Nebraska Football: Chill Out About the Top-25 Rankings, Husker Fan

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Last week, two different analytics-based top 25 rankings for 2020 came out, and Nebraska made the cut in both. ESPN’s Bill Connelly has his SP+ ranking put Nebraska at no. 25, and ESPN’s Football Power Index listed Nebraska at no. 22.

Nebraska fans, to their undying credit, freaked out – by being upset that NU doesn’t deserve the hype. Last year, Nebraska was the darling of the college football world, picked in everyone’s top 25, even made a sleeper playoff team. That reality came crashing down pretty quickly, and a smart and particularly handsome analyst talked about the poison of Kool-Aid on a fanbase.

Well, good job, Husker Fan, y’all were listening. Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald pointed out that the response to Nebraska’s top 25 rankings from fans has been to be upset that NU is getting pre-season hype.

In general, that’s the right result. Coming off three losing seasons and with a brutal 2020 schedule, it’s going to be critical for Nebraska fans’ collective sanity to keep expectations reasonable. A 7-5 season for this team, with this schedule, should be viewed as a success – regardless how foreign that sounds to Nebraska fans.

Having said that, though, these two particular top 25 rankings shouldn’t freak Nebraska fans out. Both SP+ and the FPI are data-driven, as opposed to subjective opinions about what’s going to happen. And one of the biggest components in both metrics is returning offensive production, which Nebraska has in spades this season.

Nebraska’s got a returning two-year starter at quarterback (ok, fine all you Luke McCaffrey stans, most likely). Nebraska’s starting running back, two top wide receivers, and top tight end will be coming back. Most of Nebraska’s offensive line returns. And Nebraska’s head coach returns for his third season in charge.

Those returning starters are a significant part of the formula both SP+ and the FPI use in the preseason to rank teams. And the advantage of data-driven rankings is that they take subjectivity out of the analysis. Given Nebraska’s faceplant last season, it’s only natural to resist ranking NU highly the following season. It’s certainly natural (although, in all candor, a bit unexpected) for Nebraska fans to resist the “woo we’ll be awesome this year” impulse.

But analytics don’t care about any of that. The numbers say what they say, and the algorithms that spit out those numbers are tuned year in and year out to find which data points are most correlative to future results. It worked that way last year, when the analytic rankings were predicting Nebraska to win five to six games, regardless of their pre-season hype.

Of course, there’s no guarantees. Like Connelly says, analytics are the start of a conversation, not the end of one. And just from a survival skill perspective, it’s understandable – even healthy – for Nebraska fans to be skeptical of anything that looks like unearned glory.

So don’t freak out, Husker Fan. There’s good reason to think Nebraska’s offense in particular might very well be significantly better than last year. If you can find a way to acknowledge that possibility without going right to “Adrian Martinez gonna win the Heisman yo,” then the 2020 season might not quite be the chewing-broken-glass ordeal the last few years have been for the scarlet and cream faithful.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Taysom Hill a Blueprint for Luke McCaffrey

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On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints in a wild card playoff game on a disturbingly familiar official’s decision. But the Saints’ controversial loss hides a remarkable performance from New Orleans’ backup quarterback Taysom Hill.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Hill is the Saints’ backup quarterback/running back/wide receiver/kick coverage specialist. While Hill may be the heir apparent to Drew Brees, Saints head coach Sean Payton has been very creative in finding ways to use Hill’s talents even with Brees under center.

Against the Vikings, here’s Hill’s stats. There’s … a lot going on.

Passing 1/1, 50 yards, TD
Rushing 4 carries, 50 yards (led team in rushing)
Receiving 2 catches, 3 targets, 25 yards, TD
Defensive 1 tackle

Watching this game, it’s hard not to let your mind wander a little bit and wonder if Scott Frost is watching too. Because Luke McCaffrey bears a lot of resemblance to Hill, and not just because they both wear number 7.

Hill is six-foot-two and 220 pounds. McCaffrey is six-foot-two and 200 pounds. Hill put up a 4.44 40-yard-dash time at the NFL combine. McCaffrey has put up a 4.5 40-yard-dash. Hill was a dual-threat weapon at quarterback in college. McCaffrey is a dual-threat weapon that provided Nebraska quite a spark in his limited appearances under center.

Now, Nebraska looks to have a spirited competition at quarterback for 2020. Adrian Martinez, as a two-year starter, should have an inside track, especially coming off an injured sophomore campaign. McCaffrey sparkled in his times both under center and on the field last season. And freshman Logan Smothers bears so many resemblances to a younger Martinez in terms of size, speed, and athletic ability.

There’s no question that McCaffrey could beat Martinez out and be Nebraska’s starting quarterback next season, especially if Martinez doesn’t recover fully from his injuries. McCaffrey only played four games last year, so he still has four years of eligibility to use, and Martinez will be a junior next year.

But if Martinez (or, heck, Smothers) wins the job, there’s an opportunity for McCaffrey to take on a Hill-like role for Nebraska’s offense. We saw it last year, in a limited role. McCaffrey had 24 carries for 166 yards and a touchdown, and one catch for 12 yards, in addition to going 9-12 for 142 yards and two touchdowns as a quarterback.

According to Bob Hamar of the Grand Island Independent, Frost is well aware of McCaffrey’s versatile skills.

“He’s a really good football player,” Frost said of McCaffrey. “He can run, he can throw, he can catch, he loves it, so he’s going to be a really good player for us around here for a long time and we thought it was smart to get a guy like that on the field.”

Frost wanted to make it clear that McCaffrey’s future is at quarterback, but he can provide some help at receiver going into Friday’s game against Iowa.

Frost said quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco makes sure all his quarterbacks know the assignments of all the offensive players on every play. That makes it possible for a player like McCaffrey to slide into another position.

“Luke is an extremely versatile guy,” Frost said. “You can just see the raw athleticism that he’s got. He’s going to be a hell of a ball player for us in the future. I just look forward to however we use him, whether that is how we did last week or if that’s at quarterback, wherever he’s needed. But he’s a hell of a ball player and I can’t wait to see him in the future.”

Of course, Frost’s focus was on McCaffrey staying at quarterback. There was at least a good argument that McCaffrey was more effective in his time at quarterback than Martinez was. And especially with a third talented quarterback entering the room (and that’s not even talking about Noah Vedral), Frost has to know he runs the risk of losing someone to the transfer portal.

But if Martinez does win the job, and McCaffrey still sees himself as Nebraska’s future starting quarterback – much like Hill is waiting for his shot after Brees retires – then Frost would have an opportunity to get creative with McCaffrey’s skills.

Nebraska’s got a lot of new talent at skill positions coming in. But there’s precious little in terms of returning production, outside of JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson. If Martinez does win the job, then Frost will have an entire offseason to devise clever ways to use McCaffrey’s talents.

It doesn’t have to be a main feature of Nebraska’s offense. Hopefully some of Nebraska’s incoming talent (especially junior college transfer Omar Manning) will provide some day-one assistance.

