Scott Frost can start to feel just a little bit of the normal preseason excitement, even during an extremely weird month of September.
Now that his Nebraska team has games on the calendar, being on the practice field with his team is starting to come with that anticipation.
"Even until this week when we were out on the field after having been out on the field so many times but still don't know who our opponent was going to be, sometimes it felt like we were just spinning our wheels in the mud, but it's starting to get back to normal," Frost said on the "Sports Nightly" radio program Thursday evening. "We have a light at the end of the tunnel, we have a goal to prepare for, we have competition on the horizon and it's starting to feel more normal."
We wanted to salute the Sea of Red, and take a deeper dive into what separates Nebraska football and its fans from others around the country.
Nebraska will face three of the nation's strongest programs in its first four games this season. Emphasis on program.
Of course, normal is relative.
Nebraska is preparing for a nine-game, conference-only season that begins Oct. 24 at Ohio State and ends with a crossover weekend on Dec. 19 pitting the division winners in a Big Ten title game and the rest of the league in down-ballot action. The return to action was announced just more than a week ago, the same day Frost's father, Larry, died at 73 after a battle with cancer.
"(Sept. 16) was a tough day for me because they announced it the day Dad died, so it was an interesting day," Frost said. "We're just excited to be playing. I think we made a bad mistake deciding what we decided when we did as a league, and it looked for a long time like they weren't going to revisit that at all, and I'm just glad that we're going to get a chance to let our kids play football this year."
The Huskers have to wait until Sept. 30 to go full pads, per the Big Ten's daily rapid COVID-19 testing protocols but have been doing 11-on-11 work as much as they're allowed to for some time now.
"We've been lifting and running and doing individual drills and everything for so long that our guys are just anxious to get out there," Frost said. "We kept telling them we thought there was a chance and we should know something and we should know something, and there were a lot of times where I didn't know what to tell the guys because I didn't know.
"So there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of frustration, but through it all our guys worked really hard and have kept trying to get better."
Frost said his team is in good physical shape and knows NU's playbook well, but he wished they were going to have more than three weeks to get into "football shape" and get used to contact again in full pads, considering the Huskers haven't had a day in full pads since November.
"We're going to have to approach practice a little different than we would have," Frost said. "We're probably going to have to adjust practices and fast-track that. Again, some of the decisions we're making (as a conference) are good, some of them I don't really understand. We're out doing 11-on-11 right now with guys touching each other and doing as much contact as we can without pads on, but nobody in our league is allowed to put the pads on until the conference-provided testing is on each campus. Hopefully that's done by the 30th."
More that isn't normal: NU had done away with its training table after the Big Ten postponed the season, but now the food is back on the table, literally, for the football program. Position meetings are taking place in open areas like the Hawks Indoor Championship Center, the full team can't meet in the same place due to size restrictions and Frost isn't sure if the program can keep its normal roster size (it's at 154 according to Huskers.com currently) because of Title IX limits and also because of testing considerations.
"There's some standards that we have to meet if we're exacting to play that the Big Ten's put in place that has us worried a little bit," Frost said. "The number of kids that can be current positives with COVID and the limit on that before you're told that you can play that week. We're going to have to be really careful."
Still, Frost reiterated that his players are champing at the bit to get the pads on and move toward that Oct. 24 date against Ohio State.
"We're kind of at a point where the kids aren't afraid of the virus, they're afraid of getting the virus and having to sit out," Frost said. "I think that's probably where most college students or at least college athletes are at right now, so probably the biggest motivation for our guys to make sure they're making smart decisions off the field is to make sure they have the opportunity to compete."