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Nebraska Cornhuskers: Around the Campus 2015

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Welcome back for another installment in Talking 10’s “Nebraska Week” series. Although most of our articles for “Nebraska Week” are focusing on football, this is our weekly chance to check in on all the other athletic success stories going on in the Husker state.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of 2014-15 and how that will project forward for Huskers fans in 2015-16. Unlike Indiana last week, the Cornhuskers have a little bit more to show in this article series thanks to success around the athletic department.

Previous “Around the Campus” articles can be found here:

Iowa – Michigan – Northwestern – Rutgers – Minnesota – Illinois – Penn State – Indiana

Beach Volleyball

(the new team, photo courtesy Huskers.com)

This sport leads the way not because the Huskers won a national title, but because a program heading into its 4th year and a sport being elevated to the NCAA Championship level makes for a potential championship contender at the cutting edge of new emerging NCAA sports.

Next year will be the first time an 8 team NCAA Championship occurs, and Nebraska would have had a chance at such a field in the 2014 season. The Huskers ended 6-2 on the sand this spring, only losing two games to the top two ranked teams in the country USC and Hawaii (in Hawaii). Nebraska did defeat highly ranked Arizona and Arizona State on the road, which led to a top 15 ranking at the end of the season.

Nebraska also loses nobody to graduation in 2015-16, so all the pieces are in place for the west coast sport to become a big deal in Lincoln. It’s certainly something different than you find at most, if not all, other Big Ten schools. So it’s worth watching as the sport develops whether Nebraska can be an unlikely national power of beach volleyball.

Men’s Track and Field

(photo courtesy Huskers.com)

Long time coach of the men’s and women’s track and field program, Gary Pepin has watched his teams bring home 70 conference championships in his tenure, which stretches back through the Big 12 days to the Big 8 conference. This season was another great one, particularly for the men’s program.

In June, Pepin received word that three of his team members received All-American honors for the 2014-15 school season. Senior sprinter John Welk joined junior sprinter Levi Gipson and sophomore Drew Wiseman (who does hurdles) as the award recipients. Welk and Gipson have put up great indoor performances on the conference and NCAA championship stages, while Wiseman is just building his career at Lincoln into something memorable.

Pepin will enjoy having two of these three athletes back next season to defend the indoor track and field Big Ten conference championship, which was won as shown in the team photo above. Nebraska ran away with the team competition by over 40 points this winter thanks to event victories by Oladapo Akinmoladun in hurdles and by James White in high jump.

 

The men and women both finished 2nd at the Big Ten outdoor championships this spring. Although there were no notable performances in the NCAA championships to speak of, this program remains as a team at the very top of the conference. That’s an achievement worth celebrating even in such a highly decorated program.

This is Pepin’s 30th team conference title in his 35 seasons at the helm. As long as he is around this program, the Huskers will continue to perform highly, particularly with the All-American caliber talent coming back. The men and women have a shot at even bigger things in 2015-16.

Bowling

(your NCAA champion, photo courtesy Huskers.com)

Bowling, much like beach volleyball, was not a NCAA sanctioned championship sport until recently (2003). However, Nebraska was one of the best bowling programs in the country both before and after this sanctioning. A team that came into this season having won 4 NCAA championships in the past decade looked to add another trophy to the case.

And that’s precisely what happened, as the Huskers made their 3rd consecutive NCAA championship game appearance. Last year Sam Houston State knocked off the then-defending (2013) national champions, but this year Nebraska had avenged that loss in the preliminary double elimination rounds of the NCAA championships. Instead, this championship was against top-ranked Stephen F. Austin and ended in a 4-2 victory.

Senior Lizabeth Kulhkin ended her career with three of the most dominant years in recent bowing history. Surprisingly, she was not named national bowler of the year, but she likely deserves a lifetime achievement award for leading this program to two national championships in the past 3 seasons. The other strong bowler this season was freshman Julia Bond, who won MVP of the NCAA Championships weekend.