But anyone who has watched the Saints this season knows that Hill’s role in the offense has grown and he’s become a legitimate weapon for New Orleans. If the Saints would have won the game, Peyton’s use of Hill would have been one of the primary reasons cited for the victory.

So maybe Frost can steal a page or two from Peyton’s playbook and find more ways to get an explosive and dangerous playmaker like McCaffrey on the field more in 2020.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Frost Effect Still Showing in Husker Recruiting

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Nebraska head football coach Scott Frost signed a class of 25 for the 2020 early signing period. That class was ranked no. 20 overall by 247 Sports, no. 4 in the B1G, and no 1 in the B1G West.

Nebraska’s class was only behind the conference’s recruiting juggernauts Ohio State (no. 3), Michigan (no. 12) and Penn State (no. 13). And although as the Omaha World-Herald’s Sam McKewon points out, the rest of the B1G West is also doing better on the recruiting trail, Nebraska still holds a decided advantage over its nearest division rivals Wisconsin (no. 26), Purdue (no. 29), Iowa (no. 31), and Minnesota (no. 33).

What is remarkable about Nebraska’s recruiting accomplishment, of course, is how it doesn’t match performance on the field. Nebraska is coming off of a third straight losing season, and yet is able to attract top-20 talent to Lincoln.

Some of this is a testament to the enduring attraction of a blue-blood historic program like Nebraska. Even long dormant, the echoes of glories past still can be heard by at least some of the prospects visiting Memorial Stadium, inviting them to join in the story.

But I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Nebraska’s recruiting success even in this historically fallow period is due to Frost’s charisma and vision. If there is one thing from which he has never wavered, it is that he “knows where this is going.” And you can hear lots of Frost’s recruits echoing that line.

So I got to wondering just how unique Nebraska’s recruiting accomplishment has been compared to its lack of performance on the field. I took the 247 top 25, and calculated each team’s winning percentage from 2017 to 2019, to get a visualization of just how much an outlier Nebraska is in terms of recruiting accomplishments in comparison to wins and losses.

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As you can see, with one exception (oh hai north carolina y’all have been garbage lately), Nebraska’s winning percentage – or, more accurately, lack of winning percentage – really does stand out from the rest of the top 25 recruiting programs. That dichotomy is a visual reflection of the Frost effect, of Frost’s ability to keep alive his vision of “where this thing is going” and get top-flight talent from around the nation to believe it.

Of course, this can’t go on forever. If Nebraska continues to struggle on the field, eventually Frost’s belief and strength of personality won’t be enough, and the recruits will stop coming. In the very near term, whether that’s next year or within the next two, Nebraska’s win-loss record has to start matching its recruiting success.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Wisconsin 37, Nebraska 21

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It wasn’t as bad as we expected, was it, Husker Fan?

Wisconsin came to Lincoln and beat Nebraska 37-21, but in the loss NU showed signs of life we haven’t seen all season. Head coach Scott Frost’s offense finally showed signs of life, outgaining Wisconsin 493-482. Fourteen of Wisconsin’s points came from two broken plays, a kick return touchdown and a 55-yard reception that ended up being a clinic on how to miss tackles from the Blackshirts. Nebraska had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board, but failed to cash in.

So in reviewing the game, here’s what we saw.

The Good

Oh Hai Dedrick. In the previous four games, Nebraska running back Dedrick Mills had six carries for 18 yards, eight carries for 30 yards, nine carries for 28 yards, and ten carries for 26 yards.

Against Wisconsin – currently the no. 12 rushing defense in the nation – Mills had 17 carries for 188 yards.

With freshman phenom Wan’Dale Robinson out injured, Mills had to shoulder the lions’ share of carries, and he answered the bell remarkable, running with speed and decisiveness we haven’t seen this season. If this Mills shows up for the next two games, Nebraska’s quest for a bowl game will be boosted significantly.

Extension Suspense. Just before the game, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos announced that Frost was signed to a two-year extension, putting him under contract until 2026. To the locals, the announcement seemed a little strange, as there didn’t seem to be much question about whether Frost’s job was unsafe.

Initially, my thought was that Frost and Moos had at least a suspicion that the rest of 2019 was going to go badly, and to provide some pre-emptive support to head off a disgruntled fanbase. But after listening to other commentary, it does seem more likely that the main reasons for recruiting.

After all, both Florida State and Arkansas fired their head coaches before they finished their second seasons. Sure, Nebraska’s situation is far different from the other two programs – but that’s only if you know the history of Frost with Nebraska. The kids who are being recruited have no such knowledge, and you can bet that coaches competing against Nebraska for those kids aren’t being shy about comparing Nebraska to Florida State or Arkansas.

So Frost’s extension is an inoculation against that negative recruiting. There was little chance Frost wouldn’t be in Lincoln for many years to come. By giving him the extension, Moos is making it that much easier for Frost to be successful.

A Kicker Away. Try this thought experiment with me. Even if everything else remained the same – Jonathan Taylor going over 200 yards, Adrian Martinez’s baffling 20-yard sack and backbreaking interception, Nebraska’s secondary attempting to tackle Wisconsin receiver A.J.  by pretending they are torpedoes without arms – Nebraska was still a competent placekicker away from winning the game.

Nebraska missed a 41-yard field goal and failed on fourth down attempts from Wisconsin’s 34, 15, and 1. Field goals from those positions would have been from 52, 32, and 18 (!) yards. A kicker that could go 4-for-4 from those distances would have added an additional 12 points to Nebraska’s tally.

And don’t forget Nebraska’s disastrously short and misplaced kickoff directly after its first touchdown, which Wisconsin returned for a touchdown of its own. A better kick almost certainly takes the touchdown return off the table, and at least forces the Badgers to drive the field to score. In other words, having a competent placekicker would have taken seven points off Wisconsin’s score.

That adds up to a score of Nebraska (21 + 12 =) 33, Wisconsin (37 – 7 =) 30.

The point of this thought experiment isn’t to find excuses as much as it is to find silver linings. With Nebraska sitting at 4-6 after two straight 4-8 campaigns, it can seem like Nebraska is (in Frost’s words) “miles away” from glory (quote from Mitch Sherman of The Athletic).

That’s not the case though, at least it wasn’t against Wisconsin. Nebraska, even with all its 2019 warts, was still just a competent placekicker away from beating the Badgers.

The Bad

Negatives in Positive Territory. If you have watched Nebraska this year, you know it seems like it has been in enemy territory all the time with precious little to show for it. So I decided to lift the hood and look at what Nebraska’s done against Power-5 opponents this year.

I looked at how many drives both Nebraska and its opponents have had with possessions starting inside the 50, starting inside the opponents’ 25, and what their average points per drive (PPD) resulted from those possessions. Here’s what I found

  Inside 50, NU Inside 50, opp Inside 25, NU Inside 25, opp PPD 50+, NU PPD 50+, opp PPD 25+, NU PPD 25+, opp
Col 5 9 2 5 2 3.8 5 5.4
Ill 8 6 8 4 5.25 5.17 5.25 7
NW 5 7 4 3 2.6 1.43 3.25 3.34
Minn 6 7 1 5 1.17 5 7 7
Ind 9 9 7 7 2.67 4.23 3.43 5.43
Wis 7 7 3 5 2 3.29 0 5.46
Total 40 45 25 29 2.75 3.8 3.84 5.55

What do these numbers tell us? Well, here’s what I took from it.

