Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers Host Akron
It's the day Nebraska football fans have been anxiously awaiting every day for the last nine months.
Tomorrow (September 1) the Cornhusker faithful finally get to see Scott Frost return to the sidelines in Lincoln as he takes over a program that struggled mightily during the three-year Mike Riley experiment, which netted a .500 overall record and two losing seasons.
The expectations for Frost, Nebraska's quarterback in 1996 and 1997, are sky high as the Huskers open the 2018 season at home with Akron.
As for the first quarterback to play for Frost in Lincoln, that will be Adrian Martinez. The Fresno, California native will be the first true freshman in program history to start the season opener.
The running game should be a point of emphasis in the Huskers new offense, where there figures to be a rotation of Greg Bell, Devine Ozigbo, Maurice Washington, Miles Jones, and Miklae Wilbon at least early in the season.
They'll be running behind an experienced offensive line anchored by three seniors in the middle - Jerald Foster, Cole Conrad, and Tanner Farmer. The tackles are both sophomores, including Sioux Falls native Matt Farniok , but have 13 starts between them.
The Nebraska receiving corps is deep, led by senior Stanley Morgan, who led the Huskers with 10 touchdown catches and nearly 1,000 yards in 2017. JD Spielman and Mike Williams will also feature prominently in the passing attack.
Defensively, Nebraska looks to be more aggressive in 2018, with a ton a familiar faces in the front seven.
Last season's second-leading tackler Dedrick Young returns at linebacker along with Luke Gifford. Up front Freedom Akinmoladun and Mick Stoltenberg are back for their senior seasons, while sophomore Ben Stille is back after leading Nebraska with 3.5 sacks as a freshman.
The secondary is a work in progress with Central Florida graduate transfer Tre Neal coming over with the new coaching staff. Cornerbacks Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle will need to improve in 2018.
The kicking game features punter Caleb Lightbourn and true freshman place kicker Barret Pickering.
The Zips, out of the Mid-American Conference, went 7-7 last season, losing to Toledo in the MAC title game.
Akron is led by former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden. He's entering his eighth season with the Zips, posting just one winning season in the first seven years.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson is back running the offense after appearing in ten games last season, getting five starts. He completed half of the passes he threw last season for a little under 100 yards a game. He finished 2017 with eight touchdown tosses and two interceptions.
The Akron offense struggled to establish a running game last season, finishing 123rd in the nation with 105 yards per game. The Zips second leading rusher, Van Edwards, is back for his senior season.
Senior Kwadarrius Smith is the main target through the air. the speedy wide receiver racked up 726 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017.
Three starters return on the offensive line.
Defensively, the Zips are led by an NFL prospect, two-time All-MAC linebacker Ulysees Gilbert, last season's top tackler.
Five seniors start on the defensive line, including pre-season all-conference end Jamal Davis II, who had 15.5 tackles for loss in 2017.
Akron also has an experienced secondary with all four starters back from a group that allowed 210 yards per game last season, picking off 11 passes. Senior Kyron Brown is on the Jim Thorpe Watch list.
Kickoff in Lincoln is 7:00 PM, Saturday. You can listen to the game live on 1140 KSOO-AM.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers' Greg Sharpe about the match-up with Akron: