LINCOLN — Rewind the clock one year.
Go back to the Fourth of July 2018. As fans gathered around grills and lawn chairs before fireworks displays, conversations concerning Nebraska football were all about Scott Frost. Everyone was excited.
But no one could be sure what Year 1 would bring. The rebuild from the Mike Riley era, as Frost said in the spring and would continue to explain in the fall, would take time. That was clear by October, when Frost would say: “We had some rot and termites. You can’t build a house on a foundation that is not solid.”
But back in the summer, one of the biggest questions, was: Who would start at quarterback? The state seemed divided between two candidates.
In one corner, Adrian Martinez, the freshman from California who could run. But could he throw? In the other, Tristan Gebbia, the hard-working Calibraska survivor who could throw. But could he run? Does Frost start Gebbia then redshirt Martinez? Can Martinez really run the offense, despite not even playing his senior year back in California because of injury?
At the time, it was a close call. And why not Gebbia? He was the future pro prospect. He ran a similar offense in high school. Lock it in. Gebbia’s the guy, some believed.
He wasn’t, Martinez was, and it all appears so obvious now. This summer, the feeling is that Martinez is what separates Nebraska from the contenders in the Big Ten West. Because of his talent and ceiling, the hype train of Husker football heads into Year 2 with whistles blowing and the caboose wagging back and forth on the tracks at top speed.
“As long as that kid is at Nebraska,” an anonymous coach told Athlon Sports, “they’re going to be a problem in the West.”
From Lindy’s Magazine: “You know it’s only a matter of time before (Frost) makes the Huskers great again, right?”
Street & Smith’s: “If you’re buying stock in any program to take a giant leap forward in 2019, Nebraska is as good of a bet as any in the country.”
Phil Steele is picking Nebraska to be the most-improved team in the country.
The bulk of the hype from the summer college football magazines comes from belief in Martinez and Frost — and just about nothing else.
Vegas puts the line around eight wins, but the over is getting hit hard by fans and especially by four preseason magazines. Some have NU winning the Big Ten West. As the lull of the offseason festers from the Fourth to Labor Day, more fans and pundits likely will talk themselves into Nebraska playing in Indianapolis and maybe even winning its first Big Ten title.
Of the four magazines previewed, none picked Nebraska to have an All-American. None picked Nebraska to have an individual unit on either side of the ball in the top 20, except for the quarterback position. Questions are raised about the defense, the offensive line and a lack of proven playmakers.
But it doesn’t matter, they all argue, because of this quarterback, Martinez, and this coach, Frost. The trust in them, it appears, makes up for deficiencies, at least on paper.
All four magazines previewed below pick Martinez to finish in the Heisman voting. One magazine called him a wizard. All expect him to carry NU back to prominence. And part of that trust falls on Frost — the coach who took Central Florida to the Peach Bowl in Year 2 and made McKenzie Milton into a quarterback who could break Twitter with a highlight.
The expectations — despite the questions — are as high as they’ve been for Nebraska football since the early 2010s.
So spring forward to July 2019, and the questions of last year are answered, as proven by these preseason magazines. What are the expectations? Dream as high as you’d like. Who is the starter, and what’s that mean? Martinez, Martinez, Martinez, and he’s the Captain America of the Nebraska universe.
“Brace yourself, America,” an excerpt in Lindy’s reads. “Nebraska football is about to matter again.”
The premier preseason sports magazine, which it likes to tell you about often. It is the most accurate in terms of prediction in the last few years, which it shows with a graph on Page 2. It is the college football bible and previews every team in rigorous detail with statistics that will take hours to digest.
Cover: The front page is of four college football stars, none of whom is Adrian Martinez. Michigan’s Shea Patterson, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa pose from left to right.
NU rank: 19th nationally (first in Big Ten West)
Iowa rank: 23rd (second in Big Ten West)
Four playoff teams: (1) Clemson vs. (4) Georgia, (2) Alabama vs. (3) Michigan
NU national unit rankings: No. 8 quarterback, No. 56 receivers, No. 40 offensive line, No. 48 defensive line, No. 52 linebackers and No. 25 defensive backs
NU bowl prediction: Rose Bowl vs. Utah
Mistakes: Mostly solid, other than a few holes in the roster. Doesn’t include defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, a sure starter, and lists Maurice Washington as the starting running back. That’s still up in the air.