  • Nebraska has gotten into plus territory and inside its opponents 25 just about as often as its opponents, meaning NU’s offense has been getting into scoring position.
  • In games Nebraska has won (Illinois, Northwestern), Nebraska did better inside the 50 than its opponents.
  • Since Illinois, Nebraska has been bad, but not terrible, from inside the 25. But it has been absolutely horrendous from 50 to 25.
  • Northwestern’s offense was really bad, you guys.

So yeah, you weren’t imagining things. The numbers back up what your perception likely was – that Nebraska’s struggles can really be focused on the area from the 50 to the opponent’s 25 yard line.

And The Weight of Moral Victories

Nebraska lost to Wisconsin at home. Nebraska was a 13.5 point underdog at home to Wisconsin and failed to cover. Nebraska gave up 200 yards rushing – again – to Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

And yet the mood walking out of Memorial Stadium was – optimism?

Part of that comes from an offense that finally returned to life. Nebraska outgained Wisconsin even as it lost by 16 points – and that’s hard to do, y’all. But Frost’s calling card has always been his offensive prowess. So the offensive doldrums Nebraska endured for the last three games really did seem like an existential challenge for Frost’s success at Nebraska.

Seeing Nebraska succeed offensively, even in a loss, helped fuel the fire of hope. And even though defensive coordinator Erik Chinander took more than his share of barbs, the fact that Wisconsin’s offense (absent a few chunk plays) had to work its way down the field on the Blackshirts was a pleasant surprise.

Some of this might be the poverty of low expectations. Some of it might just be a fanbase wandering through the desert of mediocrity and desperately clinging to any drop of hope. But whatever it is, in this Upside-Down world that is Nebraska football now, Husker Fan is feeling better about things after a 16-point home loss to a conference rival.

At the very least, though, Wisconsin is stuck having to house the hideously ugly Freedom Trophy for another year. Take that, Badgers.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Barry’s “Rebellious” Quote Helps Explain Huskers’ Struggles

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Twenty-one games into Scott Frost’s tenure as Nebraska’s head coach, fans are in their feelings far more than they expected to be. After an off-season filled with dreams of unearned glory, the reality of a 4-5 Nebraska squad and a long, arduous rebuilding process stares them square in the face. Everyone connected to the program has struggled for some concrete evidence to base a judgment about how a programs like Nebraska’s can be floundering so badly.

At least, I felt adrift and without any good answers. Then I read this quote in a story by Parker Gabriel of the Lincoln Journal-Star from senior linebacker Mohammed Barry, one of the team’s captains, given before the Purdue game (emphasis added):

“We’ve said that stuff three years in a row,” Barry said. “I’m not going to keep putting it on that. I know what teams (with bad culture) look like. There were guys that literally did it deliberately, just wasn’t bought in, wanted to go against Coach. There’s no rebellious people on the team now. That’s not happening. That’s all shut down. It’s just people have to want it more, have to just be disciplined.”

Maybe I’m just naïve. Maybe this comes from a place of never having played football.

But Nebraska’s been through some dark times. The hand-picked heir of a beloved icon was fired less than two years removed from a national championship appearance. The fanbase was torn apart by a forced culture change that didn’t work. A head coach literally said “fuck you” to the fanbase and literally attempted to sabotage the program after he got fired.

But through all that, I never heard of a team in open rebellion against a coach. Maybe it’s happened and we’ve never heard of it. Hearing Barry say it out loud, though, in public is jarring to see, and really puts a new light on the depth of the hole Frost is digging Nebraska’s program out of.

I know, we’re all sick of hearing about culture and knowing where things are going. But seriously, if the baseline you’re having to start with as a new coach is “I wonder which of my guys are going to actively ignore the things I tell them,” you’re starting at quite a disadvantage.

Barry says that rebellious players aren’t an issue anymore – which hopefully is true, although I’m not sure we’d know about it if it wasn’t.  But even this year, Frost’s second, is the first year of just building trust and buy-in, that helps explain why we’re still asking questions about “culture” eighteen games into his tenure.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst has been giving you, Husker Fan, reasons for optimism about Nebraska football going forward. Well, if you want evidence of how bad the problems were when Frost arrived – and therefore how much time he’s going to need to have a reasonable shot to fix them – look no further than Barry’s revelatory quote.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Survival Tips for Husker Fans

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I don’t know what to tell you, Husker Fan.

I know you usually come here for a little analysis of the game and a little big-picture thinking about life as a fan. Usually it involves some pithy invocation of “in all kinds of weather” as a call to persevere.

After Nebraska’s loss to Purdue, I’m running out of things to say. Nebraska football just feels like the sequel to “Groundhog’s Day” that no one needed, where we just see the same gut-punching loss over and over and over again.

At this point, it feels like we all need a little guidance for how to get through these troubled times. We’ve heard quite a bit about what’s OK and what’s not OK, so I thought it was time to look at that in terms of how fans should respond to Nebraska’s current foibles.

A LITTLE SELF-CARE IS OK

I get it, Husker Fan. Nebraska football is an integral part of your life, especially in the autumn. Gameday really is a three day event, covering the excitement of the day before, the game itself, and the day after either reveling or mourning the result of the game.

But these aren’t normal times. Nebraska is 4-5, and all but certainly will not be going to a bowl for a third straight year. To go from the dizzying heights of this year’s off-season Kool-Aid to getting beat by 2-6 Purdue is quite a fall.

So it’s OK to give Nebraska a little space for the rest of this year. I ended up listening to most of the second half on the radio doing yardwork, and it was far, far healthier than watching the television helplessly and obsessively refreshing Twitter. Just after the game was over, I changed out of my game-day apparel and put my Nebraska flag away. I was angry and frustrated and just couldn’t bear to look at the N any more.

It worked. Pretty soon, I was able to get myself into a far more regulated state of mind. One of the great things about sports is that we care so much about things that are ultimately meaningless. But if that’s true, then for our own sanity we have to be able to remember that it is meaningless in the grander scheme of things.

So do what you have to in order to get through these next few weeks – or few months. Not holding Nebraska football quite so tight as you usually do isn’t the same thing as letting it go.

QUITTING IS NOT OK

Look, I know it’s been a painful ride these last few years. But you wouldn’t be reading this if Nebraska football wasn’t a huge part of your identity. And it’s times like these – and unfortunately, Husker Fan, you’ve seen a lot of them – that will truly try your scarlet and cream soul.

But now’s not the time to pack it in. You’ve long ago bought a ticket to this thrill ride called Nebraska football. And sure, right now the roller-coaster car is on a long, long fall – and the track is uncomfortably shaking.

Even with that, though, you had a few shots of joy and excitement. Even in this game, there were many (although, in fairness, not quite enough) get-out-of-your-seat moments that you just don’t get to feel anyplace else. Walking away from Nebraska football means you’re giving those up, and I would suggest that your life would be the poorer for it.

