Photo courtesy of 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.
The final contest in September for Nebraska will be a tough one. The Cornhuskers will welcome in Cincinnati on Sept. 26. Nebraska won the only previous meeting between the schools, but that came in 1906.
The Bearcats finished 11-3 in 2019 and narrowly missed cracking into a New Year’s Six bowl. Cincinnati was unable to hold a late lead against Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game. It did bounce back to crush Boston College in the Birmingham Bowl.
In our predictions, we had Nebraska winning its first three games. It is our contention that the Cornhuskers will be looking to complete a perfect September when Cincinnati comes to Memorial Stadium.
Why Nebraska Will Win
Nebraska opens the 2020 campaign with four straight home games. The Cornhuskers should come in riding high as they face a real threat in Cincinnati. Purdue is a test to kick off the season, but this game just has a different feel for Husker fans. One thing to watch from the Cincy defense is how aggressive it plays, especially at the safety position.
Nebraska could take advantage of this by using the speed it has at receiver or a big wideout like Omar Manning. Even tight end Jack Stoll can be used as a weapon in one-on-one situations. Cincinnati returns seven starters on defense including both cornerbacks. Exposing this secondary is one thing that could open up the running game. Outside of Coby Bryant, the Bearcats are young at corner.
The key to this game is spreading this defense out since it loves to play with eyes in the backfield. Look at what East Carolina did against Cincinnati in early November of last year. The Pirates racked up 635 yards of total offense because of their ability to take shots down the field.
Besides that, another reason to love the Huskers is that the Bearcats were the third-most penalized team in all of FBS last season. The Bearcats accumulated nearly 1,000 yards in penalties. They averaged nearly nine penalties per game and actually had the most penalty yards in the country. The Huskers need to play clean football and hit some big plays in order to bust this game open.
Why Cincinnati Will Win
The Bearcats were a darn good football team last year. The only losses came to conference champions in Ohio State and twice to Memphis. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is one of the bright young stars on the college football landscape.
The loss of running back Michael Warren shouldn’t loom as large as some think due to the emergence of Gerrid Doaks and former 5-star Alabama transfer Jerome Ford. That combo with Ridder should be deadly on the ground which has been an issue for past Nebraska defenses.
The question for the Bearcats is an inexperienced receivers group — an issue Nebraska also has — and only two returning starters on the offensive line. The defensive game plan from the Bearcats in past years can help them stick around or even win if they can limit the Huskers’ big-play ability.
If the Bearcats can rattle Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez by disguising coverages, it’s easy to like their chances. That was an area where Martinez struggled last season. If running back Dedrick Mills gets over 125 yards on the ground for the Huskers, that would go a long way in the Cornhuskers remaining unbeaten.
Purdue fans may take exception to this, but the Huskers’ first true test comes here against Cincinnati. Expect Cincinnati to get out of the gates strong because of its deceptive defensive tactics. This game should be a low-scoring dogfight that comes down to how many times Cincy shoots itself in the foot with penalties. A young offensive line can get rattled in an environment like Memorial Stadium. Receiver Wan’Dale Robinson makes a big play late from an overly aggressive secondary and the Huskers capture a 4-0 start.
Final Score: Nebraska 27, Cincinnati 20