It's officially summertime, AKA "sports winter," in Nebraska, which of course means heat, massive storms, college football preview magazines, and the inevitable countdown towards the start of fall camp for the Huskers.
There are plenty of new pieces in place this year for the Big Red, from the quarterback all the way across the board to the defensive coordinator.
And naturally, with only major league baseball and the occasional golf tournament or NASCAR race to keep many sports fans company over the next month (unless you're like me, and are stoked for the CONCACAF Gold Cup...), the chatter around the Huskers' 2017 season is hard to ignore.
But what to expect? Is this the year where NU ends the conference title drought, or are those advanced stats correct, and Nebraska is really destined to win six games?
I'm sure both sides of the "I told you so" crowd are already set to make their case as to why Mike Riley and/or Shawn Eichorst should be fired immediately, or given a contract extension.
Well, the good news is, I'm here to officially save you the headaches, and tell you exactly what to expect from Nebraska in 2017, and how you should approach this season as a fan!
After lengthy consideration, debate, and much analysis (in my own head, at least), I have arrived at one undeniable conclusion about what to expect from Nebraska football in 2017:
I don't know.
So there you have it. End of story!
Not satisfied? Alright, through reasonable deduction, I can also safely assume that:
You don't know.
Let's keep going!
I get the sense that most everyone else that follows and/or covers Nebraska doesn't really know.
Oh, and all the "experts" on message boards and Twitter with "sources inside the program," they really don't know either (there's a shocker!).
There's just too many new pieces this year to know for sure, or to have any real expectations for Nebraska in 2017.
My advice? Take the smart approach to the 2017 season, and wait and see what happens without any expectations at all.
Don't go in thinking Nebraska is destined to go 5-7, and should fire Mike Riley preemptively to avoid disaster. Similarly, don't hype yourself up into thinking this is "finally the year" where NU breaks through and wins the Big Ten en route to the College Football Playoff.
Let's examine the scenarios.
Could the Huskers go 6-6, and find themselves playing in a pre-Christmas bowl game? It shouldn't shock anyone.
After all, the ESPN.com FPI views Nebraska as underdogs against Oregon, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa. There's six losses right off the bat.
The Huskers are significant dogs against the Buckeyes, Ducks, Badgers, and Nittany Lions; and the game against Minnesota is virtually a toss-up at this point despite NU being slightly favored. If Nebraska were to lose all the games they're significant underdogs in, and split the 50/50 matchups, that puts them at 6-6 or 7-5. Not that hard to fathom.
Maybe Tanner Lee struggles in his first year as a starter at Nebraska, and doesn't find anyone reliable to throw the ball to. Outside of Stanley Morgan, the Huskers will be relying upon plenty of guys with limited (if any) game experience. Perhaps the Huskers offensive line just doesn't get it together, and Nebraska is looking for new offensive line coach after this season.
Along with that, who carries the running game for Nebraska? Is there a 1,000 yard rusher on this year's team? Can this team average 100 yards a game on the ground this year, without the legs of Tommy Armstrong Jr.?
And defensively, does anyone really know what to expect? Nebraska has recruited to play a 4-3 for years, and there's no guarantee that switching to a 3-4 is going to be a walk in the park. There's no denying that Bob Diaco is an outstanding coordinator, but is it asking too much to take a unit that ranked near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and mold it into an upper echelon defense in one summer?
On the flip side, maybe Nebraska is able to win all of the toss ups, and finds a way to pull off half of the major upsets. Bingo: 10-2, and hello New Years Six game.
Tanner Lee lives up to the hype and praise from scouts, and has to think long and hard about forgoing his final year of eligibility in Lincoln. Ultimately, he decides being a potential first round draft pick isn't worth risk of returning, and departs for the NFL.
Stanley Morgan becomes the first 1,000 yard receiver in school history, and Demornay Pierson-El, Tyjon Lindsey, and JD Spielman all haul in 30 catches for north of 500 yards. Combine that with breakout stars Tyler Hoppes and David Engelhaupt at the tight end spot, and the Nebraska passing attack is one of the best in the Big Ten.
To compliment the air attack, Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon both grind out 1,000 yards on the ground, with freshman Jaylin Bradley showing flashes of being a superstar in coming years. Everything clicks for the offensive line, headlined by first-team All-Big Ten selections for Nick Gates and Jerald Foster.
To put the cherry on top, Bob Diaco works his magic and the Blackshirts finally live up to the name. The Huskers are a brick wall up front, forcing teams into going aerial. It leads to close to 20 interceptions on the season, and a first-team All-Big Ten nod for Chris Jones in his farewell campaign.
One could make the argument that EVERY season could be broken down like this, but what makes this year so different, is that either scenario seems 100 percept plausible to me. I could just as easily be sold on 6-6 as 8-4, or even 10-2.
So, as we keep counting down towards kickoff, my advice to you: Just let it play out, and see what happens.