Bond was a highly-heralded recruit coming out of high school, so perhaps this should not come as a surprise overall. However, her natural talent paired perfectly with the senior leadership and developed prowess of Kulhkin to make a team that was hard to stop. Bond almost made it even better a week later at the individual NCAA championships, falling short in the final against a former Nebraska walk-on bowler Emily Eckhoff.

With three more years in the program, Bond could become the best bowler in Nebraska history, if not make a run at many NCAA records. That will be a solid anchor for coach Bill Straub’s team, and it should help avoid a big dip that would normally happen when a senior like Kulhkin is lost to graduation.

Nebraska will be back in the mix for national titles again next year, so keep close watch on this program that brought the biggest piece of hardware home to Lincoln last year.

Wrestling

 (photo courtesy Huskers.com)

The Huskers wrestling program was not quite up to the same level of snuff as Iowa and Ohio State in 2014-15, but that should not disparage the strong individual efforts and accomplishments on this team. Senior Robert Kokesh was the leader of the team and he dominated his weight division at 174 pounds all season long.

Heading into the Big Ten championships, Kokesh was 30-0 on the season. He did not disappoint as the top seed in this bracket, pinning the Michigan wrestler in the quarterfinals in 15 seconds before narrowly defeating a Minnesota wrestler in the semifinals and then dominating #2 seed Matt Brown from Penn State 7-3 in the championship match. That led to the crowning shown above.

In the NCAA Championships, Kokesh lost in the semifinals before rebounding with a 3rd place match victory. That led to his third All-American honor as well as a third consecutive top 4 finish in the NCAA Championships. Kokesh won 144 matches in his career and 39 as a senior, which ranks 2nd in program history.

Kokesh is not the only notable senior to leave the wrestling program to graduation. Fellow senior James Green won 3rd place at the 157 pound weight division in both the Big Ten Championships and in the NCAA Championships. Green finished with 129 career victories (5th best in program history), which pairs nicely with his second-straight 3rd place finish at the NCAA level.

Wrestling may take a small step back with the loss of these two great performers, but there is some young talent that earns plenty of valuable experience every season in the best wrestling conference in the NCAA.

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Be sure to support and enjoy these other achievements that the student athletes are bringing home to Lincoln now and in the near future.

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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Huskers Football

Huskers defense drives win over MSU

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All the talk about Nebraska has been how Scott Frost would transform the Huskers offense. On Saturday, the defense made everyone stand up and take notice in a 9-6 win over Michigan State. 

Nebraska managed to kick three field goals in the final quarter to win a game that didn’t see either side score a single touchdown. 

“Good teams figure out how to win any kind of game, and that’s a different kind of game that I have been apart of as a coach, winning a game with no touchdowns,” said Nebraska head coach Scott Frost after the game.

“I am so happy for the seniors, so happy for the Blackshirts. Some of these games we’ve won, we’ve been winning on offense, and it was great to see the defense step up today.”

With the Huskers usually high-powered offense bottled up by Michigan State’s quality defense and really bad weather the defensive performance was badly needed.

It was also badly needed after last week’s performance in a shootout win over Illinois

Nebraska’s defense was hit for 35 points and needed to put up 54 points on offense to win. The Huskers defense came in to the game this week having never given up fewer than 34 points to any team in the Big Ten so far this season. 

The Huskers defense also stood 12th in the conference, giving up an average of 33.8 points per game through 10 games. 

Certainly this group was challenged following that performance against Illinois. 

“Every week I’ve been coaching them there’s a little more fight. Today’s the most I’ve seen,” said Frost. “That’s a hard game to win. Even harder to lose. Our guys had to keep grinding, and the defense had to keep coming up with stops.”

Nebraska’s defense didn’t disappoint, holding MSU running back Craig Haward under 90 yards and quarterback Rocky Lombardi to just 145 yards on 15 of 41 passing. 

