The State of Nebraska Football

Yesterday I watched the 2002 Rose Bowl. If you don’t instantly recall that game it’s fine, it was a blow out.

The Miami Hurricanes led by what was basically a NFL pro bowl roster crushed the Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14. The Huskers were led by head coach Frank Solich and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Eric Crouch.

As I watched that game I realized that was the last time Nebraska football was truly relevant as a national title contender.

This was about 20 years ago and Nebraska’s offensive style of ground and pound, run option looked like it belonged in a museum. A play out of the shot gun for either team was only used in extreme instances.

Plenty has changed for Nebraska in that time. They fired Solich the following year, replaced him with Bill Callahan who brought in recruits but destroyed the collegiate traditions and framework of the program.

Replaced him with Bo Pelini, who couldn’t/wouldn’t recruit and stalled out winning 9 games a year, but being repeatedly embarrassed by power house programs.

Then there is a gap of three years that I’d rather not talk about. Before we get to Scott Frost who just finished his third year at Nebraska.

Which leads me to this. Where is Nebraska going? What can we expect from the Huskers? What is the state of the union for Nebraska?

Where Frost Started

To truly analyze where Frost is starting from we have to look at the period of time I refused to talk about in the intro.

I truly believe we are still dealing with the ramifications of the Mike Riley hire. Riley came from a paltry Oregon State, and in turn, turned Nebraska into Oregon State.

Honestly since Riley took over, if you compared Nebraska and Oregon State side by side as simply Team A and Team B, I think you have a tough time telling which is which.

Riley recruited players for his style, which is inherently Pac-12. I hate to break it to everyone, but the Big Ten is so much different than the Pac-12.

If Scott Frost was hired by Oregon State rather than Nebraska after turning around UCF, there would be no expectations, and the national narrative would be “Give him time, what do you want a miracle?”

I am admittedly one of the foolish people who when Frost was hired said in three years Nebraska would be Big Ten Champs.

Those three years are up.

Nebraska is as far away from a conference title as I can remember.

But as I look at it now. Frost going to UCF was able to rebuild a broken culture that had talent. And possibly easier to recruit talent.

Florida is a hot bed for football talent. Any kid that was snubbed by Florida, Florida State or Miami, Frost was able to get to stay at home at UCF.

Also his undefeated 2017 season is impressive sure. But lets not try and pretend that the American Athletic Conference is on par with the Big Ten. There are not many easy outs in Big Ten play.

Coming to Nebraska, Frost not only had to rebuild a broken culture, he needed to accrue talent to fit the Big Ten play style.

He inherited a bad Pac-12 team who was stuck playing in the Big Ten.

The Frost Era

The Scott Frost era has not been all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the era started with storm clouds.

Nebraska and Akron had the first game of the Scott Frost era cancelled due to thunderstorms.

I can still remember sitting in the old press box at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, calling a game and watching eagerly for Nebraska to introduce Scott Frost.

They ran out onto the field, had the opening kick off and when I looked back down, they were running off the field. Heartbreaking.

In his three years Frost has a 12-20 record. Worse than Riley’s three years (19-19).

So why not fire Frost like they did Riley? Remember Riley took over a program that won at least nine games for seven straight seasons. Frost was taking over the Big Ten equivalent to Oregon State.

Riley’s teams were blown out and gave up at half time. Frost’s teams may not win but they fight.

It no has not been all sunshine and rainbows.

2020 a Bad Year For Everyone

We all know the battle Nebraska went through with the Big Ten just to play football and to try and schedule non-conference games. However the pains did not end there for the Huskers.

They went a very inconsistent 3-5. Picking up wins over Penn State, Purdue and Rutgers.

But losing badly to Illinois and Ohio State. Dropping another heartbreaker to Iowa. And losing inexplicably to Minnesota who were missing 33 players due to COVID.

There was a quarterback change between Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey a few weeks in, before they eventually changed back once we realized that McCaffrey didn’t provide that much of an upside just yet.

Nebraska once again struggled in the beating yourself category. Nobody beats the Huskers like Nebraska does.

The Huskers were (-11) in the turnover margin. They gave the ball away eleven times more than they took it from their opponents. Any possession that ended in a kick for Big Red was a good one.

Nebraska was also heavily penalized this season. Averaging 6.8 penalties per game for an average of 60 yards. That’s pretty much an entire drive for a team that the Huskers gave away with mistakes.

They would jump early at games with no fans in the stands to make any sort of noise.

The attention to minor details for Nebraska wasn’t just lacking, it was non-existent.

The offense, the pride and joy of head coach Scott Frost averaged just 23.1 points per game. Ranking 100th out of 127 teams.

Between the white lines, not much went right for Nebraska this year.

2020 A Call For Leadership Answered

What I will say however is this. Off the field, Nebraska did things the right way.

The Huskers had just one game canceled this year due to COVID. It was their Halloween game against Wisconsin, and it was the Badgers who were having COVID issues, not Nebraska.

In fact from what I can recall, I did not hear a single peep about Nebraska having COVID issues. You look around the rest of the Big Ten and teams left and right, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan the list goes on, were having problems with the pandemic.

Granted it’s a very contagious disease, it’s easy to catch and spread, it doesn’t mean these programs lack any honor or integrity.

But it does mean that off the field, Nebraska had things buttoned up. Which is hard to do with a bunch of college kids.