Special features: You know those auto parts magazines you can pick up at gas stations for free? How the entire thing is just text after text in small boxes? That’s this magazine. More stats than you’ll know what to do with. It’d take about 30 hours to parse through the entire thing. Valuable yet overdone.
Street and Smith’s
Street and Smith’s is a fine magazine and easy to get through. Not as much information as, say, a Phil Steele, but it is more aesthetically pleasing. As usual, high on Nebraska, though it makes some radical forecasts here and there, like picking Iowa to finish sixth in the Big Ten West.
Cover: Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson, who finished 23rd in the Big Ten in rushing last season, graces the cover.
NU rank: 24th nationally (first in Big Ten West)
Iowa rank: No national rank (sixth in Big Ten West)
Four playoff teams: (1) Alabama vs. (4) Oklahoma, (2) Clemson vs. (3) Georgia
NU bowl prediction: Holiday Bowl vs. Washington State
Mistakes: Breon Dixon will not be starting at outside linebacker. I say this with confidence because he’s not on the team. Neither is CJ Smith, who announced this summer he’s transferring as well. Both would be bold picks, even if they were on campus.
Special features: Street and Smith’s is a little bit more of a pop magazine. A lot of listicles, including a best athlete category for each conference. For the Big Ten, that went to JD Spielman.
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No. 2 to Phil Steele in terms of accuracy, Athlon does a good job breaking down the teams and conferences without being overwhelming. Athlon clearly goes to press later than other magazines. The rosters and newest transfers are updated. If Steele is the adult, Athlon is the maturing teenager.
Cover: Adrian Martinez — posing in what could end up becoming an iconic shot — with his trademark headband and hair blowing in the wind.
NU rank: 17th nationally (first in Big Ten West)
Iowa rank: 18th nationally
Four playoff teams: (1) Clemson vs. (4) Georgia, (2) Alabama vs. (3) Michigan
NU recruiting class rank: 4th in the Big Ten
NU bowl prediction: Citrus Bowl vs. Texas A&M
NU Big Ten unit rankings: No. 3 quarterback, No. 9 running backs, No. 9 receivers, No. 6 offensive line, No. 8 defensive line, No. 10 linebackers and No. 6 defensive backs
Mistakes: Solid, up and down. No mistakes on the Husker side of things.
Special features: Some BuzzFeed-like listicles. A list of people to follow on Twitter, 15 storylines for the season. Those fill the first five pages.
If Athlon is the maturing teenager, Lindy’s is the 13-year-old. Pretty, color-heavy magazine with some substance, but not as much as Athlon, with some stats, but not as much as Steele. Still, a pretty good overview of the college football world. Able to be looked through within an hour.
Cover: Adrian Martinez scrambling away, eyes up field, about to make a play.
NU rank: 21st nationally (third in Big Ten)
Iowa rank: 14th nationally
Four playoff teams: (1) Clemson vs. (4) Oklahoma, (2) Alabama vs. (3) Georgia
NU recruiting class rank: 19th nationally
Special features: Listicles that would probably get axed at most major news outlets: The Top Live Mascots. Coaches Who Should Run For Office. Six Coaches Who We’d Love To See In A Summit With Vladimir Putin. See what I mean?
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Adrian Martinez is, in short, one of the most talented quarterbacks to roll through Nebraska in many years. And Scott Frost knows it. Click here to read more.
The heart and soul of Nebraska’s defense, Mohamed Barry is perhaps the Huskers' best leader. The run-stuffing linebacker has lacked an elite defensive line in front of him ... until now. Click here to read more.
One of the most valuable transfers in recent Husker history, Darrion Daniels came to campus ready to work and lead. And, by all accounts, he’s done that, immediately becoming one of the top voices for the Husker defense. Click here to read more.
