Just like that, Nebraska football sets out on its official preseason camp.
Forty-eight hours ago, it remained unclear if Big Ten schools would be allowed to move into the next stage of preparations and when the season would actually start.
Now, both are on the books. The Huskers and others set out on a "normal" 29-day preseason camp beginning Friday toward a season-opener at Rutgers on Sept. 5.
The group is asking for a series of requests to be implemented by the fall semester. Among them is hiring Black coaches across the department.
You waited. And waited. The schedule is finally here, and with it comes a record prediction from Steven M. Sipple, among other thoughts.
Let’s keep the Sharpie put away for a while before we set anything in stone as it relates to college football — in fact, certainty is probably not returning this fall. However, all NU coach Scott Frost and the Huskers can do is prepare as if they are getting on a plane to New Jersey in four weeks’ time.
A couple of nuts and bolts: NU gets rolling Friday and will have about 20 practices before arriving at game week. The academic calendar works differently this year with UNL beginning classes a week early. That means the Huskers will be in class by Aug. 17 instead of the week of Aug. 24.
Normally, teams are limited to 110 players in camp until classes start. That will not be the case this year after the NCAA tweaked its rules due to the coronavirus pandemic. That means the Huskers will likely have 150-plus players participating right from the start.
With that in mind, here’s a starting-point guide to preseason camp.
What we know
More than anything, we know that nothing will be particularly normal going forward this year. Here are a couple of other football-related knowns.
Nebraska feels like it’s ready to go: Frost said it earlier this summer. Athletic director Bill Moos said it this week after the Big Ten announced its schedule. Dozens of players tweeted about it Wednesday.
The Huskers think the voluntary workouts and then minicamp-style practices that have been ongoing since June 1 have them just about ready to go play. Clearly, players will need some time to ramp up in terms of wearing pads and hitting and tackling, but NU is champing at the bit to play a game.
QB depth persists: Even with the offseason departures of walk-on Andrew Bunch and junior Noah Vedral — now potentially facing Nebraska Week 1, by the way — the Huskers really like their depth at quarterback with junior Adrian Martinez, redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey and freshman Logan Smothers.
Martinez is the presumed starter, but McCaffrey has done nothing besides impress Frost, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco and his teammates at every turn so far. Not many teams could lose a scholarship quarterback, opt against adding a transfer and still feel really good about its depth. NU is one that can.
What we don’t know
When will the Huskers actually play? Sept. 5 is four weeks from Saturday and Rutgers, currently, is shut down from working out due to a sizable outbreak of COVID-19 cases. Can they get back to work and then get prepared for actual game action in time? Moos said he was "hopeful" the Scarlet Knights would be ready. Even so, it wouldn’t be a shock at this point if the Huskers’ first game is actually Sept. 12 at home against Illinois.
Physically, Omar Manning is a player Nebraska has not had in recent years. And the Huskers will need him. Here's why he is No. 1 on our list.
How many jobs are really up for grabs? NU has really been in season prep mode for a couple of weeks given the minicamp-style practices that began July 24, meaning the competition for jobs in front of assistant coaches is already in full gear.
The Huskers could start up to seven seniors and junior Cam Taylor-Britt on defense, but plenty of jobs and roles are still likely up for grabs. They include, but are not limited to, left guard, tight end, running back behind senior Dedrick Mills, wide receiver besides sophomore Wan’Dale Robinson, virtually every spot in the defensive line rotation and outside linebacker.
Two position groups to watch
Defensive line: Assistant coach Tony Tuioti has 13 scholarship players, including several who have played at least some for the Huskers, but the group is still wide open. Senior Ben Stille is a likely starter and beyond that, it’s an interesting mix. There are a pair of newcomer jucos in Jordon Riley and Pheldarius Payne, there’s junior Keem Green coming off a redshirt year and redshirt freshmen Ty Robinson and Mosai Newsom doing the same. There are role players from past years such as Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels looking for bigger roles and other players hoping to emerge, such as Casey Rogers and Tate Wildeman. Tuioti has options and competition, that’s for sure.
Wide receiver: New offensive coordinator Matt Lubick also has options to work with. Outside of Robinson, though, NU’s scholarship receiving corps has a grand total of one catch for no yards. Newcomers, freshmen and walk-ons are all going to have a chance to crack the rotation for Lubick in 2020.
Will freshman Alante Brown build on his winter and spring? Can juco Omar Manning be an instant impact addition? How about redshirt freshmen Demariyon Houston and Jamie Nance? Everyone will get a chance, at least.
Especially new newcomer
Welcome to campus, Nadab Joseph, now hit the ground running.
The former four-star high school cornerback and late junior college addition brings big-time talent to a deep secondary group. He’s got a heck of a learning curve in front of him. How fast can he make his presence felt?
Numbers for the road
1: Known scholarship player not yet on campus. That’s Australian punter Daniel Cerni, who still has not traveled from his home country to Lincoln due to the pandemic and travel difficulties. Will he make it by the time the season starts?
6: Players you could make a case for in the race for the starting left guard job, assuming redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart locks down the right tackle job and senior Matt Farniok mans right guard. They are: 2019 starting guards Trent Hixson and Boe Wilson, Ethan Piper, Broc Bando, walk-on Nouredin Nouili, who just had his NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility granted this week, and redshirt freshman Michael Lynn. It’s going to be quite a race.
17: Scholarship offensive linemen plus walk-on transfers Nouili and Ezra Miller (Iowa). This is Greg Austin’s deepest group yet.
33: Straight starts for Jaimes, who will be essentially a four-year starter. The Huskers’ five 2019 starters up front all return and boast a combined 106 starts.
5: Tight ends who are juniors or older in Jack Stoll, Rutgers transfer Travis Vokolek, Austin Allen, Kurt Rafdal and walk-on Arizona State graduate transfer Jared Bubak.
21: Scholarship redshirt freshmen on the roster who are no longer governed by the four-game redshirt rule and thus expected to boost depth at multiple positions and on special teams.
0: Scholarship place-kicking candidates, although Nebraska did add some experience with LSU graduate transfer Connor Culp, who started for the Tigers in 2017.