now – Frost’s offense, defensive experience and the Huskers’ schedule. This coaching staff is drilling the idea of not being afraid to fail into the players’ heads. As a result, I think we see an uptick in defensive performance based on a return of proper tackling and simply playing looser. That said, there will still be growing pains against the more talented offenses that Nebraska faces.
However, thanks to the talent on offense that should be more than efficient at running Frost’s scheme, Nebraska may look more Oregon Lite than ever with a few “defense optional” games. Looking at the 2018 slate, I see five games I’m comfortable chalking up as wins as of today: Akron, Colorado, Troy, Purdue and Minnesota. It wouldn’t shock me to see Troy and Purdue be closer than Nebraska fans might like.
Beyond those five, Nebraska needs to have a good Saturday outside of Lincoln which I can see happening at Michigan immediately following a potential 3-0 start to the year and at Northwestern. Seven regular-season wins for this team should be considered a very respectable beginning to the Scott Frost era at Nebraska. While they likely don’t end up in a New Year’s Six bowl, a trip to the Holiday Bowl or even the Foster Farms Bowl where Riley won his first postseason bid as Nebraska’s head coach (irony, much?) seems in order.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Scott Frost knows all about quick turnarounds in his young head-coaching career. He took UCF from a winless campaign before his arrival to a bowl game in Year 1. Though Nebraska's basement was not necessarily as deep as that of UCF, the Cornhuskers tied and then broke the program record for most lopsided home losses in the post-World War II era during the 2017 campaign. Improvement at home is critical if Nebraska's to make a bowl game in 2018, with a trio of dates in Lincoln out-of-conference: Akron, Colorado and Troy. All are must-wins; none are gimmes (just ask LSU about reigning Sun Belt champion Troy).
If Nebraska loses any one, forget about it – even at 3-0 in non-conference, the Big Ten slate is unforgiving. The Cornhuskers cannot afford a home slip-up against any of Purdue, Minnesota or Illinois. The road games are simply too difficult for the Huskers to reach .500 otherwise. I see Nebraska coming up just shy of a bowl berth by finishing with a 5-7 record.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
The coaching change in Lincoln has brought with it a culture change — both inside and outside the program. Frost seems to be giving the local media just enough info to keep them happy, while simultaneously keeping as much as he can close to the chest. It felt like some of the distractions that hindered the program in recent years were the result of both a lack of discipline inside the walls and a lack of privacy from the outside.
Frost’s methodology should squash both.
The Huskers are going to look different from both a physical and schematic standpoint. They have just enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to execute what their new head coach wants to do and while dealing with another coaching change.
The schedule doesn’t do Nebraska any favors, but I see five games — Akron, Troy, Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota — where there’s a good chance the Huskers will be favored.
It’ll be a roller-coaster season, but that aforementioned culture change should bring newfound resiliency to the Nebraska program and allow them to get to 6-6 in 2018.