Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My 2017 Nebraska Football Prediction: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Last week, I was asked my thoughts about how the Huskers would do this football season, and frankly, I don't really know.  I actually have a wide range of thoughts, starting at 10-2 (Woohoo! Big Ten West champions, baby) and working my way down.

Way down.

All the way to "Mike Riley's heading back to Corvallis at Christmas time and not coming back" down.

Why am I so uncertain?  Only nine returning starters, once you cross cornerback Chris Jones off the list  with his knee injury. A new defensive scheme.  And perhaps most importantly, new unproven offensive skill players on offense.

I like the hire of Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator, so I feel OK that could work out in the long term. But truth be told, if Riley felt the need to replace a coordinator this offseason, I wouldn't have given Mark Banker a pink slip last January.  I would have gone to the other side of the ball.

Yes, I admit it:  I'm still traumatized by 2015 and the bone-headed coaching that resulted in losses to Illinois and Purdue.  Especially Purdue, where the coaches abandoned the run and put the game on the shoulders of a walk-on quarterback to throw 48 passes.  First they threw Tommy Armstrong under the bus, then when he was out, threw the I-backs under the bus instead.  Credit to Mark Banker; he recognized his initial approach wasn't working in 2015 and changed things up as the season went on.  Danny Langsdorf didn't until the bowl game.

The convenient excuse the last two seasons was that the quarterback Langsdorf had wasn't a fit with the offense he wanted to run. So now he does. Or at least supposedly does.  We're hearing lots of hype about Tanner Lee this summer; many predicting him with an NFL future. But then I look at his statistics at Tulane, where his passing numbers were worse than Tommy Armstrong.  Some will excuse them because of injuries, but unless those injuries happened in preseason, that doesn't explain everything. Some will excuse them because of the surrounding talent, which is fine until you realize that Nebraska's receiver depth is really inexperienced.  Plus, now Lee will be facing Big Ten defenses, not those in the AAC.

Maybe he truly is an NFL prospect.  If so, then what is there to make of the fact that throughout spring, the coaches kept insisting that "Tanner O'Brien" and "Patrick Lee" were interchangeable and almost indistinguishable from one another.  (FWIW, Patrick O'Brien started the spring game over Lee.)  So we have an NFL prospect (a high NFL draft pick, according to Phil Steele) who apparently was neck and neck with a redshirt freshman.  So if we're to believe that, it's only logical to assume that Nebraska has two NFL caliber quarterbacks on their roster.

That may be true.  Or maybe we're being fed some good 'ol sunshine and lollipops to be washed down with something that would have been called Pedeyshine ten years ago. (Remember the last time we were told that NU had an NFL quarterback prospect planning to start?  It did not ... go well.)

That uncertainty makes this season tough to forecast.  If I'm to believe the hype, I see 9-3 or 10-2 as possible.  The Huskers get Wisconsin and Iowa at home, so I like how the schedule sets up.  If the quarterback play is as improved as we're being sold this summer, things could go really well.

But if that doesn't happen (and by many reports this spring, the offense struggled), Katy bar the door around here.  Purdue and Minnesota upgraded coaching staffs this offseason, Northwestern looks pretty formidable, and Penn State jumps on the schedule.  What's the floor?  I almost hesitate to say, but most of those early Vegas and ESPN predictions came in at 5-7/6-6.  That means the floor is lower - much lower.

So yep, I won't even put 4-8 or even 3-9 completely out of the question.  And if that happens, it becomes quite elementary what the result is going to be.

My best guess?  Riley survives with a 7-5 season.  He gets an upset or two (say Wisconsin in Lincoln), but then drops a turd in the punchbowl again at Illinois or Purdue.  But it's just that: a guess.

Because this season, nothing between 2-10 and 10-2 would completely surprise me.  In other words:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Kevin Gress said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this - until the season starts we don't know what we have and a non-winning, and perhaps even a losing season is possible.

And in year 3 that is very telling. We were told from the beginning that Riley and staff were a complete upgrade from the previous regime - they could get the most out of lesser talent; they just didn't have the resources.

And what have they accomplished? A losing season and a 9 win season where an argument could be made that Minnesota was the biggest win of the season. And the next 2 seasons just get tougher....

I agree that hiring Diaco should be an overall benefit - but he's not a miracle worker. The numbers show that his defenses perform to the level of recruiting. So, I think they'll be a serviceable unit, but not stellar.

Unfortunately, this season comes down to Lee. Is he Manning Incarnate? I guess we better hope so, because we'll need him to be. Unfortunately, we just don't know. We don't know what will happen after that first "POP!!" - does he just shake it off, or does he start getting 'happy feet'? And it comes down to Lee because this staff has done nothing to develop the run game or running backs.

When the season's said and done, I think they'll be 8-4 going into the bowl game with no real surprises - I think they catch Oregon early enough to take advantage of them having a new staff and take care of everyone until Wisconsin. Until this staff shows they can actually coach to win (and not just ride games out), I can't see them beating Wisconsin or Iowa - and that sucks! Ohio State is just too much right now and Penn State is roaring back on the strength of their recent recruiting. Right now, the big 'if' is the Northwestern game. Last year NU benefited from playing them early - before they got their act together. This year they play them later so we'll have to see. Hope I'm wrong.

But even if they have a decent season, short of a B1G CCG appearance, we, as a fanbase, really need to start asking if Riley is the way to go.

Husker Mike said...

Pelini made the Big XII Championship game in year two (and year three). (So did Solich.)
Callahan made the Big XII Championship game in year three.

There is a strong argument to be made that Riley needs to do the same.

Except for the fact that, unlike Pelini and Callahan, Mike Riley is beloved in this state, it seems. I also think there's an argument that the B1G West is tougher than the Big XII North. So I don't think Riley gets fired if he fails to do that.

But another losing season? That will be his last.