5 Expectations (not Predictions) for Nebraska Football in 2023

Nebraska football NCAA transfer portal (Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports)
Nebraska football NCAA transfer portal (Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports) /

This week, I’ve been asked several times what I think will happen with Nebraska football against Minnesota and for the entire season.

I’ll be honest. I really don’t know what will happen in Nebraska’s first game.

Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and local media are making their picks. It’s their job.

But everything is so, so new for Matt Rhule’s Huskers. It’s all a guessing game.

Nebraska doesn’t just have a new coaching staff. Obviously, they have new offensive and defensive schemes. But it also has a new philosophy, a new mindset, a new culture, a new off-field support system, and on and on.

How could anyone have even an inkling of what we’ll see on Thursday or seven weeks from now? How silly is it to predict who will win when Nebraska plays Iowa on…NOVEMBER 23?!

There’s literally no way to know. I can’t even pretend.

And you can’t either.

That’s why I will soak it all in on Thursday night as the Huskers play the Gophers. As a fan, not a cynic. Hard as it is, I don’t want to get caught up in the outcome. I want to enjoy the process. (Somewhere, Bo Pelini heard this and is smiling.)

Cliché, I know. But at this point in my Husker football fandom, I’ll take “trust the process” over outcomes for sanity’s sake.

I hope you do the same.

Five things to expect from Nebraska Football in 2023

I won’t make any bold predictions on games for this season…yet. By 10:30 pm on Thursday night, you and I will have a much clearer picture of what this Nebraska football team will be. I’ll have my Colorado and season predictions out soon enough.

In the meantime, I offer five expectations Husker fans should have for this season. Matt Rhule alluded to a few of these in his press conference several days ago. I’m liberally borrowing from him.

1. Nebraska will play hard.

Rhule said this in his press conference last week. You can’t teach passion. You either have it or you don’t. Rhule believes–and I have every reason to trust him–that he has the guys who have that passion for the “N.”

Nebraska did not lose games in the past several years for lack of effort. It was for other reasons (see points 2 and 3). Again this year, Nebraska has the players who will leave it all out on the field. And that’s a good place to start in year 1.

Will playing hard produce wins? Not necessarily. But you can’t win if you don’t.

2. Nebraska will play Big Boy football.

Nebraska has taken its fair share of licks in the Big Ten over the past 10+ years. It’s time they start to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

And pass out a few licks of their own.

It’s Big Boy…Ten…football time.

That’s what Rhule was brought in to do. A former Big Ten walk-on linebacker at Penn State, Rhule knows something about physical football. Look especially for Nebraska’s line play to reflect a Big Ten style. It will take time. This year may be aspirational more than actual: line play is the biggest transformation this program needs. Rhule must recruit Big Ten bodies upfront. He’ll get there. But finally, Nebraska will focus on winning the trenches. You’ll see it in how the games are called on both sides of the ball.

3. Nebraska will be detail-oriented.

This was the bugaboo of the previous regime. Rhule and his assistants seem obsessed with details. Simply, they seem like football junkies. And man alive, is that refreshing.

One of the things Rhule has reiterated throughout fall camp is “Do your job.” “Doing your job” is what Nebraska football prided itself on for half a century. You can’t always out-recruit or out-scheme another team. But if every player in the program knows their job and does it with excellence, fans will be excited to watch–even if you don’t win every game.

Being detail-oriented, I think, will help Nebraska when the game is on the line. I expect Rhule and his coordinators to make better game management decisions because of their relentless preparation.

4. Nebraska will be a mixed bag of good and bad.

This should be a no-brainer. If you expect flawless football in Game 1 or in Game 11, you’re crazy. Nebraska is going to struggle. They should. There are 40–FORTY!–new players on this roster. It could be a bumpy ride for half the year. Or all of it.

But there will also be a lot of good. The Huskers have a ton of great athletes. And I expect those athletes to show out often. I expect players on both sides of the ball to turn heads and, barring injury, play in the NFL next year.

I also expect Nebraska’s coordinators to cook up some game plans that give opposing teams fits. (This goes back to #3.)

5. Nebraska will get better as the year goes on.

I remember when I was a kid, my dad said every single year, “You learn the most about a team after watching game 2, not game 1.” (Now you know why I’m not making any predictions! Dad taught me well.)

A sign of a good team (and a good coach) is learning from mistakes and improving the next week. Can Nebraska do that? Especially from Minnesota to Colorado? I think so.

Rhule’s track record is slow improvement. He was 0-6 to start at Temple and Baylor. But this isn’t either one of those situations. Baylor had 45 scholarship players when Rhule arrived. Temple was, well, Temple. There’s no reason we shouldn’t expect Nebraska to compete and win games, especially in the second half of the season.

Enjoy the 2023 Nebraska Football Ride

It’s impossible to know how to predict this season for Nebraska football. 7-5? 8-4? 3-9? 6-6? Your guess is as good as Kirk Herbstreit’s.

As a fan, hold back your bold predictions. But by all means, you should have high expectations for a once-proud program that desperately needs to get back on track. Outcomes do matter. It’s sports, after all.

But this year, above all years, embracing the process is critical. Even (especially?) for fans.

Let’s sit back and enjoy this season. We’ll never get another first year for Nebraska football under Matt Rhule. It should be a heck of a ride.