The time has finally arrived to see what Scott Frost’s first Nebraska team looks like in game action.
The Huskers finished the physically demanding part of their work week Wednesday and practiced Thursday in just helmets. Friday features a walk-through, and gameday arrives Saturday.
"I think our team has done about as much as it can in nine months to prepare without playing a game," Frost told reporters Thursday. "But you never really know on some things until it’s gameday, there’s hitting going on and you’re playing another team."
Frost said this group’s first game week was the best he’s seen in a Year One scenario.
“It’s never going to be as clean the first time around as down the road, but it’s probably the best first week I’ve seen coming in with a new team,” he said. “They’re trying to do everything we ask them to do and I think they’re ready.
"They’re still getting used to some of the things we want them to do, like the way we want them to prepare, how we’re going to approach (game-week) practices."
QB depth won’t affect play-calling: Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said Wednesday he didn’t think Frost would be afraid to dial up running plays for freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez even though only two walk-ons remain on the available roster to back him up.
Frost confirmed that on Thursday.
"I’m going to call a game based on what we need to do to win," he said. "If we’re getting beat and the game’s over or we’re winning and the game’s over, then we’ll rethink that.
"But when the game’s hot and going, we’re going to call what we need to in order to move the ball."
Alternate uniforms coming: Athletic director Bill Moos said Thursday morning that NU is set to debut alternate uniforms, likely on Nov. 10 against Illinois.
"We're talking tradition and we're talking today's 18-, 19-year-olds," Moos said. "The Nebraska football uniform is an icon. It's like Michigan, Alabama, Texas, USC; and that will be our standard uniform. But there will be a game, maybe even two, where we will go away from that with something that's probably a little bit more trendy in today's world.
"Again, I'm comfortable with it. You have a guy that was a national champion quarterback here that wore that standard uniform, so he knows what it means and what it represents."
Area codes on helmets: NU is breaking in another minor, but popular uniform alteration. The players will have their area codes inserted on the front of their helmets, just above the facemask. Frost said his players did it at Central Florida and considered it with a sense of pride.
"I always thought as a player all my teammates wanted to play for three things," Frost said. "The first is your team if you have the right kind of team. The second is the name on the back of your jersey, your family, who you represent. And kids are really proud of where they’re from.”
Peyton Newell (Hiawatha HS) rocking the 785 area code at Nebraska for his senior year. Every player has their area code on their helmets. Very cool. #sportsinkansas #huskers pic.twitter.com/ck7qQLGsJu— Sports in Kansas (@sportsinkansas) August 29, 2018
Williams on the mend: Aaron Williams missed much of spring ball and didn’t start full-contact work in preseason camp until recently due to various upper-body ailments.
"Since he’s been back, he’s been doing a really good job," said Frost of the Atlanta native, who has played in 35 career games and is currently listed behind co-starters Deontai Williams and Antonio Reed in the safety spot opposite UCF graduate transfer Tre Neal. “The competition’s been open at every position since we got here and it will continue to be open. We’re going to play the guys that are playing the best and we’re all anxious to see him at full speed out there doing what we know he can do.”
Bunch has his ‘best day in a long time’: Andrew Bunch is ready if his name is called Saturday.
“Andrew’s done a great job handling everything,” Frost said. “I went to him yesterday during practice and said, ‘This is the best day you’ve had in a long time.’ He said, ‘Coach, that’s because I’m getting reps again.’ I think that’s the key for him is that we make sure he’s getting enough reps to be ready and I’ve already seen the improvement.”
Bunch, a walk-on sophomore from Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, by way of Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, enters Saturday’s season-opener as Martinez’s backup.
Oct. 13 | 11 a.m. | TV TBA | Ryan Field
Speed reading: 55
Speed trap: Northwestern could be difficult to wrestle down because of its strength on both lines. The Wildcats return four starters along their offensive line and on defense boast one of the Big Ten's best pass-rushing tandems in ends Samdup Miller and Joe Gaziano. Miller and Gaziano combined for 14.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall are two of the league's best linebackers.
Going through the motions: The big question in Northwestern's camp is the status of senior quarterback Clayton Thorson, who suffered an ACL tear in the Wildcats' 24-23 bowl win against Kentucky. The coaching staff has been preparing backup QBs, including junior TJ Green, with a greater sense of urgency than usual. That said, this is a program with momentum. Its 27 wins in the last three seasons are eight more than Nebraska's managed, a somewhat startling stat when one considers Northwestern's recruiting limitations.
