Nebraska football head coach Matt Rhule and three players, plus Trev Alberts took their turn at Big Ten Media Days, and here’s what we learned.
It’s hard to believe, Nebraska football fans, but we are 35 days away from the Cornhuskers’ season opener against Minnesota.
Big Ten Media Days always feel like the unofficial start to the season. Fall camp is soon after and starts Monday for Nebraska football with players reporting on Sunday.
You could see that Matt Rhule is excited to coach his team. He said he likes his team and I tend to believe him. Of course, Rhule faced a question about what will be a successful first season and that’s where we’ll start with what we learned.
Rhule’s first-year expectations
Matt Rhule uses a lot of coachspeak. It sounds corny, but corny sayings are a thing because they’re true.
Coaches say things all the time but when Rhule talked about doing it day-by-day you could feel the sincerity. He said, “You learn from the past, prepare for the future, but live in the present.”
It’s an easy thing to say. Not so easy to do.
Rhule won’t say it, but there’s no reason this Nebraska football team can’t have a winning season. He talked about rebuilding respect in Nebraska football around the country and that only happens one way — winning.
Scott Frost had lots of moral victories. Nebraska needs to be done with those. This program should be able to compete against anyone in the country. It shouldn’t be anybody’s underdog.
Rhule gets that. He also understands that looking too far ahead is a recipe for disaster. You have to win the day — Rhule the day — if you will and Nebraska football feels more prepared to actually do that.
Rhule doesn’t care what you think about his recruits
We probably didn’t need Big Ten Media Days to learn that Matt Rhule doesn’t care at all about recruiting rankings or what other programs have offered a prospect. He trusts what he sees and when he sees players with the traits that he values, he goes after them hard.
It’s a strategy that was really successful in the 2024 class. Guys like Rex Guthrie, Quinn Clark, Braylen Prude, and others impressed Rhule at a camp on their way to becoming a commitment. Here’s how he explained his thought process on recruiting.
“Sometimes people will tell me that there’s a lot of talk about, ‘Well, (Nebraska) took this guy who’s unrecruited or that guy who’s unrecruited,’” Rhule said via Husker Online. “Why should what someone else is doing — their opinion of a player — affect my opinion?”
He also added this:
“We had kids come to our camp that ran 4.38, 4.42 (40s), broad-jumped 10-5, and I don’t care who else offered them (scholarships),” Rhule said. “If I can’t coach a kid who runs that fast and jumps that high, then I can’t coach.”
None of us know if Rhule’s approach will work at Nebraska. But I think it will. Beyond that, Rhule has a strategy. He has a plan and he’s going to execute it.
That’s more than you could say about the previous guy.
A leader of men
Some people are born leaders and Rhule strikes me as one. His answers — even to some really weird questions — were perfect. He did a tremendous job of communicating the values and goals of Nebraska football.
The players and recruits have talked about how genuine Rhule is. And you can see it when he meets with the media. Rhule isn’t an act. He’s genuine and he’s just a good dude. He’s intense though.
Don’t mistake the awe-shucks attitude and the love for cinnamon rolls and chili for a nice guy. Rhule is meticulous in terms of work and his fall camp is going to be tougher than anyone Scott Frost put on.
Rhule: "For me, this is about us as a program from the way we practice to the way we travel to the way we carry ourselves. I told Keith Mann this morning, I wanted to be the first guy here this morning." He was too. "I just want us to do everything better than everyone else."
— Brian Christopherson (@Husker247BC) July 27, 2023
That’s a prediction I feel 100 percent confident in making. He believes in doing the little things right and that’s going to be a key to success.
Rhule isn’t happy with the Arik Gilbert situation
It wasn’t surprising that Rhule was asked about the status of Nebraska football tight end Arik Gilbert. The former five-star tight end transferred from LSU to Georgia, and then to Nebraska.
The NCAA put in place new rules about second-time transfers. Gilbert isn’t a graduate transfer at this point, so he needs a waiver and according to Rhule, one hasn’t come yet. All Rhule said was, “He should be able to play.”
Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule didn't have much of an update on tight end Arik Gilbert's eligibility waiver at Big Ten Media Days.
He did, however, make his opinion on the matter very clear.
“I’ll say this, he should be able to play.”https://t.co/VeahvRUqKh
— Robin Washut (@RobinWashut) July 27, 2023
We’ll see if the NCAA agrees with Rhule. If not, you wonder if Gilbert will ever play a down for the Huskers. Sean Callahan reported that some NFL scouts might come to practice to scout Gilbert if he can’t play, which tells you just how good he is, and how painful it would be for the Huskers if he’s not eligible.
Georgia, his former program, has also said he should be eligible, so I really don’t see the issue, except that the new rules for two-year transfers have a lot less wiggle room in terms of waivers.
Mario Buford injury
One final thing we learned on Thursday about the Nebraska football team is that it will be without Mario Buford for the start of fall camp as he’s still recovering from injury.
It’s not a great sign obviously. Rhule didn’t indicate how long he could be out. The 3-3-5 defense has five defensive back starters and the loss of Buford could mean someone like Omar Brown and Corey Collier could get more playing time.
Myles Farmer is a returning starter but Brown has played well and also seemed in line for a starting role. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but Buford is one of Nebraska football’s best defenders and the Huskers need him back to 100 percent as soon as possible.
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