Photo courtesy of Jordyn Senstock/Nebraska athletics

Roughly two months separate us from the start of Nebraska football.

Year No. 3 of the Scott Frost campaign has fans in Lincoln excited. Hopefully, expectations are controlled after last season’s 5-7 finish.

The Cornhuskers bring back roughly 15 starters from the 2019 season. The loss of JD Spielman will hurt, but the continual pursuit of getting that true ‘Husker football culture back is well underway. In this 12-part series, we’ll be giving an early-season preview of each game.

In the third part of the series, we look at Nebraska’s lone contest against an FCS school. South Dakota State will come to Lincoln on Sept. 19.

The Jackrabbits finished 8-5 last season and reached the FCS Playoffs before being defeated by Northern Iowa. They were very competitive in the opener against a Minnesota team that went on to win 11 games.

Our first two predictions were victories for the Cornhuskers. We believe Nebraska will come in, looking to start 3-0 for the first time since 2016.

Why Nebraska Will Win

This is one of those games where Nebraska should be too talented for its opponent. The “should” is the key part, because the Jackrabbits held their own against a good Minnesota team early in the year in 2019. Minnesota ultimately prevailed 28-21 in a contest that wasn’t decided until late. Expect the early-season flaws to start working themselves out for the Huskers in this one.

Expect the young Nebraska receiving corps to get some rhythm with the Scott Frost offense. Wideouts like Alante Brown, Zavier Betts, Omar Manning, or Jamie Nance could step up in a huge way for this offense to give Adrian Martinez and company other weapons to trust as the season progresses. Dedrick Mills should be able to run wild behind the experienced Husker offensive line against a less talented South Dakota State front seven.

The Jackrabbits’ offense had its struggles too last season. They had 17 lost fumbles last year. That seemed to be their main issue offensively.

Why South Dakota State Will Win

The Jackrabbits like to slow the game down and when able to limit the opponents’ possessions, they can pose a problem. They return 1,000-yard rusher in Pierre Strong, Jr. and two experienced quarterbacks from 2019 in Keaton Heide and J’Bore Gibbs. The biggest threat on the Jackrabbit offense is former Bellevue West standout, wide receiver Cade Johnson.

The senior had 72 catches (35 more than any other wide receiver) for 1,222 yards (17 yards per reception) and eight touchdowns in 2019. They return several starters on defense from a unit that only allowed 294.8 yards per game last season. That was good for seventh in the FCS. If they can find a way to turn the Huskers over a few times or hold the Huskers to a 34 percent third down conversion rate (defensive rate from 2019), then they could hold their own.

Prediction

If the Jackrabbits can come out and deliver a couple of early shots, they may be able to hold their own. South Dakota State has a lot of Nebraska natives on its roster, so the passion and willingness to play in this Memorial Stadium environment should be there for Jackrabbits. Expect the Huskers to start getting in a groove by this point in the season, unlike Minnesota, who had to open with this stingy group last season. Hopefully, the Huskers’ defensive line and receiving corps start to find some clarity in what should be a steady win for Nebraska.

Final Score: Nebraska 45, South Dakota State 21