Will a Healthier 2014 Spell More Victories for NU?
Among college football guru Phil Steele's number crunching activities is a count for each team of starts lost to injury. He's found that teams that are hit especially hard by injury one year tend to fare better in that department the following year and also see their win-loss record improve. The 2013 season is one that saw Nebraska hit harder by injury than most teams. How might that pay off a year from now?
What's Your Number?
Steele's cutoff for lost starts was 32. Counting lost starts isn't necessarily an easy thing to do. Sure it's easy to see which games that Taylor Martinez and Spencer Long missed. But there are some judgment calls to make as well. Is Jamal Turner a starter? Did he lose starts only for games where Nebraska came out with 3 wide receivers? But would the team have come out with three wide if he was still healthy? What about games where an injured player doesn't start but makes an appearance? Is that a lost start? How sure are we that the injury is the reason they didn't start? Those subtleties make it hard to settle on a single number. Even a fairly lowish estimate for Nebraska might be around 25 which would have put Nebraska in the top quartile for most lost starts.
Who You Got?
Then there are the year to year scheduling changes that can be more drastic for some teams than others. All else equal, a healthier Nebraska might be a better team next year. But with a tougher schedule, that may not be evident in the win-loss column. Next season, NU goes on the road to face a Fresno State team that won 11 games this year and brings back some very talented receivers. The Huskers then host a Miami team that won 9 games this year. Nebraska has to go to East Lansing to face defending Big Ten champ Michigan State. There's also trips slated to Madison to face Wisconsin, Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes, and Evanston to take on Northwestern. Rutgers and Minnesota may not just lie down for NU in Lincoln either.
A healtier 2014 would surely be an advantage over this past season. But there are some headwinds in the future as well, particularly when it comes to the schedule. Hopefully, NU is another one of those teams that manages to add wins after a tough injury year.