By Jeff Bundy
Well, that time of year has finally come. Husker Nation has been debating since the spring game over whether this will be Scott Frost’s breakthrough year or his final year. Since last football season we have had a coaching staff overhaul, a revised head coach’s contract, 16 new faces from the portal and a small recruiting class that didn’t much impress the experts, ranked No. 41 nationally and No. 10 in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports composite.
Frost has to make it work this year, for himself to retain his job and for the fan base’s morale. To what degree of success Frost must reach, only Athletic Director Trev Alberts knows.
For the record, I am a Frost fan. I covered him as a high school athlete, at Nebraska as a quarterback and now as the head coach, but here is a fact: With Frost’s current record of 15-29, it would take four years of 8-4 seasons to reach a winning percentage of .500 at Nebraska. In the Big Ten, 8-4 is not easy. Cleveland.com in its Big Ten preseason poll of writers who cover the league picked Nebraska to finish fifth in the West Division ahead of only Illinois and Northwestern. That’s a good indication of what those outside the program think of Frost’s work. Let’s hope they are wrong.
A lot is riding on this season. If Frost does not get it done, can the fan base take another coaching search and the inevitable rebuilding years? Will the sellout streak stay intact? Will donors continue to open up their wallets?
When answering the phone here at the office, I always get the same questions. How does the team look and is this Frost’s year? It’s hard for me to answer. Just because we cover the team does not mean we have unlimited access. We were allowed to watch two practices for 30 minutes during fall camp. Here is what I can tell you: The team appears to be holding each other accountable for their mess ups. This is a little thing, but during stretching one player called out a teammate for not doing all of his jumping jacks. The entire team did the exercise again. You may think, who cares about jumping jacks? But it was an example of players holding other players accountable. We heard that theme over and over through fall camp.
Off the field, there have been a lot of dynamics that appear positive for Nebraska. All the Big Ten schools look to financially benefit from the addition of UCLA and USC. A new television deal starting in 2023 will bring in more than $1 billion annually to the conference with games being broadcast on Fox, NBC and CBS. With ESPN out of the picture, more people – meaning even those without cable – will have access to the games and that could help with attracting players. I would imagine that Husker fans will travel very well to California rather than going to New Jersey. Contributing writer Thad Livingston breaks down the move of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten and what it means for Nebraska football. You can read Livingston’s column on Page 10.
Our cover story is about family tradition – Sam Sledge and Maverick Noonan following in their fathers’ footsteps to play football for the Huskers. Bob Sledge was an offensive tackle who graduated in 1988. Danny Noonan was a nose guard who graduated in 1986. Their sons, both 2023 recruits, are impressive young men. At the photo shoot both shook my hand, looked me in the eye and confidently visited with me. These are not the first sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Nebraska has had quite a list of father/son combos. Here are a few: Larry and Scott Frost; Tom, Barrett and Bo Ruud; Johnny and Terry Rodgers; Tony and Josh Davis; Dean, Baker and Ty Steinkuhler; Jimmy, Jamie and Dan Burrows; Tom and Josh Banderas; Barney, Sam, Ben and Jake Cotton; Ben and Morgan Gregory; Bill and Jesse Kosch; Tony and Joey Felici; Dan and Cole Pensick; and Scott and John Raridon.
You can read more about the Noonans and Sledges in the story written by contributing writer Clark Grell on Page 4.
Husker volleyball was selected No. 1 in the AVCA preseason poll. The last time John Cook’s squad was preseason No. 1 was in 2016. That team went 31-3 and was eliminated by Texas 3-0 in the NCAA tournament semifinals.
With the national championship being held in Omaha this year, you know Cook’s radar will be pointed 50 miles north all season. Contributing writer Lincoln Arneal will be covering the volleyball team for Huskers Illustrated. You can read more about the team in Arneal’s story on Page 32.
Men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg also has a restructured contract. Will the hiring of assistant coach Ernie Zeigler from Mississippi State and native son portal transfer Sam Griesel help the basketball team get over the hump? Jacob Bigelow offers his opinion on Page 36.
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