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2021 football opponent preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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The Huskers have averaged four wins per season during Scott Frost’s tenure. Is he on the hot seat?

Nebraska v Rutgers Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

It is August now, which means that it is time to seriously turn our attention to college football. The Wisconsin Badgers opened up fall practice earlier this month and the rest of the country has joined them as well. For the rest of the month, we will be posting two articles about each opponent on Wisconsin’s schedule.

The first post will be written by one of our staffers and will give you a basic overview of each team the Badgers are playing. The second post will be written by a variety of fans and writers of each team, giving us a more in-depth look at the team from those who follow it closely. We’ve got other SB Nation site contributors, newsletter writers, podcast hosts, and other Twitter sports shouters on deck. It should be a lot of fun.

Up next in our preview series we take a look at the Huskers of Nebraska.

Minnesota v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Team name: Nebraska Cornhuskers
2020 record: 3-5 (No. 5 in Big Ten West)
Date/location of game: Saturday, November 20, Camp Randall Stadium
Last time vs. Wisconsin: Wisconsin 37 - Nebraska 21, in 2019

Returning leaders:

Passing: Senior QB Adrian Martinez, 108-of-151, 1,055 passing yards, four TDs, three INTs
Rushing: Senior QB Adrian Martinez, 91 carries, 521 yards (5.7 ypc), seven TDs
Receiving: Junior TE Austin Allen, 18 catches for 231 yards (11.8 ypc), one TD
Tackles: Senior LB JoJo Domann, 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss
Sacks: Senior LB Will Honas, three sacks
Interceptions: Junior CB Cam Taylor-Britt, two INTs

Key offensive player:

The wide receiving corps of the Huskers took a big hit when spark plug playmaker Wan’Dale Robinson decided to transfer back home to Kentucky and one of their team’s captains, Kade Warner, also dipped.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Montana at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

They made up for that loss by bringing in a piece that should be key to their offense: wide receiver Samori Toure. The 6-foot-3, 190 pound transfer from Montana should be a huge cog of the receiving unit. With Montana in the FCS, Toure hauled in 155 receptions for 2,488 yards and 20 touchdowns in his career, and was named a Third Team FCS All-American by the AP in 2019.

Quarterback Adrian Martinez might be the biggest name — he’s the returning passing and rushing leader — but Toure will be doing a lot of work to make up for the loss in the receivers room.

Key defensive player:

“Super senior” linebacker JoJo Domann is a part of a group that has five seniors who opted to return for a fifth year, meaning Nebraska will be very experienced. While his presence up front will be important, the Huskers struggled to rush the passer last season, so the importance of shut-down corner Cam Taylor-Britt can’t be overstated.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Nebraska at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Taylor-Britt, named a Big Ten First team by Athlon sports after earning Second Team All-Big Ten nods last year, had two picks for Nebraska last year, and probably could have gone pro after his junior year. With those skills, you would expect him to leave next year for the big leagues, but the cornerback from Montgomery, Ala. will be a crucial part in the pass defense for a team that was ranked No. 98 nationally in sack rate last season.

2021 season preview:

It’s head coach Scott Frost’s fourth season with his alma mater, and he has never had a winning record during his time. This, despite — not just going against NCAA rules but also severely harming player health and safety during the freaking pandemic — holding illegal, extra off-campus practices last year.

While we at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter have found this story kind of hilarious, it is obviously no laughing matter in Lincoln, as Frost may be in a do-or-die year four. The issue here: there might not be a ton of chances to get to a winning record for the Huskers.

They play in Norman against the Oklahoma Sooners in September — a game which, also hilariously, they unsuccessfully tried to back out of earlier this off season — in non-conference play. As far as in the Big Ten, they get a bit of the break late in the season, where four of their last five games are in Memorial Stadium; their lone road game is against Wisconsin. That four game stretch does, however, include Ohio State and Iowa (with a Southeastern Louisiana game thrown in as a pseudo-bye week before the Badgers).

So the schedule doesn’t look too awesome. Nebraska will play fellow struggle bus riders, Michigan, on October 9 in what really could be a make or break game for Frost. Pencilling in a loss to the Sooners, the Huskers could be 3-1 before hosting the Wolverines. Get past that with a win, they are at 4-1 and could likely get to a bowl with Purdue and the cupcake game against Southeastern Louisiana. But lose that…it gets a lot dicier.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa
Can the Nebraska defense regain the Blackshirt status of yore?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

So what will Nebraska need for a big season? Adrian Martinez to finally put all the pieces together at quarterback. Martinez has been at Nebraska for four years, and has been the heart and soul of their offense. That doesn’t mean it’s been perfect; last season, only two FBS offenses had more drives end with a turnover (their rate was 18.95 percent) with Martinez throwing three picks. Sure, Martinez seemed to beat off highly touted recruit Luke McCaffrey, but what exactly does that mean now?

Nebraska will also need him to do a lot, as they lost most of their returning running backs and do-everything player Wan’Dale Robinson. The veteran defense could maybe keep the Huskers in some games with their super seniors, but as much smarter people like ESPN’s Bill Connelly have said, what does it mean if you have a ton of returning players that didn’t make a good team? The Huskers were far from the “Blackshirts” of the past, ranking No. 50 in total defense and, as previously stated, struggling in rushing the passer.

In a bowl-or-bust year for favorite son Scott Frost, they’ll need to hold serve at home to have hopes of returning to post season play.