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Steven M. Sipple: Frost has the formula, DiNardo says; Jurgens' startling rise; and some poetry
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HUSKER FOOTBALL

Steven M. Sipple: Frost has the formula, DiNardo says; Jurgens' startling rise; and some poetry

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Things I know, and things I think I know:

Let's be real, Gerry DiNardo has a much better feel for Big Ten football than I do.

Chances are he has a much better feel than almost anybody on the planet at the moment. That's because the veteran BTN analyst last week finished the network's annual bus tour to every conference program.

He came away feeling Nebraska has a sound formula for winning its division in coming years and perhaps even this year. He said he has the feeling in part because of the way he thinks the college game has evolved. 

Bottom line, he tends to like Scott Frost's formula better than, say, Pat Fitzgerald's even though Northwestern won the West Division with an 8-1 record last season. In the last four years, only Wisconsin (27-8) has a better conference record than Northwestern (26-9) among division teams.

(Nebraska is only 15-20 during that span).

"But I think Nebraska can play good enough defense that if it's explosive on offense, it can win a ton of games," DiNardo said Friday on "Early Break" (93.7 FM).

He notes that Michigan State, with one of the nation's premier defenses last season, managed only a 5-4 conference record mainly because of its glaring deficiencies offensively.

There's a caveat in the discussion in that DiNardo thinks Nebraska, in order to finish atop its division, will have to improve its run defense. No surprise there. Husker defenders throughout the offseason have cited the need for improvement in that area.

"If Nebraska can't stop the run, it doesn't matter how explosive it is because the other team can play keep-away," DiNardo said. "But if they can be a good run defense, not necessarily the best run defense, and be explosive on offense -- which I think they have every tool to be except for maybe a real fast deep threat -- then they can win a lot of games.

"Northwestern's going to have a really good defense this season, but they're not explosive on offense."

The 66-year-old DiNardo has an advantage over many people in that he's studied the game closely since the 1970s when he began his coaching career.

"Wishbone teams used to win games against teams that had better players because the scheme neutralized the talent differential," he said. "Nowadays, what Scott is doing (with the fast-tempo spread) neutralizes the talent differential.

"The better thing about the spread than the wishbone is the wishbone had a ceiling. You couldn't throw the ball in the wishbone just by virtue of (a lack of) eligible receivers in the formation."

That obviously isn't an issue for spread teams. Granted, spread teams are prevalent in the college game. It's just that folks such as DiNardo bank on Frost continuing to pump out premier offenses on the cutting edge.

But let's be clear: Nebraska can't let defense become an afterthought.

"The Blackshirts have to get back," DiNardo said emphatically.

* Along those lines, give a big thumbs-up to Frost's idea of continuing in future years to use the Blackshirt tradition as a theme for alternate jerseys. Yes, his program is largely defined by his offense. But he seems intent on balancing the conversation.

If that is indeed his thinking, it makes sense.

* Redshirt freshman center Cameron Jurgens' sudden rise to starter status is at once startling and exciting for Husker fans.

Startling because the conversation at center seemed to change dramatically in the last eight days of camp.

Exciting because, based on Frost's comments, Jurgens could have a profound impact on the offense.

I'm no Mike Tomlin, but I think his explosion is the thing to watch, especially getting to defenders at the second and third levels.

Is it Saturday yet?

* A bit more from DiNardo: In his assessment of team speed throughout the Big Ten, it seems at least one thing never changes.

"I think the only team that separates itself in terms of pure athletic ability and pure speed is Ohio State," the analyst said. "I couldn't pick the second-fastest team."

Logic dictates that Michigan and Penn State should be right behind Ohio State, or perhaps even stride for stride with the Buckeyes.

Then again, Urban Meyer wasn't in charge of recruiting their rosters.

* Will Ohio State take a step back under Ryan Day? It's sort of a ridiculous question in that Meyer was 54-4 in regular-season Big Ten play during his seven seasons at the school.

You really think Day is going to match that?

* One more bit from DiNardo, who gave a rapid-fire assessment of each Big Ten West team (we'll skip Nebraska) in alphabetic order:

Illinois: Lovie Smith's crew definitely has improved, he said. However, it may not show much in terms of record because its conference schedule is on the difficult side. My question: Will Smith be around next season?

Iowa: Typical Iowa team. Solid. Quarterback Nate Stanley, back for his third year as the starter, is the key, Gerry said. My question: Will the Hawkeyes' wideouts be able to make up for last season's massive tight end production?

Minnesota: "Tremendous progress at the line of scrimmage," DiNardo said. That's critical because the Gophers have a wealth of skill-position talent outside of the quarterback position.

Northwestern: Many folks, including yours truly, took for granted Hunter Johnson would take over at quarterback. Not so fast. "Half the people up there think (Fitzgerald) is going to start TJ Green and half think he'll start Johnson." Interesting.

Purdue: Lacks depth up front on offense, an issue that perhaps can be solved by Jeff Brohm's obvious ability as a play-caller. DiNardo said the Boilermakers should be a little better defensively.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are better than they were last year, he said, adding that Paul Chryst's crew didn't handle escalated expectations well last season. "This year they look like a hungry team, a focused team," DiNardo said.

* I recently heard the great Garth Brooks on satellite radio discussing the importance of the opening line of songs.

In that regard, does it get much better than "Friend of the Devil" by the Grateful Dead?

I lit up from Reno

I was trailed by twenty hounds

Didn't get to sleep that night

Till the morning came around

Holy smokes, that's poetry. Enjoy game week.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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