No doubt the fact that MSU came in struggling on offense helped, but this was a huge step forward for the Huskers defense after its struggles earlier this season. 

After starting the season 0-6, the Huskers have ripped off wins in 4 of the last 5 games. 

In a season of transition, the fact that Nebraska’s defense was able to hold anyone without a touchdown is a massive step in the right direction. That fact wasn’t lost on the coaches or players following the crazy win. 

For Chinander and Frost, it’s also a sign that this team is still listening and learning as what seems like a lost season to the outside world is far from it internally. 

“I told the guys in the locker room if from a coaching standpoint, or pretty much on everything, I guess, the team could’ve started the season where it is right now, that would’ve been a funny act,” Frost said. “Some of the growing things we had to go through were necessary, and I’m crushed for the seniors we couldn’t get that done quicker.

“This team has been through so much and to be where it is right now and have the second half of the season it’s been having, it makes it really special. And I think the seniors will probably look back on this and think it was a pretty special season after all.”

Nebraska will have an interesting challenge ahead of it next week, as they will face the rival Iowa Hawkeyes after they just went off for a 63-0 victory over the Illinois team that just put up 54 points on Nebraska. 

A win in the Heroes Game would be a great way to cap off what many believed was a lost season early on. Doing so with the Huskers defense getting some of its luster back would just be icing on the cake. 

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Huskers Football

Keyshawn Johnson Jr. unsurprisingly transferring from Huskers

Following a summer pot citation and his dad pulling him from school, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. announces his transfer.

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Did you know that Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was a member of the Nebraska Cornhuskers program? Chances are, if you blinked you missed his time on campus.

That’s what happens when you get busted for pot possession and your dad brings you home to teach you a lesson or two.

The elder Johnson made sure to make a statement when pulling his kid out of school just days in to his time there. He made it clear that there were higher (no pun intended) expectations of his son.

“One thing you will not do as my son is you will not embarrass Nebraska, you will not embarrass Mike Riley and you will not embarrass this family,” Johnson Sr. told the Omaha World-Herald. “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the former 4-star recruit with the famous name isn’t going to continue his career at Nebraska.

On Friday, the younger Johnson announced his decision to not return to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The combination of his citation for marijuana possession and the coaching change likely sealed the deal for this move.

Johnson Jr. enrolled early, coming to Lincoln in January, but suffered an illness that he couldn’t shake for parts of spring practice. He appeared in the spring game, but caught just one pass for 7 yards.

Nebraska could use the depth at wide receiver, but with a new regime in place and his father having no relationship with the new staff this move is not surprising.

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Huskers Football

Frost turning to Florida to bring speed to Huskers program

Frost is leaning on his Florida ties in hoping to shape his roster in his image quicker than expected.

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Scott Frost has technically only been on the job for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for less than a week, but he clearly has had a gameplan in place for a while now.

That much is evident not only by how quickly he’s gotten a staff together, but by the details on the recruiting trail.

Normally it takes time to evaluate what is on a roster in front of you and figure out what is needed. That process didn’t take long (or likely took place last week as he waited to take the job formally), because Frost has attacked the recruiting trail hard in his first week on the job.

So, what is his evaluation of the Huskers program? It is in need of speed, speed and more speed.

Frost has decided that in order to get his team up to speed he needs to do so buy finding that speed right in his old back yard.

It’s a move that makes sense, as Frost has built good relationships in Florida and that is where some of the best high school talent in the country exists today.

Nebraska’s 247Sports site, Huskers Illustrated, had a really good talk on the inner workings of what Frost has done already on the recruiting trail on this week’s Notorious B1G Podcast (because who doesn’t love an all-Big Ten recruiting podcast?)

Mike Riley and Co. spent less time on Florida and more time on the West Coast, which should’ve been expected given Riley’s ties in that direction. But, the crop of pure athletes out West is nothing compared to the depth of speed and athleticism that exists in Florida.