Scott Frost deserves a ton of credit in that regard. That means the message he is pushing to these kids to focus solely on football and school is getting home to them. While the results on the field have yet to come, the results off it are certainly there.

A head coach is first and foremost, a leader. And Frost showed he is certainly that this year with those results.

If I am a parent sending my kid off to a school far away I want them to feel safe and secure with the man who will in large part be watching over them and I would say I’d trust Frost after seeing this year.

2021 A Call For Leadership In The Locker Room

I am highly interested to see how the 2021 season plays out.

Not because of a new recruit or a new assistant coach. But because of who will be the top dogs in that Nebraska locker room.

This last batch of seniors were the final recruits of the Mike Riley era. Now granted, they have spent the bulk of their careers playing under Frost but they are still Riley recruits.

I’ve picked up on small things said through out the year. Players frustrated with the lack of accountability or attention to detail. Coaches saying “If our entire team had this guys heart and hustle.”

And while I tip my cap to these seniors and thank them for what they gave us. Guys like Dedrick Mills, JoJo Domann etc. I also have to wonder if a changing of the guard is necessary.

Speaking from my own experience in Rhode Island high school football. Which I know is so many levels lower than Big Ten collegiate football it’s almost not even the same game.

But a team’s senior leadership was vastly important. Every team has talented under class men, and some can grow into leaders before becoming seniors.

Adrian Martinez was a team captain this past year as a junior, it can happen.

But the seniors are the voices you listen to in that locker room and on the practice field. They are the ones who teach to the younger incoming classes about how things are done around here. They build the culture.

In my own experience I had two great senior classes and one bad one as an under class man. My junior year the seniors were terrible. We had a tragedy strike our team and when deciding whether or not to play that week, the seniors had us split into two groups of who wanted to play, and who didn’t and excluded the JV players because they would obviously vote to want to play if some Varsity spots were to open up.

We had our own team, pitted against each other, staring at each other on different sides of the room. That’s not leadership. To physically split your team like that, and to exclude a certain group doesn’t foster trust and respect. That never sat right with me.

My senior year, we had to learn how to win. We hadn’t had a winning season since I was there. And I can recall our first real game of the season, blowing a lead late in the 4th quarter and having to go to OT. And you could see the “Here we go again” look on everyones face.

But we pulled together and won in overtime. The following week, we were up by two scores in the 4th quarter, and everyone was telling each other to keep playing hard and finish this game. That’s when I felt like we truly learned how to win.

Not only on the field on Friday nights, but also what it took that week in practice to make sure we were ready.

We would lose in the state semi-finals that season. But the following year, that team won the state title. I was not on that team, I don’t credit myself at all for that championship. But I have had former teammates tell me it was in part thanks to my senior class. That we taught them what it took to win week in and week out and how to lead a team.

The main take away from that very long story is that I think this next group of seniors has a real chance to help turn the page at Nebraska.

Again nothing against the class leaving now, but sometimes you just need certain types of people in positions of leadership. They were Riley people, he recruited a different type of individual and character than Frost does.

I truly have a feeling we could see the page finally begin to turn for Nebraska with this new group of seniors.

But Didn’t You Want To Play?

Nebraska opted out of a bowl game this year to the surprise of some. Seeing how hard Nebraska fought at the beginning of the season to play, it seems contradictory to all of a sudden be willingly opting out of another football game.

But there are a few reasons as to why this decision is perfectly acceptable.

First off, they are tired. And I don’t blame them. The Big Ten gave them a grueling 8 games in 8 weeks schedule this year.

Not only that but 2020 has been draining on everybody. Can you imagine piling on being a division one athlete as well?

These kids came for spring ball, it was canceled and then during the summer didn’t go home, they stayed on campus. They then had to prepare for a season that was or wasn’t happening depending on what twitter had to say that day.

And when it came down to it they needed a break.

And the timing of it as well, if you had to choose between playing in the YoutubeTV Bowl or going home and seeing your family for the first time in months for Christmas what are you choosing?

I’ll be honest, I’m taking family and Christmas.

But, wouldn’t the bowl game give you a chance to make an obviously bad team better?

In a normal year? Sure.

Usually the regular season wraps up around Thanksgiving and bowl games are played near Christmas. That is about three weeks worth of incredibly valuable practice time. It gives coaches a chance to give younger guys reps and to get an idea of what their team will be like next year.

However this season the regular games wrapped up for Nebraska on December 18th. Which would give them what, a week? Week and a half at the most of practice? What good does that do anyone?

Bowl games are also usually a reward for these athletes. They go to sometimes go to somewhere with nice weather, get to hang out for a week, get gifts from the bowl game sponsors and more.

This year because of COVID not so much. It’s fly in, play the game, fly out. And this was suppose to be a reward?

These are college kids who are not getting paid to play this game (that we know of). They have sacrificed more than they ever have just to get to this point.

If they are tired and need a break from football, I do not blame them.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to sit here with optimism as a Nebraska fan right now. My most optimistic outlook for this team was that no one got sick and maybe the new senior leadership gives them a push in the right direction.

My three year window on being Big Ten Champs was slammed shut on my fingers. I do not plan on opening one again.

Instead I will preach patience, I will preach good defense, good line play and running the football.

Go Big Red.

Connor Ryan (@connoryan68/@PodVerbalCommit/@YourFantasy_CGS)

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