It’s a wild time to be a part of the Nebraska football program. Former Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord moved on from the program after an official visit to the campus on Wednesday. As a result, this opened things up to pursue another highly talented option. Things are certainly trending upward in this regard, but there’s even bigger news on the horizon. Senior linebacker Issac Gifford will play his fifth season with the Big Red. Also, right tackle Bryce Benhart will stay to play his sixth. Let’s break down how these storylines impact the program.
A Key Cog for The Blackshirts
As a hybrid linebacker safety, Gifford was one of the bright spots in Tony White’s defense in 2023. The honorable mention All-Big Ten pick led the Blackshirts with 86 tackles. For reference, this hasn’t taken place in a decade. In fact, you would have to go all the way back to 2014 when former Husker linebacker Nate Gerry played under defensive coordinator Carl Pelini. That season, he led the program with 74 total tackles, four interceptions, and eight pass deflections. Certainly, not bad company for him to be with. However, this also means that Gifford has pressure to outdo him. And he just might, if he builds on his stellar play from last season.
Most Improved Offensive Lineman
As a member of the 2018 recruiting class, Benhart was an imposing figure. Before the offensive lineman even got to Lincoln, he measured in at 6-9 and 287 pounds. This meant that he would be an impact player from the jump, right? Wrong. It took a couple of years for him to develop under former offensive line coach Donovan Raiola. But when he did develop, his impact was felt. As a junior right tackle last season, he earned honorable mention Big Ten honors as well as a rushing attack that ranked second in the Big Ten Conference. Can his return generate even more positive results in year two of the Matt Rhule era? It’s certainly trending in that direction.
The Big Payday
If you thought Benhart and Gifford’s return to the Nebraska football program was big, their position coach’s extensions are even bigger. On December 2nd, the Nebraska team website announced that White’s “annual salary has been increased to $1.6 million per year” on each of the remaining seasons of his contract. This is certainly warranted, as his leadership allowed the Blackshirts to have a top 15 defense in the country and the nation’s third-most unit against the run. On the other side of the football, the Lincoln Journal Star reported that “Raiola received an extra year on his coaching contract and a $175,000 raise.” And he’s also set to do big things on the recruiting trail by landing four-star offensive linemen Grant Brix and Preston Taumua. It’s certainly a well-deserved promotion for both parties. But now, the challenge for both coaches is going to be reaching a bowl next season.
Read more about Donovan Raiola’s recruiting strategy for his position in Landen Davidson Commits To Nebraska
Is Raiola Secretly Committed To Nebraska?
A week before signing day begins, Nebraska may just land its quarterback of the future in five-star Dylan Raiola. And it makes sense. He didn’t go to Athens to visit with his future teammates or watch the Georgia Bulldog’s bowl practice against Florida State. Instead, he set up an official visit to the campus on December 15. At this point, this means he might commit to the team. Remember, his father Dominic was an All-American center with the program in 2000, and his uncle is the offensive line coach in Lincoln. Plus, he has a chance to be the Cornhusker’s starter next year. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims has entered the transfer portal, and Chubba Purdy’s future is up in the air. Does this mean that the five-star prospect has the green light to pledge to the university? It’s a question that every Husker fan has on their minds.