Bland: Husker Hype in Chicago, national media meets Adrian Martinez and more Big Ten storylines

Since his last time in front of assembled national media, Nebraska coach Scott Frost has established culture and is another year deeper in recruiting and strength training.

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.

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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?

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