And there’s a bigger stake to it as well. My main thesis about Nebraska football is that it has the potential to be great almost entirely because of it’s uniquely committed fanbase. If Nebraska fans allow the current run of frustration to cool the fire that’s burned since the 1940s, then Nebraska really does run the risk of becoming nothing more than just another midwestern B1G program.

Don’t let that happen, Husker Fan. Nebraska’s football program has the kind of administrative and financial backing it hasn’t had in some time. It has a young and promising head coach – who, we need to remember, is in his fourth season as a head coach. None of that guarantees success, of course, but there’s enough there that should convince you to stay on this crazy thrill ride with the rest of us.

BEING ANGRY IS OK

You can say all the happy, positive things you want, but it’s inarguable that Nebraska’s performances this season simply haven’t been good enough. There’s enough blame to go around to both players and coaches, and I don’t have either the expertise or the energy left to figure out how to apportion those.

But you’ve got every right to be angry about what you’ve seen. You’ve got every right to expect better. You’ve got every right to ask hard questions and expect to see answers.

That anger, that frustration, isn’t negativity. It’s holding a team and a coaching staff to a higher standard.

BEING UGLY IS NOT OK

Having said that, the anger and frustration does not give you license to be abusive. It doesn’t give you license to mindlessly vent your frustration at coaches. It certainly doesn’t give you license to

Mike Schaefer of 247 Sports put it better than I could.

Be angry, yes. Be frustrated, sure. But don’t be an asshole. And if you can’t tell the difference, maybe pipe down and go do some yardwork – or scroll down a little bit and read the bit about your self-worth not being defined by your favorite team’s performance.

BEING REALISTIC IS OK

There’s a certain segment of the fanbase that cannot abide anything other than rabid homerism. And for some people, that’s how they enjoy their experience of fandom, and if that’s what works more power to them.

But not everyone is like that. I find it’s way healthier to be able to look realistically at Nebraska as it is, as best as I can tell. Saying that Nebraska is unlikely to make a bowl this year isn’t negative – and after this game, probably not even much of a hot take. Saying that Adrian Martinez, for whatever reason, isn’t the guy that gives Nebraska the best chance to win isn’t being toxic. Saying that Scott Frost looks like he doesn’t know what to do with this team isn’t showing a lack of faith.

If you’re a Johnny Sunshine, all-optimism fan, then you do you. But a little dose of realism in the fanbase may help all of us be a little healthier.

BEING FATALISTIC IS NOT OK

I’m going to let you in on a few secrets.

Scott Frost isn’t going to get fired. He’s not going to fire all his coaches. Nebraska will, in fact, win another game – heck, they might even find a way to win two more and go to a bowl this year.

Fatalism is a defense mechanism, and an understandable one. If you give up on hope, then you can’t be disappointed. But marinating in that negativity for too long is just toxic. If you decide that everything in awful, you run the risk of losing the ability to see anything but the awful. And pretty soon that will suck all of the joy out of what should be something fun.

IT’S OK TO TAKE IT ONE GAME AT A TIME

This classic piece of coach-speak might be the most important way to keep your sanity, especially for the rest of this season. I know part of the fun of college football is to think about how a win in each game fits into the grander conference and national scheme of things.

Well, Husker Fan, that’s not an issue for Nebraska this year. But there’s still three games left – and we only get twelve of these for a whole year. It’s time to start looking at these last three games as individual, one-game spectacles. Regardless of what it may or may not mean in the grander scheme of things, Wisconsin is still coming to Lincoln next. We still get to see Nebraska at home in Memorial Stadium – and maybe, just maybe, all the emotional investment you’ve poured into this program will pay off for at least an afternoon.

Same thing with the Maryland game on the road in a few weeks. It’s still a Nebraska gameday. It’s still your chance to get on this crazy thrill ride we’ve all bought into. Regardless of what the broader implications of the result, it’s still a game to ride the wave.

And then the season ends with Iowa. Come on now, Husker Fan, even if Nebraska is sitting at 4-7, how good would it feel to knock off your noisy neighbors to the east? It’s one more chance to feel that adrenaline in your veins, to ride the thrill ride that is Nebraska football for one more time until that long, long offseason.

IT’S NOT OK TO DEFINE YOUR SELF-WORTH BY THE SUCCESS OF YOUR FAVORITE TEAM

When I was younger, I had an epiphany walking out of Memorial Stadium, feeling terrible about myself after another loss to Oklahoma. I was so sad, and so upset, and so tired of feeling like I was a failure.

And then it hit me. All I was doing was watching a game. Why did I feel like a failure? Sure, I was sad and disappointed, but why was I letting the fortunes of a college football team over which I had precious little control govern how I felt about myself?

That realization has always helped me keep sports and fandom in some degree of perspective – although some times, not as much as it should. It’s part of what I worry about when I hear fans talk about their favorite team as “we.” Sure, it makes you feel good when your team wins.

But the dark part of that is times like this. Feeling sad and disappointed is understandable. But I think a lot of the really toxic negativity that you see from fans comes in large part because such a huge chunk of their self-worth is tied up in the success of their favorite team. So, when the team loses, they perceive it as a slight on themselves personally, and respond with anger and ugliness accordingly.

You don’t need to be embarrassed by the team you support. There’s nothing at all wrong with saying that yeah, they’re kinda garbage right now. You’ll find that you get a lot more respect – at least from some fans of other teams – by being able to take it in a good-natured way and put the sport in the perspective it deserves.

I’m not the biggest Jerry Seinfeld fan in the world, but he got it absolutely right with this.

Don’t fall into that trap, Husker Fan. If you’ve read this far, then I already know you are an amazing, wonderful human being. Don’t let Nebraska’s fortunes blind you of that fact.

Be good to each other, fellow fans. We’re gonna need it for the next few months.

GBR, baby.

Why Nebraska Fans Should Not Give Up on Dreams of Glory

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I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything. And yes, I am aware that there is a football season ongoing for Nebraska.

Some of it has been personal challenges, which you aren’t interested in reading about. But, honestly, most of it has been Minnesota. Watching Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota really shook what I thought about this program.

The Ohio State loss wasn’t fun to watch, but given where the Buckeyes are it was at least understandable. Heck, I even wrote about how to respond as a Nebraska fan.

Nebraska bounced back from the Ohio State loss with a gritty (some might say ugly) win over Northwestern at home, and it looked like maybe things had changed.

And then Nebraska went to Minneapolis, and got steamrollered by the Golden Gophers. Nebraska lost 34-7, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as that score indicated. While head coach Scott Frost would later say that much of Minnesota’s ability to move the ball came from poor run fits rather than being beaten physically, it was inarguable that Minnesota was the better team.

In 2017, an ugly loss to Minnesota in Minneapolis was the final nail in the coffin of Mike Riley’s tenure as Nebraska’s head coach. With Riley’s firing after the 2017 season and Frost’s arrival, combined with the optimism that surrounded the beginning of this season, the one sure thing seemed to be that the 2017 debacle in Minneapolis couldn’t be repeated.