Few players turn and run the way JD Spielman does, and he’s a good returner, too. His health is paramount, and, like a well-tuned sports car, Spielman can’t get too banged up. Click here to read more.
Lamar Jackson has the frame, the length, the speed and the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s best cornerbacks. One of the nation’s best corners, for that matter. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Deontai Williams has little fear in run support and he can cover ground quickly in the pass game, as evidenced by two interceptions last season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska running back Maurice Washington’s sheer gifts are offset by off-the-field issues that hindered his progress since high school and could mean he misses some playing time in 2019. When he’s out there, it’s clear: He can play the game at a high level. Click here to read more.
While he didn’t win every one-on-one battle, Dicaprio Bootle's league-leading pass breakup total indicates he’s one of the better field corners in the Big Ten West, and perhaps the league. Click here to read more.
Brenden Jaimes’ most important job is to protect the backside of quarterback Adrian Martinez, and other than a few hiccups, he has done that well. As a junior, he’s likely to be one of the better tackles in the Big Ten. Click here to read more.
Khalil Davis is poised for a breakout senior season. He helps anchor an experienced defensive line that should be — and needs to be — among the Big Ten’s best in 2019. Click here to read more.
Carlos Davis, who has 25 career starts, has long been one of the more respected Blackshirts among teammates, but now he has the experience to reinforce his reputation. Click here to read more.
Dedrick Mills could have a Devine Ozigbo-like impact on Nebraska’s running game with his physical, up-the-middle style. Talent and opportunity appear to be lining up for the rounded back. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Matt Farniok, the new vocal leader of the offensive line, earned the right to be the one holding others accountable after starting all 12 games at right tackle last season. Click here to read more.
Exactly where JoJo Domann will line up on the field isn’t always obvious. That’s just fine for Nebraska as long as he’s out there. NU’s most versatile defender has his own position name — Cinco. Click here to read more.
The hype is high for Wan'Dale Robinson. And the talent is real. Expect to see him take off right away. Click here to read more.
If the tight end position gets going again at Nebraska, Jack Stoll figures to be a big reason why. While others at his position may have more physical upside or long-term potential, no one offers the same reliability and intangibles. Click here to read more.
Cam Taylor has contributed on all four special teams units and can play safety or nickelback if necessary, as well. The ingredients are there for him to quickly become one of NU’s youngest defensive leaders, if he isn’t already. Click here to read more.
After beginning last season as a backup, Boe Wilson started the last nine games at right guard en route to honorable mention All-Big Ten status. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has had success in the graduate-transfer market under Scott Frost. That trend may continue with Kanawai Noa. Click here to read more.
Perhaps the final piece for Ben Stille is on-field disruption. With a full offseason of strength training, he could be the biggest in-house improvement on the team as a pass rusher and edge setter. Click here to read more.
Here comes Nebraska’s long-term answer at nose tackle. A season to learn under older brother and grad transfer Darrion Daniels won’t hurt for Damion Daniels, and neither will another offseason to build his strength and conditioning. Click here to learn more.
Nebraska's Mike Williams already has the speed, the hands and the understanding of the offense. If he can also be a consistent blocker, his playing time could spike as much as anyone on the team. Click here to read more.
Collin Miller made 17 tackles in 12 games as a reserve. Now, Miller's job is more clearly defined, and whether through ability or attrition, he will get a chance to prove his versatility and the fruits of his hard work. Click here to read more.
For all of Nebraska’s uncertainty at outside linebacker, Tyrin Ferguson represents perhaps the most reliable option when 100 percent. For the senior, though, being at 100 percent isn't always a given. Click here to read more.
Trent Hixson, from Omaha Skutt, got a taste of major college football while appearing in four games last year. Since then, O-line coach Greg Austin describes him as playing with “his hair on fire.” Click here to read more.
In a sense, Dismuke is the last man standing. Now the junior with 44 career tackles in 20 games (one start) is perhaps a favorite to start at safety. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Kade Warner knows the offense, he blocks consistently, and he doesn’t drop passes. The 20-year-old wideout caught 17 balls for 95 yards in nine games last year. Click here to read more.
