Most of what’s below is self explanatory, with the following exceptions:
*The points for/against and yards for/against numbers don’t include bowl games.
*Football Power Index (FPI) is an ESPN metric.
*Phil Steele is a college football analyst best known for his annual preview magazine.
*The coaching records are as an FBS head coach only. NFL records of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Illinois’ Lovie Smith, for example, are not included.
2018: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten. Best win: 9-6 (yes, 9-6) over Michigan St. as a one-point underdog week 11. Worst loss: 24-19 at home to Troy.
Starters back: 13 (seven offense, six defense).
By the numbers: Points for/against, 360/375; yards for/against, 5474/5202. FPI: #31 in the country, #3 in Big Ten West. Phil Steele: #31 in the country, #2 in B10 West.
Schedule: (54th-toughest in FBS by opponents’ 2018 W-L) Aug. 31, South Alabama; Sept. 7, at Colorado; Sept. 14. Northern Illinois; Sept. 21, at Illinois; Sept. 28, Ohio St.; Oct. 5, Northwestern; Oct. 12, at Minnesota; Oct. 26, Indiana; Nov. 2, at Purdue; Nov. 16, Wisconsin; Nov. 23, at Maryland; Nov. 29, Iowa.
Coach: Scott Frost, second year at Nebraska (4-8), fourth year overall (23-15).
Quotable: Frost on QB Adrian Martinez: “I wouldn't trade our guy for anybody in the country at that position. I played the position, not as well as he plays it, but I played the position. And from personal experience and coaching experience, I think particularly at that position, your biggest jump comes from your first year of playing to your second year.’’
Outlook: Frost was the QB of Nebraska’s last national championship team (1997). He engineered one of the great turnarounds in CFB history in just two years at Central Florida, and his return to Lincoln was a near-religious event among the school’s huge and intense fan base.
Then he lost his first six games. Toward the end of that stretch there was obvious progress, including a near-miss at Wisconsin and overtime loss at Northwestern weeks five and six. Then the Huskers won four of their last six, and ended the year with a 31-28 thriller (loss) at Iowa.
Martinez started 11 games last year. He’s a dual-threat guy perfect for Frost’s offense, and a big enough talent to be at the center of huge optimism in Lincoln. The schedule, certainly compared to that of the other apparent contenders for the West title, is a plus; the four biggest games - Ohio St., Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa, are all at home. There’s a very good chance, in fact, that both the Huskers and Buckeyes will be 4-0 heading into a Sept. 28 meeting in Lincoln that will feel like an old-school heavyweight fight.
It’s unclear that this program can ever attract the kind of recruits it would need to become what it was in the 1990s. Short term, the jump from 4-8, 3-6 back into the big leagues in one year in a big ask, but multiple things can be true at the same time, and Nebraska is emphatically on the way back.
Prediction: 9-3, 6-3.