Scott Frost told the Journal Star on Friday that he’s "cautiously optimistic" about his team's chances to have a strong 2019 season.
Most Nebraska football fans probably feel a similar sentiment. Cautious optimism makes sense under the circumstances.
“I think just the overarching improvement is what makes me confident,” the second-year Husker head coach says. “We’re still making mistakes. There are still areas we need to get better. We’re far from the complete team right now that I think can do some of the things that people are expecting us to do. But we’ve got time.
“Watching (practice) tape, I’ll think, ‘Man, we didn’t do that on the offensive line last year.’ I’ll watch another play and a tight end will make a play that he didn’t make last year. Then the DBs will do the same thing. Then the D-line does. I really believe we’re a better football team at every single position, and that should lead to good things.”
His comments seem to be a perfect lead-in to a prediction column. So here goes nothing. I'm not going to be the media person who climbs atop a pedestal and tells you with certainty how Nebraska will fare in 2019. That would seem sort of ludicrous, right? I mean, tell me which media member predicted the Huskers' 4-8 finish last season, or their 4-8 finish in 2017. Yeah, crickets.
Take any of the so-called experts' predictions with a boulder of salt. Proceed with caution. That's my overarching strategy in this exercise. I'm taking the safe route. I'm going with Nebraska to finish 8-4 in the regular season. Yes, the Huskers will achieve a significant level of improvement.
Ah, but hold on tightly, my friends. This could be a wild ride.
Frost's unyielding sense of calm belies my vision of a season of ups and downs. This could feel a bit Bo Pelini-esque. You know, a roller coaster of emotions. I sometimes have to remind myself it's only Year 2 of Frost. I believe him when he says the culture in the program is vastly improved. But it's early in his tenure. His program may soon fully reflect his even-keeled nature. You see signs of it, but it may not be all the way there. So, expect surprises.
Don't be surprised if Nebraska upsets Ohio State to move to 5-0, and don't be surprised if it's the Buckeyes' only regular-season loss. The Huskers fell just short last season in the Horseshoe, which should give them ample confidence and motivation.
If I'm right about this 5-0 scenario, you can imagine the level of delirium among Nebraska fans. A 5-0 start would seem almost too good to be true. Many fans would be downright bewildered. The team would be on cloud nine.
That is, until Northwestern knocks Nebraska down to earth the very next week (Oct. 5). Some Husker fans will be indignant in pondering such a prediction. Those fans should consider the Wildcats have won 15 of their last 16 Big Ten regular-season games. Those fans should consider that Pat Fitzgerald's crew went 8-1 last season to win the division by three games. Those fans should consider that the Wildcats are 3-1 in Lincoln since the Huskers joined the Big Ten.
Those fans should consider that Northwestern looks to be a better team this year than it was last year.
You want more wild stuff? Give me Minnesota over Nebraska in Minneapolis on Oct. 12. In what feels like a toss-up game, give the edge to the team that returns 90% of its offensive production and 66% of its tackle output. That would be the Gophers, whose 3-1 finish down the stretch last season included wins against Purdue (41-10) and Wisconsin (37-15).
Give me Nebraska over Indiana and then brace yourselves, Husker fans, because the madness will soon continue. Although I may be putting my family at risk here, give me Purdue over Nebraska on Nov. 2. Many Husker fans are prone to casually mark this game as a "W," but Frost's players can't afford that sort of mindset. The Boilermakers have plenty of weapons on offense, and their defense will be better than many seem to expect. I envision Nebraska playing well, and losing.
Frost's crew will gather itself during the bye week, then win a close game against Wisconsin in Lincoln. Tell me this stuff isn't an absolute hoot. I warned you to buckle up. Bottom line, I believe Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander when he says his front seven looks bigger and stronger. In Year 2 in the system, the Huskers will play much faster -- Frost says he's already seeing it. The "D" won't shut down Jonathan Taylor. I mean, the guy has averaged 9.6 yards a carry against NU in the past two years.
But Nebraska will get enough stops to get its offense the ball enough times to make hay against a suspect Wisconsin defense, and the Huskers' six-game skid against the Badgers will end. The stadium will be up for grabs. It'll feel cathartic for the team and its fans.
That is, until Nebraska falls victim to the Big Ten schedule gods the very next week. A late-November trip to Maryland between games against Wisconsin and Iowa? Seriously? Frost's young program may not be quite mature enough to handle this sort of challenge. Give me the Terps in a shootout. NU's depth issues may catch up with them here.
By now, you know what's coming. That's right, give me Nebraska over Iowa. NU takes out its frustrations.
Tell me 8-4 wouldn't feel swell for Nebraska fans, especially if dear ol' NU rattles UW and Iowa in the November chill.
In the end, give me a trip to the Gator Bowl. You'll find me on the beach in Jacksonville, toes in the sand, maybe a bit more bewildered than usual -- recovering from a wild ride.
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