2023 is going to be such an interesting season. I could go into my predictions and talk about what all our opponents have or don’t have, how we’ve done against them in the past, new coaches, transfers, etc. But as any Husker fan knows from the past decade or so, this has nothing to do with other teams and everything to do with us as a team. You can sit there and say “well Northwestern won’t be any good again this year” but the reality is in 2022 we literally gave them their only win. That wasn’t because of them, it was because of us. When I asked people preseason 2022 if they thought we’d win in Ireland “no shot we lose to Northwestern, don’t you remember how bad we killed them last year?” It’s never been about the other team.
And we see it again to start 2023, Husker fans telling us how this opponent “should be an easy win” or any other variation of that line of thinking. However, all you have to do is search message boards or Twitter, and quite frankly every other teams fans believe we are an easy win for the exact same reasons we are using. Nebraska has 7 wins against Big Ten West Teams since 2018. Read that again… Another way to say it is we are averaging 1.5 wins against division opponents every year. I knew things were bad, but when you get stats like that, I think you don’t realize just how bad things had gotten. Yet some people are saying they need to see 7 or 8 wins this year from Rhule. I get worried about those expectations.
Part of me gets where they are coming from with the 7 or 8 win barometer. As we saw when Joseph took over with the help of Bill Busch, things started to look a bit more like football. The team seemed to gravitate towards looking like what we thought would happen. We went from losing to teams like Georgia Southern to beating Iowa for the first time since 2014. And the hope is that with a new coaching staff that will be like Joseph and Busch on steroids, that it will continue.
But the Joseph and Busch situation didn’t come without bumps in the road. A blowout to Oklahoma, loss to Wisconsin who fired their coach, and other things let you know just how difficult this season may be for us. While a new coach can implement some things in the offseason and during practices, he still needs to see how the team is going to react when the bullets are flying. Something he won’t really be able to prepare for until we face off against Minnesota. I fully expect with Rhule leading the charge that Nebraska will start to nearly eliminate losing to those teams we are paying a million dollars to come play us, or losing to teams that have double-digit losses on the season. But year 1 will have a couple of those in my opinion, i’m just not 100% certain which games that will happen at.
I also read this quote on a message board from Sam McKewon:
Would I say this is “one of the weakest overall rosters” i’ve seen at Nebraska? No. But I would certainly argue it is one with the least depth i’ve seen in quite some time. And that could spell disaster for October and November games for Rhule and his team which will be imperative to get to a bowl game and the 6 win threshold. Let’s dive a bit deeper.
I’ve hinted at it in all of my previews, but our offense has looked… average. Unless we have one of the best front 7s on defense in college football (which I don’t believe we do), it really concerns me how much they are playing in our backfield. The OL that has been an issue for what seems a decade is basically the exact same with the exact same coach, with only Coach Rhule and Ben Scott as additions. That concerns me.
Further, while I have more confidence in Jeff Sims than most, there is really not a lot behind him. And when you are going to be asked to run like we are going to need him to do, he is going to be put in situations where injuries could happen. While Sims is deadly with his legs, this stat was alarming:
And that means we need to get the ball in the hands of our RBs. Ervin Jr is the #1 back as we talked about in our RB preview. Rahmir Johnson is your do-it-all guy. And Anthony Grant may be the most talented of all of them, but he puts the football on the ground a bit too much and he has limited plays he can run right now. But again, your RB does nothing if he doesn’t have good blocking in front of him.
TE could help carry us when times get tough as well. TEs are some of the first reads on RPOs and Fidone will be one of the best in the conference if healthy. Boerkircher can get us into 2 TE sets, and if Gilbert gets his waiver that gives us 3 (insert price is right tuba losing horn). Throw in Bonner at FB and we have options. But a semi-healthy Fidone and Gilbert without his waiver could all of a sudden leave us with just Boerkircher sometimes.
WR is going to give us some fits. We talked about just how thin the room was in our preview, and we’ve lost Betts since that preview was written. While Billy Kemp is your #1 guy there, he’s a slot WR and this offense isn’t Brady and the Patriots with Edelman. He needs other players to help get him open. Our WRs are going to be Garcia-Castenada, Washington, two walk-ons, and then a bunch of first year guys. Again, that is super thin, and then you start requiring true-freshmen to help.