Well, the debacle was repeated in 2019, and the faith of many Nebraska fans (including myself) was shaken to the core. It wasn’t until Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald wrote this column that I really felt I had some perspective on where Nebraska is as a program.

Chatelain’s basic point is that Nebraska has been down for so long, stuck in this mire for so long, that the expectation of Nebraska as a national powerhouse is no longer reasonable. Here’s kind of the point of the column boiled down.

Nebraska football is the 60-year-old golfer who insists on playing the tees he played at 30. He can’t believe it when his drive doesn’t carry the bunker. Nebraska football is the guy at open gym calling for alley-oops on the fast break. And when the lob comes? It sails over his fingertips out of bounds.

How foolish would it be if Illinois or Purdue stood up in August and proclaimed their Big Ten championship plans? Yet we hear it from Nebraska every year and barely think twice. We encourage it. We see “College GameDay” roll into town and get intoxicated by ’90s flashbacks and then the game starts and, whoa, what happened here?

For years, I’ve told myself it was only a matter of time before Nebraska stumbled onto prosperity again. Even Kansas and Baylor and Northwestern and Minnesota have breakout seasons. Now I’m not so sure.

I share that uncertainty. I’ve written about how there are no guarantees of success, even if Frost is “the guy” for Nebraska. I’ve thought about how familiar Frost’s responses are when Nebraska loses. And, most uncomfortably, when I hear people say with certainty that Frost is “the guy” I’ve had to push away the thought asking myself “do you think that just because it’s what you want to believe?”

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chatelain. It takes guts to write a column like this, just like it took guts to face down an irate Bo Pelini in his prime. Chatelain is the prime target of the ultras in Nebraska’s fanbase who can’t abide by anyone not serving up the Kool-Aid of inevitable success right around the corner.

Having said that, I’m not sure I’m willing to reach the same conclusion that Chatelain appears to draw at the end of the piece.

Nebraska football, for better or worse, is a rotten institution. Hollow at the core. The status quo isn’t nine wins and a Top 25 ranking. We’re living the new status quo. And the sooner we all recognize that Nebraska isn’t supposed to beat Indiana, the sooner it might.

First of all, I’m not sure what circumstance would constitute Nebraska football being a rotten institution as “for better.” And while he’s right that the status quo is no longer the nine-win plateau of the Pelini era, the conclusion he seems to draw is that Nebraska won’t pull out of the quagmire in which it is stuck until the expectations of success go away. If Nebraska fans would just be cool with mediocre football, then they could enjoy a once-in-a-blue-moon success story more. And, more importantly, if those expectations go away, then the pressures go away and (insert magic wand waiving here) the wins will return.

Not only is that nonsense, it’s dangerous thinking for the ongoing project of Nebraska football.

For the most part, the teams that are perennial powerhouses have some built-in advantages. Teams like Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU, and Clemson are all nestled in recruiting hotbeds, making the acquisition of five-star talent much simpler. Oregon is a little bit of an outlier, but the Nike money flowing into Eugene helps compensate for that difficulty.

Nebraska … is not in a recruiting hotbed. There are only a couple of things that differentiate Nebraska from Baylor, Northwestern, Minnesota, and the other programs that Chatelain cites as having “breakout seasons.”

First, Nebraska’s tradition of success will always give it more benefit of the doubt if there’s even a possibility that the team could be competitive. Having College GameDay show up on campus for a team that went 4-8 the last two seasons and hadn’t beaten anyone better than Northern Illinois is evidence to that proposition.

The second is related to the first. While Nebraska fans are quick to strain their shoulders patting themselves on the back, it’s also inarguable that the dedication Nebraska fans to their team regardless of circumstance (some might even say in all kinds of weather) is unique in college football.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed this out after Nebraska’s gut-punch loss to Colorado in Boulder.

Even more than other programs, Husker Fan, you are the beating heart of why Nebraska is considered a blue-blood of college football. From a distance, there’s no reason the Nebraska program should be considered alongside the royalty of college football.

Except for you. You’re the ones who painted Folsom Field red, and in doing so you were the spiritual heirs of all those red-clad faithful that boarded the trains and descended on the Rose Bowl in 1941. You’re the ones who have sold out Memorial Stadium since 1962. You’re the ones, ultimately, who provide the platform from which Nebraska has the potential to launch itself back into the college football stratosphere.

You know the tune. You’ve sung the words – probably about a half-count off the beat, because that’s how we Nebraskans roll.

We’ll all stick together, in all kinds of weather, for dear old Nebraska U

The problem with Chatelain’s conclusion – it’s the expectations that are sabotaging Nebraska – is the corollary of the above thesis. It’s because Nebraska fans care so damn much, and won’t accept anything less than excellence, that Nebraska can differentiate itself from the Baylors and Northwesterns and Minnesotas and other programs that can’t trip over five-star defensive ends on the way to Zaxby’s for lunch.

If that goes away, then the beating heart of what makes it true that There Is No Place Like Nebraska goes away, and Nebraska really does become another Iowa or Indiana or Minnesota.

Sure, that’s arrogant to say, especially for a program that’s been looking up at Iowa for a while and just got beat by both Indiana and Minnesota. But it’s still true. Nebraska’s ceiling – whether it gets there or not – is higher than those programs, and it’s higher in large part because of the rabid fan base that propels it there.

And while we’re at questioning Chatelain’s conclusion, there’s one predicate to his argument that deserve some scrutiny as well. Chatelain said that there is no other program that has gone through a drought like Nebraska. Let’s consider that, taking a look at the records of six programs:

  # of years W L T Pct.
Program 1 17 133 87 0 .605
Program 2 12 92 67 0 .579
Program 3 22 157 98 7 .607
Program 4 12 77 58 3 .564
Program 5 22 144 99 1 .591
Program 6 17 141 77 0 .647

Programs 1-5 look fairly similar, don’t they? Each one had over a decade of mediocrity on the football field. Care to know who these programs are?

Program 1 Nebraska (2002-2018)
Program 2 Alabama (1995-2007)
Program 3 USC (1980-2001)
Program 4 Oklahoma (1988-1999)
Program 5 Clemson (1991-2010)

What’s the point of this? College football programs, particularly ones rich in tradition, can survive long droughts of success. Nebraska football as a program is far more resilient than we are giving it credit for. Yes, this long run has been painful and difficult. But we shouldn’t fall victim to recency bias (even if the “recency” in this case spans several presidential administrations).

All the pieces are still in place for Nebraska to return to national prominence in college football. Once Frost – or the next guy, if Frost doesn’t succeed – starts seeing success on the field, the underlying pieces are in place to vault Nebraska back to that national spotlight its fans so desperately crave.

But wait, you say. Who is this Program 6 you included in your list? Well, that would be Iowa, from 2002 to 2018, the same sample size as Nebraska. Why include the Hawkeyes in this analysis?

Mainly for a sense of perspective. The period from 2002-2018 is generally looked at from an Iowa perspective as one of the golden eras in Hawkeye football, while the same period has been viewed as a desert for Nebraska. And yet the difference between the two is a total of eight wins – which works out to a difference of 0.471 wins per season over that time period.