Ironically, Frost’s first offer came from out West as the No. 8-ranked dual-threat quarterback, Adrian Martinez, was offered within hours of Frost getting the job.

That move and all the ones made since his hire show Frost has come in with a clear knowledge of his system, who fits it on the recruiting trail and who fits it currently on the roster. Having that kind of confidence and work-rate are a welcome sight in Lincoln.

But, Frost isn’t just hitting the ground running on the recruiting trail either.

He’s also been taking time to speak to the national media and spread the gospel of what he wants to build at Nebraska. Frost spoke on the Jim Rome Show on Thursday and didn’t buy the notion that recruiting to Lincoln, Neb. is a difficult task.

“There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get kids to Lincoln, Nebraska,” Frost said, via Land of 10. “Kids leave places right now and go everywhere around the country. There’s no reason kids won’t go to Lincoln if they’re going to Columbus, Ann Arbor, and Eugene, Oregon.

“And I think we’re going to create an environment, a football environment in Lincoln that people are going to want to be a part of.”

Success in turning a program around often hinges on the first recruiting class to come in. That’s not to say this class should be put at the feet of Frost and his staff entirely, but if they can put a stamp on an already nice class it could be the one that breaks a mediocre mold for the Huskers program.

No matter what, Frost and his staff aren’t afraid to be aggressive and go after the type of player they need. That alone has to be a refreshing sign of change for the Husker faithful.

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Huskers Football

Huskers hope Scott Frost hire brings back glory days

Native son returns home to lead program he once was the star quarterback of. Can the glory days return with the Huskers dipping in to their past?

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What had become the worst-kept secret in college football’s coaching carousel became official on Saturday afternoon. Just hours after leading his UCF Knights to a crazy 62-55 double overtime win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game, Frost bolted for a gig back home.

UCF’s 247sports site announced the news, noting that Forst will not coach the team in the upcoming bowl game. However, after the AAC championship game, UCF’s AD noted that Frost and the entire coaching staff would coach through the Peach Bowl.

Nebraska athletics director Bill Moos named Frost the new Huskers head coach, ending a search many thought would start and end with Frost first.

“It is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to return to Nebraska and to lead the Husker football program,” Frost said in a statement released by the school. “I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second to none. I am truly humbled to be hereee. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.

“I am appreciative of the confidence Bill Moos and our University leadership have in me to lead this program. I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career. Specifically, I would like to thank Coach Osborne who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field. Go Big Red!”

In bringing a native son and former Huskers quarterback in to the fold to lead the program, Nebraska is clearly hoping the magic of the mid 1990’s can rub off on the program once again.

Frost was integral in the Huskers success in the 90’s, where he was a star quarterback for two years after transferring home from Stanford. He led the program to a 24-2 record as the starter and became just the 10th player in major college football history to pass for 1,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

He had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but was moved from quarterback to safety and just couldn’t find his way in the league.

While thoughts of Frost leading the Huskers offense are likely to bring smiles back to the Husker faithful, the reality of today’s program won’t.

It’s been a rough go since the calendar turned over to the year 2000, as the Huskers haven’t won a single conference championship since 1999.

Frost faces a big challenge, as the Huskers vaunted defense has fallen on hard times and the program just got done with a 4-8 season under Mike Riley. Luckily for the Husker faithful, Frost isn’t going to be caught off-guard by the challenges of a turnaround.

He took over a UCF program that went winless the year before he came to campus and had them 6-7 and going bowling in his first season. This year his team went undefeated in the regular season, joining the Wisconsin Badgers as the only two undefeated teams in the country after the regular season finished up.

Frost also led the Knights to the AAC championship despite a ton of off-field distraction surrounding his job status and rumors about Florida, Nebraska and Oregon interest in his services.

Now the pressure will be on to get the Huskers back to championship football, and soon.

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