Long and short of it, I expect us to grind the clock and keep our defense fresh. Low scoring games to keep us in it against teams like Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin so that it will only take a big play to get us the win.
When it comes to the defense, I actually feel really good about our defensive line and our secondary. When you look at our two deep, it has a great mix of upperclassmen that know what B1G football is all about, and younger guys looking to make a name for themselves.
Linebacker is what scares me, and with Henrich banged up already, the curse to him and Reimer seems to be bucking its ugly head again. I thought we had 3 guys we were comfortable with at ILB, and one already possibly out for the Minnesota game, leaves us with just 2. While Wright has a lot of promise, I just haven’t seen enough of him to have confidence yet.
Personally, I think we are going to give some offenses a tough time. Between our personnel and Coach White being able to bring pressure from seemingly everywhere, we will create some explosive plays on defense. But that won’t come without some frustrations to the fans, as we will give up big plays from time to time as well. But as we’ve stated before, i’d rather try to dictate to the offense what they can do rather than sit back and get papercut to death by teams like Oklahoma and others.
@Minnesota: I’ve said this before, but we start out with an awful matchup with a new coach and new scheme. Fleck and the Gophers have zero problem just running the ball for 3 or even 4 shots at a time. White will put us into situations where they force runs and passes based on our pre-snap alignment, but can it be enough? Barrett Ruud told me Minnesota has the most impressive looking OL in the B1G, even better than Wisconsin’s. Will they just lean on us and wear us down? Every player i’ve talked to says we are winning this one, but I just can’t go there yet in year 1. We lose, but i’m taking Nebraska +7.5. Loss (0-1)
@Colorado: Matt Rhule and the Cornhuskers get our first win of the season in Boulder. The Buffaloes start with TCU who is coming off a CFP birth, and Deion completely gutted the roster. Let me just say this, if Coach Prime develops a good program doing things the way he’s doing them i’ll hate college football. It just won’t work. Further, Nebraska gets an extra two days rest after their first game as we play on a Thursday and Colorado is in Dallas on Saturday. Win (1-1)
Northern Illinois – Not a ton to say here, but there’s a reason P5 teams pay schools like this to come in and play. They are supposed to be guaranteed wins. During Frosts tenure, too many times these were close games and even losses. Coach Frost went 3-6 in FBS non-conference games while here, but Rhule will start us off with a bang. The Huskies are coming off of a 3-9 season and this is Nebraska’s home opener under the lights. Win (2-1)
Louisiana Tech – The Bulldogs were 3-9 in 2022 and 3-9 in 2021, I don’t see any reason to go too deep into this one. Win (3-1)
Michigan – This one is going to be tough, top 2 team in the conference and just better in every aspect. Established culture, top recruiting classes every year, everything. I don’t give us much of a chance here. Please just come out healthy. Loss (3-2)
@Illinois – This is a tough one for me. But i’ll revert to why I just can’t pick us to beat Minnesota year 1/week 1, and that’s established culture. They run the ball like the Gophers, have a solid defense (I know their DC is gone), and oh by the way this is a short week for us and an away game. Playing Illinois on a short week AFTER the Michigan game is a tough deal. There used to be an old saying about how teams took a week or two to recover after playing Nebraska back in the 90s, and I can see that with us being beat up after playing the Wolverines. Loss (3-3)
BYE – I will just say, 3-3 needs to be your minimum, 4-2 and i’m ecstatic. No shot at 5 wins in my opinion, and we better not be 2-4.
