CHICAGO — As a tidal wave of expectations continues to rise for the Nebraska football season, at least one question will be answered Thursday at Big Ten media days.
Can Scott Frost and three player representatives do anything to quell the hype — and do they want to?
The stage will be set inside the Chicago Hilton ballroom. Most national magazines are bullish on Nebraska, listing the Huskers in their preseason Top 25 and projecting a Big Ten West title. Phil Steele already dubbed the team his “most improved” for the upcoming season, predicting a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Then recall what NU’s coach said a year ago at this event heading into his debut season in the Big Ten.
“People better get us now,” Frost said, “because we’re going to keep getting better and better.”
Nebraska finished 4-8, but a strong second half provided hope. Since his last time in front of assembled national media, Frost has established culture and is another year deeper in recruiting and strength training. Now the Huskers are one of the favorites in their division.
Do Frost and his player leaders downplay the hype and speak in vagaries about their goals? Do they use words like “championship” and offer specific reasons for why a 20-year conference title drought could end this winter? Do they carry themselves as favorites in front of national writers or embrace an underdog mentality?
The Huskers will have to choose. And whichever direction they go will help set the tone for Year 2 of the Frost era.
Four other storylines to follow this week in the Windy City:
National media get their first up-close look at Adrian Martinez: The Nebraska quarterback is not only the first Husker underclassman to take part in a media days event in recent memory (ever?) but joins Iowa’s Nate Stanley as the only QBs to make the trip to Chicago this year.
Add to that the fact that Martinez is a dark-horse Heisman Trophy contender, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, and the face of the rising program behind Frost. Yeah, he figures to be popular this week.
That Frost would put Martinez in such a frenzied media setting already speaks volumes about the trust the coach has in his player. As a freshman last year, Martinez handled himself well and generally made few headlines with his words. Now he’s the clear leader of the offense — how much better will he be at talking about his teammates or other Big Ten teams?
Depending on where his career goes, this week could eventually be remembered as the national coming-out party for Frost’s first big Nebraska recruit.
An early insight into what makes this defense tick: Nebraska is bringing two defenders to Chicago, which means lots of time to dive into the psyche of that side of the ball.
A look at the final numbers from last year suggests senior linebacker Mohamed Barry and senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis could speak with more humility than bravado. After all, scoring defense, total defense, yards allowed per rush and opponents’ third-down conversion percentage were among the worst in the country.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
Then again, Nebraska finished plus-five in turnover margin in the second half of the season. The defense willed the team to a snowy 9-6 win over Michigan State. It got better and found an identity late.
So how much confidence do the attending Blackshirts project? As much faith as outsiders have in Frost and his offense, the defense is the veteran unit this year. Does that come across in front of the cameras?
Nebraska's perspective on its league: Fans and media will want to know what other Big Ten coaches and players think of the Huskers. But how NU views its conference will be just as fascinating.
Think about it. In his first Nebraska press conference, Frost dropped the line that he hopes “the Big Ten has to modify their system for us” instead of the other way around. He and his staff spent two years in the high-flying spread-offense world of the American Athletic Conference before being introduced to power attacks like Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa last year. Multiple NU assistants said in the spring the wide variety in styles of play was a challenge.
Nebraska player reps will also speak from better experience. Martinez made his college debut last season while Barry broke out as a full-time starter in 2018. Davis has yet to start in his 36 games but knows how it feels to smack into a Big Ten offensive line.
Updates after a long radio silence: Frost hasn’t spoken to assembled media since the spring game. There’s lots to catch up on.
The situation of running back Maurice Washington figures to be an early question. As his legal process plays out, it remains unclear if the playmaking sophomore will be on the team moving forward.
Injury-related queries include the status of offensive lineman Cameron Jurgens (foot) and linebacker Will Honas (knee). Also expect fresh insight into offseason strength and weight gains, roster updates and the status of transfers like punter William Przystup and tight end Travis Vokolek. Who have players seen emerge as leaders?
1 of 51
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.