Okay, first the important question. Where do you stand, Husker fans?
Was the White team’s 21-20 win over the Red — on an extra play straight out of a Big 12 championship game — the first victory of the 2021 season? Or the first loss?
Was Memorial Stadium half-full or half-empty on Saturday?
On a sun-splashed May Day when Husker fans returned to their favorite place, there was room for both healthy skeptics and cautious optimists.
That is, not necessarily the Bill Moos variety of optimism. That is not an eight- or nine-win team, unless Big Ten coaches are going to agree to give NU’s offense one more play after time expires.
The athletic director is Nebraska’s biggest cheerleader. He knows how to work a crowd and throw red meat to the starving masses.
But when Moos made his eight- or nine-win statement last week — not once but twice — I believe there was a purpose to his pitch.
I think he was playing to the thing that might be Nebraska’s greatest reason for optimism next fall.
This thing they’re calling urgency.
This is not a new phenomenon. Urgency has lived here for a long time.
It signed a petition against Bob Devaney and nearly chased Tom Osborne away. It fueled the Husker depth charts, as walk-ons pushed scholarship players ahead of them.
Urgency also fired four Nebraska football coaches in the last 20 years.
Maybe urgency went to sleep. But this spring, we have suddenly heard NU assistant coaches preaching it.
Preach on, brothers. It’s time.
Urgency, sparked by Scott Frost’s coaching staff, will decide what type of season the Huskers have in 2021. The spotlight next season is squarely on the staff.
How good are they?
They looked pretty smart back in 2017. After leading UCF to an undefeated season, they looked like the next big thing in college football.
As I watched those coaches on the field during the Peach Bowl celebration at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through their minds.
They were all heading to Nebraska, to the next great adventure. Was it really this easy?
Not hardly. Frost and his staff were young at UCF, many with no Power Five coaching experience. And now they were going to play chess against a league full of older, savvy coaches with established systems and rosters full of bruisers.
You know how it’s gone. It’s been tough sledding. Lots of hard lessons.
The thing that was missing: Urgency.
Attention to details and fundamentals came and went. There were games when the Huskers started flat, disinterested.
Maybe part of that is what happens when you throw the parade at the beginning, and not the end, as was the case when Frost was hired.
But now the Golden Boy Coach has lost some glow. And you could see it and feel it all spring.
Coaches saying it’s time for the entire staff to take responsibility and make special teams work. Curbing tempo so that linemen can finish blocks. A focus on making every rep count. Do the job right.
If this transformation is happening, this was a very, very important spring.
There are signs of optimism everywhere else.
For one, Nebraska resembles the physical traits of a college football team at just about every position now. The Huskers look the part.
The offensive and defensive lines have made great strides and should match up against any group of Big Ten maulers.
A suddenly deep receiving corps led by Samori Touré and Omar Manning, who look like they could be on TV during a future NFL draft.
Lots of good answers in the secondary, linebacker and even tight end, which could be a major identity of the future.
Running back has been a point of mystery and frustration, though several candidates showed possibilities Saturday.
For now, running back, backup quarterback and special teams are areas for the healthy skeptics to munch on.
Then there’s Adrian Martinez, who looks the part of the wunderkind freshman who wowed everyone so long ago. He missed a few throws on a windy day, but if he gets help from the running backs and improved receivers, he’s still a friend for the cautious optimists.
Frost and Co. have given themselves a chance for success. Good players make smart coaches.
But coaches also have to develop players into roles that take advantage of that talent, get them to execute efficiently and maximize every game, every play.
Urgency. It’s what's for dinner in 2021.
Yes the schedule is stout, but the majority of those opponents are the kind of squads previous Nebraska bowl teams played and beat.
The minimum expectation for next season should be a return to a bowl game. Urgency and good football will make that happen.
I think both the optimists and skeptics can share that opinion, just as they shared one other sentiment on a beautiful spring game Saturday.
It was a great day to be back.
1. We knew running back was the key position going into next season. Nothing changed Saturday. Gabe Ervin, Marvin Scott and Jaquez Yant (who looks ready for Big Ten brawls) flashed some good runs, but it’s too soon to say who might be the guy. I think there are some options. Maybe it’s by committee. As long as they move chains and take the pressure off Adrian Martinez, that’s what matters.
2. I wasn’t bothered by the first half of flag football. The Huskers got physical this spring and, in my mind, the offensive and defensive lines have matched other Big Ten teams in physicality the past two years. I was hoping to see more special teams Saturday, particularly in the return games. Just to see which players were on those teams. The more reps the better, right? More to chew on this summer.
3. Heinrich Haarberg and Logan Smothers both have potential and had their moments at quarterback. Clearly, Haarberg is more of the passer and Smothers the runner. Both could use another year of development. Scott Frost has said he’s not going to look for a QB in the transfer portal. I don’t think it would be a bad idea if you could find someone to come in and play behind Martinez. You don’t want to force it and just bring in someone to bring them in, however. That would be quite the frying pan if either of the young QBs had to play next year.