You could make an argument that the Iowa perspective is healthier. But it is also an acknowledgment that their current run is a ceiling of success, and that the fans should be grateful for the wins they have, understanding their place in the college football universe. Nebraska fans are not willing to concede that point – and are willing to endure the heartaches of that frustration in exchange for the potential of greater glory.

Which side of that bargain would you take, Husker Fan? I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Ohio State 48, Nebraska 7

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“It’s déjà vu all over again!”

– Yogi Berra

It started out like a day for history to be made. ESPN’s “College GameDay” was in Lincoln, for the first time since 2007. Gabrielle Union was the celebrity picker (news flash – she picked Nebraska) and the NU program enjoyed the national spotlight. And after a gutty come-from-behind win the week before, the fanbase was ready to turn the page.

History, though, stubbornly refused to comply. Nebraska fell behind 17-0 after Ohio State’s first three possessions, and 38-0 at halftime. Adrian Martinez was, at one point, 2-for-7 with three interceptions. Nebraska fans didn’t get to release their balloons until well into the third quarter, when Dedrick Mills notched NU’s only score of the game.

So for a rough evening for Nebraska fans …

THE GOOD

Ohio State: Before we get into looking too much at Nebraska, a word needs to be said about the 2019 Buckeyes and how good they looked. J.K. Dobbins looks like an elite NFL-caliber running back, moving at a different speed than everyone else on the field. Justin Fields looked completely comfortable in his first test on the road. And Ohio State’s defense looked fast, strong, and smart.

Sure, Nebraska’s mistakes and turnovers helped grease the skids towards a blowout. But given the talent disparity, it would have taken a clean game from Nebraska and mistakes from Ohio State for the contest to be competitive. Even had Nebraska played that complete game – which Nebraska was not even close to accomplishing – Ohio State’s ruthless efficiency proved far too much for Nebraska to keep up with.

All Our Goals Are Still In Front Of Us: Yeah, that was no fun. But even going into the season, no one seriously thought Nebraska was on a level playing field with Ohio State. The first step for Nebraska’s return has to be competing in the B1G West. And that question is still very much open.

Nebraska’s next four games are home to Northwestern, at Minnesota, home to Indiana, and at Purdue. While nothing is for sure, these are all far more navigable waters than Ohio State. Even going 3-1 in this stretch would put Nebraska at 6-3 overall – bowl-eligible – and 4-2 in conference.

Then, Nebraska gets Wisconsin at home, at Maryland, and Iowa at home on Black Friday. If Nebraska can get to that three-game stretch at 6-3 (or better), then we get a much fairer judgment on NU’s progress in year two of Frost’s progress.

The Sea of Red: Particularly as the team struggles, Nebraska fans run the risk of breaking their collective arms patting themselves on the back, leaning into former athletic director Steve Pederson’s (!) moniker of being “the greatest fans in college football.”

Having said that, there is something pretty unique about this fanbase.

(By the way, it looks like Nebraska has found it’s answer to Wisconsin’s Jump Around, including work from local artists The Killigans.)

Earlier this year, a smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out that it’s the loyalty of the fanbase, as much as anything else, that differentiates Nebraska from other programs and raises the potential ceiling for the program regardless of the natural disadvantages of being a school from a small and rural population area.

So keep the faith, Husker Fan. You’re doing your part, and you need to have the patience and the wisdom to let the program catch up.

THE BAD

Adrian Martinez: In many ways, Nebraska’s second-half turnaround was on the back of a remarkable performance by its freshman quarterback, which masked deficiencies throughout the roster.

This year, Martinez just isn’t the same quarterback. His accuracy throwing deep is nowhere near what it was last year. His decision-making has been – put charitably – questionable. His ball security has been eerily-reminiscent of another Martinez who played quarterback at Nebraska recently.

There’s still plenty to love about Martinez. We’ve all scene the transcendent Martinez last year that came into this season as a Heisman candidate. We’ve seen flashes of that Martinez at times this year, like when Martinez led Nebraska’s comeback win against Illinois.

But even with a more manageable part of the season upcoming, Nebraska is going to need more from Martinez if it is going to avoid further disappointments.

No Guarantees: Most Nebraska fans, even after watching NU take another nationally-televised pounding, were still very much on team Frost. He’s the right guy, the prevailing wisdom amongst the fanbase held, and he just needs time to undo the damage years of neglect and malpractice had done to a once-proud program.

There’s still every reason to think that’s true, of course. But the hard thing to accept is that just because something could happen, even that it should happen, doesn’t mean that it will happen. Football is a strange game, and strange things happen – who would have ever predicted that Nebraska would be resting its placekicking hopes on a mid-season walk-on from the FC Bugeaters soccer club?

And Nebraska is still swimming in some pretty dangerous waters. Ohio State and Michigan still stand in the way of a conference title. Wisconsin and Iowa are still well-established programs who know exactly who they are and how to win consistently in the B1G. Minnesota and Purdue will continue to get better and better.

So steel yourself, Husker Fan. Frost is the guy that gives Nebraska right now the best chance to win. But if, for whatever reason, that doesn’t happen, then the next guy will get his shot too – just so long as you stay with the program in tough times. You know, the whole “in all kinds of weather” thing.

The Poison of Kool-Aid: It was unavoidable, all offseason. Even coming off a 4-8 season, Nebraska was a team on the rise. Nebraska was going to surprise. Nebraska should be a pre-season top-25 team. Nebraska should win the B1G West. Nebraska is a dark-horse playoff contender.

We all talked ourselves into it, didn’t we? Coming off a 4-8 season, we started by thinking that getting to a bowl would be a good sign of progress in year two. Then, as we all steeped in the Kool-Aid, the expectations rose. Eight wins became the bottom-line expectation. Then nine became the benchmark. Talk of a ten-win season became more and more common.

In retrospect, it all seems a little silly, doesn’t it? Those lofty expectations were all based on fervent hopes combined with aching desperation borne from decades of wandering in the desert of college football’s desert. They were phantoms conjured in the minds of the faithful, without any substance and based on nothing anyone actually saw on the field.

In general, there’s nothing wrong with hope and excitement for things to come. But the problem now is that the expectation of Nebraska’s fan base has become utterly divorced from reality. Steady progress, like a six-win season and a bowl game, is dismissed as a disappointment (even by Frost).

So after that long, cold, reality-check of a shower that was the Ohio State game, Husker Fan, expectations need to be recalibrated. A bowl game is a legitimate target. An eight-win season – which, let’s remember, would double their wins from each of the previous two seasons – should be celebrated. Cold showers are no fun. But they are very effective in cleaning off the sticky, artificially-sweetened Kool-Aid Nebraska fans have been bathing in for the last few months.

AND A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE

It was a game that had been anticipated for months, a high-stakes game on the national stage. On the strength of its dynamic, dual-threat quarterback, a young team looked forward to making a mark on the national stage. But the offense sputtered, unable to keep up either offensively or defensively, and the game was decided at halftime.