Northwestern – The Wildcats are just spiraling out of control during this offseason, and were awful last year. While they beat Nebraska last yerar, they haven’t won a game on American soil since October of 2021. You read that right. I also think Rhule shows how a real coach uses the bye week, as we will have had a roller coaster start of the season. If my predictions stays true, lose your first game, rattle off 3 in a row to get to 3-1, then lose 2 games where we get really beat up. The reset button will be pressed and we will get back in the win column. Win (4-3)
Purdue – Tough for me to predict, as they too have a new coach and will undoubtedly get better throughout the season. They get Nebraska coming off a bye, but they have Ohio State before that and Michigan after they play us. I think that will be enough for us to hold them off at home and we get a nice “warm-up” game the week prior against Northwestern. Win (5-3)
@Michigan State – There are some people higher on Sparty than I am. The most laughable contract extension for Mel Tucker, 10 years and 100 million dollars swiftly followed by falling on your face. I think Rhule gets his first B1G road victory against MSU. Sparty has an absolute gauntlet, they are at Rutgers, get beat up by Michigan, at Minnesota who also will try and beat them up, have us, then Ohio State the week after. It’s just too much for them in my opinion. Win (6-3)
Maryland – This is a tough call for me here, I an see us winning. We get Maryland at home, they haven’t really had a win that has impressed me in the Locksley era in the B1G. But neither has Rhule yet. We are sandwiched in between Penn State and Michigan for them, but I think their QB and some of their high profile players may be too much for Nebraska. This is also our first game in November and as I mentioned earlier, our lack of depth may start to show. Loss (6-4)
@Wisconsin – The media and national pick to win the B1G West, they have a new coach and they are switching from a power run it down your throat offense to air raid. Makes me think there will be some growing pains. But by November, those things should be ironed out. Phil Steele has many of their units as top 5 in the conference. Our lack of depth and the Badgers more than likely playing to stay in the conference title hunt, could be too much on the road. Loss (6-5)
Iowa – The Hawkeyes seem to always just fly below the radar each and every year. With everyone choosing Wisconsin to win, I can easily see Iowa screwing around and playing for a division title this year, with their final game against us deciding it. With us playing on a Friday, they won’t have the result of Saturday’s game with Wisconsin done and will be plenty motivated. Loss (6-6)
So there you have what i’m expecting, 6-6. Nebraska hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016, and while this team is so much different from the 2022 team, Joseph and Busch showed me that adults in the room and actually practicing football with tackling during the week can go a long ways. Theoretically, this should be Rhule’s worst team as it is year 1, so a bowl game should have people absolutely ecstatic. I expect us to drop one we probably shouldn’t, but we can get to a bowl game this year.
I almost had us beating Minnesota, and if we somehow escape Minneapolis 1-0 we could screw around and get to 8 wins. Even without Minnesota, there are some games I have as losses such as Maryland, Wisconsin, even Iowa that we could just have a great gameplan or catch some teams at the right time. All I know is if it works out where we are bowl eligible before November… that would be a lights out season no matter how it finishes.
But let’s break it down another way. Colorado was worse than Nebraska last year and completely dismantled the roster, between them Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois, and Northwestern we should have 4 wins. Trying to find two more out of eight games doesn’t seem that difficult, but remember, that’s what basically everyone has said the last few years, so i’m not banking on that.
Anyone that talks about the easy schedule forget that people literally have been saying that for years:
The reality is… if a team sees Nebraska on its schedule they tell you all the ways they can win because Nebraska isn’t even close to what it used to be. The fact I talk about Northwestern being easy for us as if we didn’t just lose to them last year when they went 1-11 is ridiculous. You can sit there and say “ya but Rhule is a better coach” and that bar isn’t very high, but the reality is, we definitely have some deficiencies in many places.
My 30,000 foot view prediction is we start out hot and are 3-1, possibly even 4-0. Then we get into Michigan and Illinois and get beat up a bit, with our depth (lack of) starting to show. We get the bye week to lick our wounds and get to 5 or 6 wins pretty quick, but limp to the finish line. We are an injury away at so many places like QB, tackle, center, WR, ILB, and NG that if someone goes down you all of a sudden are in a world of hurt. I don’t blame Rhule year 1 on that, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Vegas for the longest time had us at 6 wins for the over/under, with -130 to take the over. As discussed, I think we fall right on that. But gun to my head and if I had to pick a side, I would actually lean the under. It has currently moved to 6.5:
I would never bet the under but at 6.5 that’s where I think the money is. If we get to 7-5 year 1 I’m freaking pumped.
Tomorrow we will have our Minnesota preview, and Thursday we will have our gambling picks as well as our “toilet reading” that we typically put out on Fridays. Freaking football season is here!
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