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Nebraska Cornhuskers: Around the Campus 2016

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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 Lincoln.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of 2015-16 and how that will project forward for Husker fans in 2016-17. Unlike two of the three programs which have been covered to start this series of articles, the Cornhuskers put together some notable conference and national achievements this school year. Read on to see more!

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Women’s Volleyball

(A successful season deserves a White House trip, courtesy Huskers.com)

There’s no place to begin other than the women’s volleyball team, which brought home one of the few national championships won by the Big Ten Conference this year. Before getting there, this team played against a tough non-conference schedule yet survived with a 9-1 record. The only loss came against old rival Texas, which would come up again later in the season.

Entering Big Ten play, Nebraska pulled off a rare feat in sweeping the season series from perennial powerhouse Penn State, only the second such season sweep the Nittany Lions program has suffered since 2002. Although a couple of home losses in the middle of the season led to a second-place finish in the conference at 17-3, the Cornhuskers ended on a hit streak of 10 straight match victories and the best record since joining the Big Ten. Plus, in that hot streak only Michigan State forced Nebraska into a fifth set, so the wins were largely dominant.

The roll kept on going in the NCAA Tournament as well. Following two easy wins at home, the Huskers traveled to Lexington, Kentucky for the Regional. There, the Huskers took down nationally ranked No. 11 BYU and No. 1 Washington. With the top-ranked team knocked off, the Huskers became a local favorite with the national championship finals being held in Omaha. After winning a four-set match against Kansas, Nebraska swept Texas 3-0 in the championship match to avenge the earlier loss and bring home the title.

This was the first national championship in 10 years for the program, and the 32-4 record is one of the best in Nebraska history. Freshman Mikaela Foecke led the way in the NCAA Tournament, winning the Most Outstanding Player award for her efforts. Kelly Hunter, Amber Rolfzen, and Justine Wong-Orantes also made the all-tournament team.

Thus, the team made their way to DC for a trip to see some of the sights like the White House and to celebrate this first title since 2006. It may not be so long until the next title, with the superstar of the team Foecke being only a sophomore next year, and the other three all-tournament team awardees entering their junior and senior years.

With all the talent coming back, coach John Cook will have huge expectations and a serious chance to repeat next season (perhaps also with a Big Ten Championship this time).

 

Men’s Track and Field

(Winning the Big Ten indoor title, photo courtesy Huskers.com)

Coming off a 2014-2015 season where the Husker men won the Big Ten indoor track and field championship by a wide margin, there were questions about whether long-time head coach Gary Pepin could get his team back on top for a second-straight conference championship. However, the Huskers actually increased their margin of victory this year, finishing with 116 points and a 43 point margin over Wisconsin in second place.

It was dominance all around, but it all started with sophomore Kaiwan Culmer winning the triple jump individual championship. Another sophomore Landon Bartel achieved a personal-best high jump at over 7 feet in order to take home another individual title in that event. The various running teams then racked up enough points to salt the team title away. With many of the same athletes back again next year, Nebraska has to be considered a heavy favorite for yet another indoor title next year.

Although the indoor team did not end up with a great finish at the NCAA Championships (44th place), the outdoor team kept running with the positive momentum and ended the season on a high note with another huge victory and the Big Ten Championships. The Huskers outpaced Michigan by 50 points, the largest margin of victory in over 10 years at the Big Ten event.

The highlight of the outdoor championships was the last event, the 4×400 relay, in which a squad led by seniors Levi Gipson and Cody Rush set a Big Ten record and won an event title which has eluded both the indoor and outdoor teams for years. Despite not taking home any individual titles like the Cornhusker women, the men still finished well enough across the board in all events to win by the large margin over the Wolverines.

The NCAA Championships went much better for outdoor than indoor, with a 10th place team finish. Sophomore Nick Percy won the individual national title in discus throw.

With team captain Cody Rush leaving to graduation and some other key contributors also heading out of the program, the outdoor track and field team will need to reload some heading into 2016-17. However, with a coach that has won 72 team conference titles in indoor or outdoor seasons, this track and field program can never be counted out in the Big Ten.

 

Women’s Bowling

(team photo courtesy Huskers.com)

One of the best part of covering the Huskers for this series each year is the look at the outside-the-box sports Nebraska participates in, including Beach Volleyball (which we covered last year) and bowling. Turns out Nebraska is pretty good at the quintessential midwestern “beer and pretzels” sport. It’s certainly a more natural fit than beach volleyball because Nebraska is cold in the winter and is hundreds of miles away from any beachfront!

Getting back to the bowling team, the team started the season with six-straight top-4 finishes in events ranging from northern Indiana to Houston, Texas. That helped the team maintain a top-2 national ranking throughout nearly all of the regular season.

That ranking was a No. 1 ranking heading into the NCAA Championships, and the Huskers did not disappoint. In 2015 this team played against Stephen F. Austin for the national championship, and those familiar foes were back at it again in this year’s championship match. It was a back-and-forth affair in a best of seven series, with Nebraska winning game 1 and then rebounding to even the series twice after falling behind 2-1 and 3-2.

The decisive game 7 was one in which Nebraska could not string together many strikes, and that proved to be the difference. SFA won 247-192 to avenge last season’s loss and give Nebraska its second runner-up finish in the last three years. Still, with a title in that mix as well, coach Bill Straub definitely has a national bowling dynasty going in women’s bowling.

Looking ahead to 2016-17, the two best players who made the all-tournament team at nationals will return in Gazmine Mason and Julia Bond. There’s only a couple of seniors departing this team, so expect another top finish next season for this program.

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Honorable mentions go to the Husker baseball and women’s gymnastics squads. Both finished in second place in the Big Ten, racking up the points in the race for The Delany award. However, both did not perform incredibly well in the remainder of the post-season, so they unfortunately get left as honorable mentions this year.

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

Stay tuned next week as we jump all the way across the country to the East Coast and Maryland for our next in the ATC article series. Also, check out previous 2016 ATC articles already done (Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue). Have a great week!

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 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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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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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 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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