No, not last night’s debacle for Nebraska. This was the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, when Ohio State was humbled 31-0 against Clemson.

Apart from a little schadenfreude, why bring this up? Well, a couple of reasons.

First, it’s good to remember that football is a game of emotion and momentum. Even the most talented of teams can let games get away from them and have the score balloon. Even a team like Ohio State can be on the wrong end of a blowout at times.

Second, of course Nebraska fans are going to flash back to all of the horrible and nationally-televised embarrassments of years past. And yes, never mind the score difference, there was little to distinguish the 2019 blowout against Ohio State to the 2017 version.

But it’s also not fair to say that this is what Nebraska always does in the brightest of spotlights. Last year, Nebraska had a pretty bright spotlight when it went to Columbus and nearly pulled off an upset. Last year there was a pretty bright spotlight when Nebraska went to Camp Randall and fought valiantly against an under-achieving Wisconsin squad. Last year there was a pretty bright spotlight on Black Friday, even with nothing to play for, as Nebraska came within a hair’s-breadth of knocking off the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.

Tom Osborne used to say that “big games” were the ones you lose, expressing his frustration with never getting credit from a fanbase for winning challenging games. Well, as much as Osborne would ever express frustration in public, apart from dropping an occasional “dadgumit.”

Look, I get it, Husker Fan. Y’all were jacked up and ready to finally see Nebraska announce itself on the national stage. But there’s a little of Osborne’s lament going on here. Sure, seeing Nebraska get undressed on national television is an uncomfortable reminder that it is a squad as currently constituted that is not ready for the national spotlight.

But this isn’t an all-hope-is-lost scenario. This isn’t Mike Riley 2.0, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Frost has a pedigree of success. He’s already seeing results in recruiting. He’s got an athletic administration behind him to the point where Nebraska is about to get a 155-million-dollar new athletic facility.

Of course, there’s no guarantee this is all going to end in glory for Nebraska. But there’s enough reasons to believe that the whole Scott Frost experience could work here that fans should not lose hope.

Nebraska’s got seven games left to play this season, and none of them are against Ohio State. An eight-win season is still well within Nebraska’s grasp, and achieving that off of two straight 4-8 campaigns should be viewed as a tremendous accomplishment.

So dust yourself off, Husker Fan. It’s Northwestern week.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 42, Illinois 38

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Yeah, I know this is late. Given the level of stress induced by this game, it took a few days to recover.

Nebraska fell behind on the second play of the game and trailed for most of the contest, looking for all the world like it was finding yet another way to lose a game away from home. But late in the third quarter, Nebraska found its mojo and was able to grind out that elusive road win.

Of course, Nebraska missed a chance to make it easy on itself and its fans, having to settle for a field goal after having a first-and-goal at the one, then taking points off the board with a penalty, then missing the ensuing attempt. But a stout Blackshirt defensive stand (along with maybe a missed pass interference call) helped Nebraska escape with its third win of the season.

So in reviewing Nebraska’s cardiac-care win over Illinois …

The Good

Adversity Responded. With 5:40 left in the third quarter, Nebraska was losing to Illinois 35-21, and it looked to all the world like NU was going to continue its futility on the road. But Nebraska was able to rally, scoring three touchdowns and holding Illinois to just a field goal to escape Champaign with a win.

That’s a sign of strength, Husker Fan. It’s not at all difficult to see previous Nebraska squads having that level of adversity stare them in the face and wilt into defeat. Instead, Nebraska accepted the challenge and performed under immense pressure, and emerged victorious. Just like losing begets losing, winning begets winning, and this win coming through a cauldron of adversity can do nothing but provide confidence for the squad going forward.

DubRob. Yeah, this kid might work out after all. True freshman Wan’Dale Robinson led Nebraska in both number of carries (19) and number of receptions (8), for 186 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. And with Maurice Washington out injured and Dedrick Mills fumbling, Robinson showed he was able to run between the tackles with power in addition to being a matchup nightmare on the perimeter.

And yes, the old white guy is going to try to make DubRob a thing.

Numbers Don’t Lie. Take a look at ESPN’s Bill Connelly’s advanced statistical analysis for the game.

Without getting too far into the weeds, Nebraska putting up 690 (!) yards of total offense against Illinois meant that, just looking at the numbers, NU had a 97 percent chance of winning the game. So yes, that feeling you had of Nebraska trying to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory is borne out by the numbers.

But think about how you’d feel if, somehow, Nebraska didn’t have those turnovers and mental mistakes. If Nebraska was able to put up the offensive show it did and not step on rake after rake, this game would have been a blowout. And maybe the upcoming showdown with the Buckeyes wouldn’t seem quite as daunting.

*looks at Ohio State’s 2019 performance*

Or, maybe it still would seem pretty daunting.

The Bad

Adversity Created. It’s great to overcome adversity. It’s less great when the adversity you overcome is created by your own mistakes and ill-discipline. Illinois shocked Nebraska on the second play from scrimmage with a 66-yard touchdown run from Reggie Corbin. Illinois also scored on drives of 37, 2, 14, and 30 yards, meaning Nebraska handed Illinois four separate point-blank opportunities to score and create a hole for Nebraska to dig out of.

Not-So-Special Teams. Well, so much for Nebraska being Kicker U (as coined by a smart and particularly handsome analyst). With injuries to Barrett Pickering and Dylan Jorgensen, Nebraska has been scrounging for anyone who can kick the ball through the uprights and out of the end zone. Nebraska is (hide the children’s eyes for this) no. 117 nationally in PAT accuracy and no. 123 nationally in field goal accuracy. Nebraska’s inability to get a deep (and high) kickoff has led to opponents having great field position, putting even more pressure on a defense already stretched from offensive inconsistencies.

Nebraska is hoping that Matt Waldoch, a new walkon who played for the club soccer team FC Bugeaters, will help provide some answers. Unless Pickering is able to get back to full health soon, though, it could be a massive source of trouble for Nebraska.

The Looming Challenge. Nebraska is 3-1, and isn’t all that far away from being 4-0 (and probably nationally ranked) coming in to this weekend’s game. But anyone who has watched Nebraska this season knows that NU has not come close to putting together a truly complete four-quarter performance. Even in Nebraska’s most comfortable win over Northern Illinois, the Huskies missed two wide open deep shots that, had they hit, could have changed the complexion of the game.

And, oh, by the way, the Ohio State squad coming to Lincoln looks much more formidable than had been anticipated this offseason. New head coach Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields look to be hitting on all cylinders. Last week, Ohio State fell behind Miami (OH) 5-0 in Columbus – and won the game 76-5.

The Buckeyes look to all the world like a playoff team. If the inconsistent and ill-disciplined Nebraska team that showed up in Champaign takes the field on Saturday, the Buckeyes will murder them.

And the Unearned Glory

Moments after Nebraska’s win, ESPN made an announcement.

