Nebraska lost a three-game series at College of Charleston to begin the 2016 season, controlling the opener for an impressive 4-0 win before falling flat in the final two contests.
Three games do not define a season, particularly when they're the first three for an NU team that had only conducted a couple outdoor practice days before arriving in South Carolina Thursday. And the particular challenge facing the Huskers — a road series against a Cougar squad coming off a 45-win season that ended with a regional final defeat to Florida State — was arguably their toughest test on a February weekend since 2013.
So there's plenty of reason for optimism. And plenty of room for improvement. And plenty of time to make it happen.
Here are five noteworthy takeaways after the Huskers' debut.
>> Nebraska's confident in plenty of pitchers: The Huskers used 13 different arms in their first three games — partly because two starters (Garett King and Zack Engelken) were ineffective but also because the coaches believe in the overall depth of the pitching staff. Sophomore lefty Jake Meyers (2.38 ERA in 16 appearances last year) didn't even throw. Neither did the suspended Derek Burkamper. ... So that's 15 total arms to choose from. Now it's up to pitching coach Ted Silva to neatly fit each one into a suitable role. Thing is, he's still evaluating. Jobs are up for grabs. Things can, and likely will, change — but at this point, Nebraska's pitching depth chart seems to break down something like this:
Starters: RHP Colton Howell, RHP Garett King, RHP Derek Burkamper, RHP Zack Engelken
Long relief (possible starters): LHP Jake McSteen, RHP Reece Eddins, LHP Jake Meyers, RHP Matt Waldron
Late-inning relief: RHP Jeff Chesnut, RHP Chad Luensmann, LHP Max Knutson, LHP Ben Miller
Other options: RHP Ethan Frazier, RHP Robbie Palkert, RHP Sean Chandler
>> NU will miss Tanner Lubach's defense: The three-year starting catcher was incredible behind the plate. Lubach had just two errors and two passed balls charged against him during his senior year. He caught 11 of 20 attempted base stealers. But he's gone, preparing for pro ball now. ... NU's replacements — Taylor Fish and Jesse Wilkening — combined for an error, two passed balls and a catcher's interference last weekend. Nebraska pitchers threw five wild pitches (they had 22 total last year). Both Fish and Wilkening will surely improve. Junior college Brady Childs also will get a look at some point, too. But Lubach will be missed.
>> Huskers can't afford sophomore slumps: Nebraska's lineup will be relying on several second-year players this year. Luis Alvarado (third base and outfield), Scott Schreiber (first base), Jake Meyers (right field and first base) and Elijah Dilday (left field). Each one has shown promise at the plate. Each one has earned a regular starting job for the first time. Each one will be looking to take that next step. NU needs all four to produce consistently.
>> More base-stealing expected: The Huskers stole four bases in five tries against the Cougars. And had they not trailed 7-0 and 4-0 on the final two days of the weekend, perhaps the number would have been higher. They attempted about one stolen bases per game last year, ranking 11th in the Big Ten. More aggressiveness in 2016? That's likely a reflection of Darin Erstad's new role. He's handling all of the base-running instruction in practice. It's something to watch, for sure.
>> Ben Miller may be NU's X-factor: The junior can help Nebraska in so many ways. He'll be hitting in the middle of the order — he went 5-of-10 at College of Charleston, driving in two runs and drawing four walks. He's worked a ton on his defensive game since arriving — he spent Sunday's series finale at first base. And he's in line to help the Huskers on the mound — he did walk two batters in 2/3 of an inning Saturday, but the coaches have expressed a desire to get him more innings this year. If Miller's playing well in all three facets, he has the potential to have more individual impact on the final outcome than any of his teammates.