Noah Vedral, who followed Scott Frost from UCF, is as versed in the offense as any current Husker. If nothing else, he’s a valuable insurance policy for starter Adrian Martinez. Click here to read more.
Alex Davis played all 12 games last year with four starts. Until now, it’s been more about thinking than reacting for the 23-year-old whom teammates call “Ace.” Click here to read more.
Another offseason of strength training and familiarity with Nebraska's scheme gives Caleb Tannor the potential to become one of the team’s most valuable defenders. Click here to read more.
As a redshirt freshman, Austin Allen caught two passes for 54 total yards. The Aurora product will be in a battle with Kurt Rafdal for the second-string tight end spot behind Jack Stoll. Click here to read more.
Inside linebacker Will Honas only appeared in four games last season and racked up 15 tackles, including one for loss. This season he'll have beat out three others for that starting position. Click here to read more.
Miles Jones will line up all over the field. Nebraska’s thin at running back, so there’s a good chance he’ll get a decent load of carries. Click here to read more.
With how often Nebraska will rotate defensive linemen, sophomore Deontre Thomas will see the field as long as he’s healthy. And he may finally be able to contribute to a pass rush with his size and speed off the ball. Click here to read more.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Jaron Woodyard to make an imprint in his senior year. The junior college transfer still presents an opportunity to take the top off a defense, but only if he can find his way onto the field. Click here to read more.
Should he prove he can block and become a consistent option for Adrian Martinez, Andre Hunt could easily become Nebraska's third starting wide receiver. Click here to read more.
Noa Pola-Gates may need to pack on some weight this summer and fall to have a chance at playing right away, but the ceiling for the No. 2 player from the state of Arizona is high. Click here to read more.
The comparison to Dave Rimington by Scott Frost isn’t rubbing away anytime soon for Cameron Jurgens. He has a chance to start in on that legacy this year as the odds-on favorite to be Nebraska’s starting center. Click here to read more.
Kurt Rafdal averaged 16.8 yards per catch, fantastic for a tight end, particularly for a freshman. He gives Adrian Martinez a red-zone option should the NU receiving corps take a while to come along this season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has struggled to keep linemen healthy the past few years, and if one goes down, Christian Gaylord could take over on either side if needed. Click here to read more.
Though young, Braxton Clark is a tall corner who will fit behind Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle. Click here to read more.
Matt Sichterman is a former three-star recruit from Cincinnati. He has put on weight and could move inside to a guard spot if necessary. Click here to read more.
You could argue the position group with the most question marks is running back, making Rahmir Johnson’s presence even more important. He ran for more than 2,300 yards as a senior in high school. Click here to read more.
Barret Pickering was money at the end of last season. As a true freshman, he nailed his final 10 field-goal attempts, including three in the snow against Michigan State for a 9-6 upset win. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Joseph Johnson wears weight on his frame well after a redshirt season, and now he’s needed at inside linebacker, which has a firm alpha in Mohamed Barry and a lot of questions otherwise. Click here to read more.
Watching the tape of Quinton Newsome at safety is like watching a natural at the position. His ceiling as a safety is as high as that of Deontai Williams — who’s bound for a special 2019 himself. Click here to read more.
Isaac Armstrong averaged 43.6 yards per punt — ninth-highest in Husker history — and pinned the opponent inside its own 20 nine times. He can be a weapon for the Huskers this fall. Click here to read more.
The younger brother of starting right tackle Matt Farniok, Will is shorter but possesses many of the same qualities as Matt. Tough, athletic, plays to the whistle. Click here to read more.
In the right situations, Katerian LeGrone can be the kind of big-play guy Cethan Carter used to be for the Huskers. Click here to read more.
Honorable mention: QB Andrew Bunch, RB Wyatt Mazour, P William Pryzstup, DB Jeramiah Stovall, LS Chase Urbach, ILB Jackson Hannah, WR Jamie Nance, WR Darien Chase, QB Luke McCaffrey, DE Chris Walker. Click here for more on the Huskers that received honorable mention.