Oct. 20 | TBA | Memorial Stadium
Speed reading: 45
Speed trap: It would seem pretty disrespectful to Minnesota's program to not site one glaring reason why the Gophers could give Nebraska fits. After all, one of the Huskers' most embarrassing losses in recent memory occurred just last season in Minneapolis — a 54-21 setback. The Gophers went on to lose their final two games, 39-0 to Northwestern and 31-0 to Wisconsin.
Going through the motions: Second-year Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck once again has serious questions at quarterback. The lack of production at that position last season resulted in a unit that ranked 122nd nationally in passing yards per game (126.1). Whoever wins the QB job this season could benefit from having some salty skill-position players, including tailback Shannon Brooks and receiver Tyler Johnson. Minnesota's defense is legit and likely will cause Nebraska problems.
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Coach: Terry Sims.
2018: Bethune-Cookman lost 34-3 against Tennessee State in the season-opener before bouncing back with a 79-16 win against Virginia University of Lynchburg. On Saturday, the Wildcats lost to Florida Atlantic, 49-28.
Last time vs. Power Five foe: 2017 vs. Miami, lost 41-13.
Of note: Bethune-Cookman has won five MEAC titles within the past six seasons.
Nov. 3 | TBA | Ohio Stadium
Speed reading: 98
Speed trap: You saw what happened last Oct. 14 in Lincoln, right? Ohio State often did whatever it wanted in a 56-14 triumph. You saw what happened Nov. 5, 2016, in Ohio Stadium, right? The Buckeyes battered the Huskers to the tune of 62-3. We're guessing Nebraska has a psychological mountain to climb before it sincerely believes it can defeat Ohio State in the Horseshoe.
Going through the motions: Let's see. Ohio State returns its top seven receivers and top two running backs. The Buckeyes' defensive line again will be a bear to block (although linebacker is a concern). The secondary is loaded with talent. The Zach Smith-Urban Meyer scandal is bound to have an impact on the season, although it's impossible to quantify how much of an impact. Even if OSU is unfocused, it probably won't have much trouble in this game.
Nov. 10 | TBA | Memorial Stadium
Speed reading: 28
Speed trap: Third-year Illinois head coach Lovie Smith hired former Arizona assistant Rod Smith as offensive coordinator with plans to spread the field using a variety of formations. That could create a degree of stress for the Blackshirts. Also, there's this: The third year was a charm for previous Illini coaches Ron Turner, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman. Each made it to a bowl in Year 3. But reaching a bowl seems like a colossal long shot for Smith, who's 5-19 at the school and just 2-16 in the Big Ten.
Going through the motions: Illinois lost 10 straight games to end last season. The Illini just don't seem equipped to go on the road and beat a representative Big Ten team — although the possibility of a major upset always looms. As bad as Nebraska was last season, an Illinois win in this game would be a sizable upset.
Nov. 17 | TBA | Memorial Stadium
Speed reading: 75
Speed trap: This conversation has to start with quarterback Brian Lewerke, whose talent, toughness and versatility make him arguably the most challenging QB on Nebraska's schedule. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior adds an intriguing element to the Spartans' two-back, between-the-tackles identity. As for Sparty's defense, look out. It returns nine starters from a unit that ranked second nationally in run defense last year and No. 7 overall.
Going through the motions: Nebraska's 39-38 upset of then-No. 6 Michigan State in 2015 was Mike Riley's best win as the Huskers' head coach. The Huskers were coming off a 55-45 loss to Purdue, so beating Sparty was a bit of a stunner. The same would be true this year, or so it appears in the preseason. Mark Dantonio has 19 starters back from a squad that pounded Washington State 42-17 in the Holiday Bowl.
Nov. 23 | 11 a.m. | FOX | Kinnick Stadium
Speed reading: 62
Speed trap: Iowa returns seven starters on offense — you know, the offense that racked up 56 points in Lincoln last November. Two of those starters are quarterback Nate Stanley and tight end Noah Fant. The 6-5, 241-pound Fant reached the end zone 11 times last season, a record for a Hawkeye tight end. Iowa's defense was hit hard by attrition but still features arguably the best group of ends in the Big Ten.
Going through the motions: This series has become downright wicked for Nebraska, as Iowa has won four of the last five games — three of those in convincing fashion. This season, Nebraska's skill players should be able to apply significant pressure to Iowa's back seven. But the Hawkeyes always play the Huskers with a hard edge. Kirk Ferentz's crew has flat-out wanted it more than Nebraska, especially in the last three years. Scott Frost has to change that mentality, pronto.