Nebraska Favored In The Big Ten West?

Nebraska Favored In The Big Ten West
File photo. Nebraska fquarterback Adrian Martinez scrambles during the Cornhuskers' Red-White scrimmage. (Photo courtesy Rebecca S. Gratz/Omaha World-Herald).

Scott Frost’s first season as the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers didn’t go as planned. Last season, reality set in for the Cornhuskers. The process to make them legitimate Big Ten Conference champions would take more time. Panic started to shadow the program as they were 0-6 midway through the season. This includes an embarrassing home loss to the Troy Trojans and a 46-point loss at the Michigan Wolverines. The Cornhuskers concluded the season with a 4-8 record. There were some highlights of the season, however. Last year, the nation was introduced to a young, explosive Heisman-Trophy dark horse candidate in freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez. Does that justify some making Nebraska Favored In The Big Ten West?

Is Nebraska The Favorite In The Big Ten West?

This season, there are higher hopes for the Cornhuskers after a rough reboot to the team under Frost. Athlon Sports has Nebraska winning the Big Ten West division with a 9-4 record. There are many indications that the Cornhusskers will improve significantly. Going from an embarrassing 4-8 record to divisional title favorites in just one off-season would be a huge leap. The Big Ten East division is one of the toughest divisions in all of College Football. The Big Ten West division, however, is much weaker than their cross-divisional opponents. With the West looking to be less competitive than the East, the Cornhuskers might be the favorites by default. Nebraska is being picked by many to win the division. NJ online sports betting has all you need to know about online sports betting – where to bet, who has the best markets and the best odds, the best features and promotions.

Martinez Leads A Potentially Explosive Offense

There were many downsides to the entire first year under Frost. Still, last season was a showing of a bright future to come for Nebraska with quarterback Adrian Martinez leading the offense. As a freshman, Martinez won the starting job through his consistent dual-threat playing ability. He threw for 2,617 yards, 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions on 224 completions (out of 347 attempts). He also rushed for 629 yards and eight touchdowns on 140 carries. There were plenty of talented quarterbacks in the Big Ten Conference last season, but Martinez was one of the dangerous dual-threat players. With a full off-season to prepare, Martinez has high potential to put up even bigger stats. Frost has a reputation as a builder of productive and efficient quarterbacks. His history at UCF in 2016, and as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oregon (2013-2015), show some potential in Lincoln.

The Cornhuskers’ offense must replace five of their starters from last season including three interior offensive linemen. This can be a problem for the offense that is also replacing running back Devine Ozigbo. Last season, Ozigbo rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns on 156 carries. Sophomore running back Maurice Washington is ready to be the starter for the Cornhuskers. He and Martinez were in the same recruiting class of 2016. Both will rely on each other throughout the 2019 season. Washington was a productive rusher for the Cornhuskers last season, as well as an extra receiver in the backfield. Last season, he accounted for 221 receiving yards and a touchdown on 24 receptions. Martinez will also have more weapons at his disposal with 2018 third-team All-Big Ten wide receiver in JD Spielman and tight end Jack Stoll.

Weak Western Division Makes Nebraska A More Appealing Favorite

Nebraska will be getting plenty of votes as favorites for the Big Ten Western division. At the same time, the rest of the teams in the division do not have near the same potential as the Cornhuskers. None of the other teams have a statistically productive quarterback or a favorable schedule. The Illinois Fighting Illini have nine defensive starters returning from last season. These starters are from the same defense that was inefficient in stopping opposing offenses. Overall, Illinois’ defense ranked 128th in the nation in total yards allowed per game (508.3).

The Iowa Hawkeyes have a productive offense returning including senior quarterback Nate Stanley. They will, however, must replace seven starters on defense (excluding star defensive end A.J. Epenesa). The Northwestern Wildcats must replace six starters on an offense that was ranked 108th in total yards per game (354.4) and 100th in points per game (24.2) last season.

The Purdue Boilermakers likely suffer a huge blow by losing their star quarterback in David Blough. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are looking for the next big step in head coach P.J. Fleck’s third season. While they have some potential on offense, they must be more efficient near and in the red zone. Last season, the Golden Gophers were 105th in the nation in points per trip inside the 40-yard line (4.1 points).

Finally, the Wisconsin Badgers are a team that is always a heavy competitor for the Western Divisional title. They would be the threat to Nebraska this year. The Badgers return their Heisman Trophy contender in running back Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for a nation high 2,194 yards and 13 touchdowns on 307 attempts. Outside of Taylor, the Badgers do not return much in terms of offensive production. They only return three offensive starters, one offensive lineman, and five defensive starters from last year.

Cornhuskers Must Find Consistency On Defense

Nebraska’s offense can put some points on the scoreboard, but their defense will be the big indicator of their season. The Cornhuskers are returning only one of their six leading tacklers from last season. Senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry will be the leader of the defense this season like he surprisingly was last season. Barry will be the only returning linebacker from last season as they will have three new starters.

Senior cornerback Lamar Jackson will be a three-year starter and the leader of the Cornhuskers’ defensive backs. Nebraska’s defensive backs are the only unit to rank average or better by Athlon Sports in the Big Ten, (sixth in the rankings). This is despite the fact that there will be two new starting safeties in Eric Lee and Deontai Williams. The Cornhuskers will need more productivity in the pass rush as they only accounted for 25 total sacks last season. Overall, Nebraska must find a way to fix their flaws on defense as they were ranked 82nd in defensive efficiency (44.8) last season. They were among the 13th -worst power five teams in defensive efficiency.

What To Expect From The Cornhuskers Going Forward

Even though Nebraska is the favorite to win the Big Ten West division, don’t expect too much from this program. They’re still trying to build stability in Frost’s second season as head coach. The easy non-conference schedule with South Alabama, Colorado, and Northern Illinois followed by a trip to Illinois can give Nebraska a 4-0 start to 2019. After that, the Cornhuskers will have a home game against the new look of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Following the game against the Buckeyes, the Cornhuskers will begin a slate against their Western divisional rivals. The last three weeks of the season might what determines the West Divisional title with a match-up at home against Wisconsin, at Maryland, and at home against Iowa.

Nebraska has a chance to create one of the biggest recent turnarounds. They have a great, young head coach in Scott Frost, a potentially explosive offense led by Martinez, and a favorable schedule. If the defense can recover from the losses of their two starting safeties and three of their four linebackers then Nebraska can stay potent enough to remain in the hunt for the Western Divisional title. They can be actual competitors for the overall Big Ten Conference title as well.

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