There’s an argument to be made that having Gameday in Lincoln is nothing but a good thing. It gives Nebraska additional national exposure, and can do nothing but help Nebraska’s image in recruiting. While the Buckeyes are a two-touchdown-plus favorite, and there is a distinct possibility of another prime-time humiliation for Nebraska, the presence of Gameday at a program which posted two consecutive 4-8 seasons is a testament to Nebraska’s staying power.

But there’s a darker side to Nebraska getting more unearned attention. Throughout the offseason, the fanbase – and, let’s be honest, the players and the coaches – were bathed in the Kool-Aid of lofty expectations, top-25 rankings, and the trappings of status not yet earned on the field. Sure, the coaches preached all the right things about not having earned anything, but let’s not forget these are college kids having their ears filled with how great they already are.

I refuse to believe all those unearned accolades from the offseason didn’t contribute in part to the slow start against South Alabama and the collapse in the second half against Colorado. Four turnovers and eleven (!) penalties against Illinois – including two on kickoffs as the kicking team – also speaks to a lack of focus and discipline. It’s a disturbing call-back to last year when Frost referred to his squad as playing like “one of the most undisciplined teams in the country.”

Culture change takes time, and one thing Nebraska has clearly not demonstrated is an ability to handle success – the “this is why Nebraska can’t have nice things” syndrome. Memorial Stadium should be electric, with an atmosphere not seen since 2014 Miami, or maybe 2007 USC. And perhaps Nebraska will shock the world and finally get that signature, program-defining win.

If it does, then Nebraska really will have something to puff its chest out about. Until then, basking in unearned glory does little but stunt the growth and potential of a talented squad under a promising and exciting head coach. There’s plenty of glory you can see on Nebraska’s horizon – but getting greedy and claiming it before its earned will bring little but heartache and disappointment.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: What To Make Of Nebraska’s 34-31 Overtime Loss to Colorado

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It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

You heard about it all offseason, Husker Fan. Year two is the year of the turnaround. The undefeated UCF season. How much better Nebraska looked in the second half of 2018. A full year of strength and conditioning. A change in culture.

And the offseason accolades. Oh, how they came in, from far and wide. Adrian Martinez is a Heisman candidate. Nebraska is a darkhorse playoff contender. Scott Frost has brought Nebraska back.

You resisted at first. You saw Nebraska put up two straight 4-8 seasons, something that even five years ago would have seemed preposterous. You knew that there was a lot of losing to clear out of football program’s internal plumbing.

But you couldn’t help it. You had a whole offseason to swim in the Kool-Aid, to be drenched by it, to let it seep into your pores, to let it stain your otherwise-sensible Husker hearts. You wanted it to be true, that Nebraska’s long wandering in the wilderness of college football irrelevance, was finally coming to an end.

You weathered the doubt of an unimpressive win over a Sun Belt team that was 3-9 last year. You went west, overcoming high ticket prices and unfriendly locals to take over Folsom Field in Boulder.

And at halftime, it looked like you had finally been rewarded. Nebraska was leading 17-0, and was thoroughly outplaying Colorado. It looked for all the world like Nebraska had finally – finally – answered the bell and was going to make you proud, let you wear your colors with pride and excitement on Monday.

Then the second half started. The offense bogged down. The defense held heroically – until Colorado hit that flea-flicker. Admit it – as soon as that pass was completed, one thought flashed through your mind.

Oh, no, here we go again.

Here’s the thing. Those kids who wear that N on their helmet? They know what Nebraska’s been through too. They’ve been on the sharp end of those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They had to walk off Ryan Field last year when Northwestern pulled of their upset. They know how close they came to beating Ohio State and Iowa on the road last year – and still lost.

I’m no mind-reader. I’m not in that locker room. But you can’t convince me that once those kids saw that flea-flicker hit, the same thing didn’t come across their minds, too.

Oh, no, here we go again.

It’s not like they quit. Maurice Washington answered that gut-punch in the most exciting way possible. Martinez battled and fought and willed his way into the end zone for what looked like it could be the winning score.

And yet Nebraska couldn’t quite hang on, couldn’t quite close the door. In the third quarter, when Nebraska had the chance to end the game for all practical purposes with a score after halftime, the offense bogged down. The play calling got conservative. Even Brock Huard, FOX’s analyst for the game, observed Martinez’s miss of a swing pass in the red zone as being the result of him being “tight.”

Oh, no, here we go again.

Now all that Kool-Aid soaked giddiness of the offseason is gone, burned away in the fire of another agonizing defeat. A hurt and disappointed fanbase took to Twitter and to the radio airwaves and went after Frost in a manner that would have been unthinkable even two weeks ago.

So now what?

Here’s the thing, Husker Fan. Learning how to win – and believing that you’re going to win – is a real thing. And no amount of offseason work or team chemistry or weightlifting in May can teach you how to do that.

Right now, Nebraska’s football team is haunted by the ghosts of losses past. And with each agonizing close-but-no-cigar defeat, those ghosts descend over the football souls of the kids in scarlet and cream, their whispers in times of challenge growing louder with each loss.

Oh, no, here we go again.

With a little time and perspective, Husker Fan, you’re going to see that this Nebraska team is in such a better place than it was twelve months ago. Last year, two games in Nebraska was 0-2 with a home loss to Troy. Last year, you didn’t see the kind of defensive performance that you saw from this group of Blackshirts, at least until they got gassed in the second half. Last year, you didn’t see the bevy of offensive potential waiting to be tapped.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Nebraska’s guaranteed to turn the ship around. Northern Illinois, Nebraska’s next opponent, gave Utah all it could handle. And Utah is probably better than Nebraska right now. Plus – as you will of course recall – Northern Illinois beat Nebraska in Memorial Stadium two years ago.

So yeah, there’s a disturbingly plausible scenario where the 2019 campaign goes dreadfully off the rails. But we know the kind of coach Frost is – you don’t have the success at both Oregon and UCF that he had by accident. We know how talented this offensive group is – at least, before the ghosts start whispering in their ears and in their coaching headsets.

Losing begets losing, and that’s the trap Nebraska is caught in right now. There’s only one way out of that trap, one way to exorcise those ghosts haunting Nebraska.

Win.

Turn oh no, here we go again, into we did it – and we can do it again. Because winning begets winning, too.

Nebraska has the talent and the coaching in place to make it foreseeable. As long as the team can keep things together mentally long enough to keep pounding on that door, eventually it’s going to crack and open.

Hopefully – maybe even probably – it’ll come this year. This team sure feels set up to have that breakthrough in a way that Nebraska teams in years past haven’t. If Martinez’s demeanor in his post-game interview was anything to judge off of, Northern Illinois should face a remarkably focused and intense Nebraska squad – one with unfinished business.

But maybe it doesn’t. Maybe this year falls far short of your fond offseason dreams, Husker Fan. What do you do if that happens?

Even more than other programs, Husker Fan, you are the beating heart of why Nebraska is considered a blue-blood of college football. From a distance, there’s no reason the Nebraska program should be considered alongside the royalty of college football.

Except for you. You’re the ones who painted Folsom Field red, and in doing so you were the spiritual heirs of all those red-clad faithful that boarded the trains and descended on the Rose Bowl in 1941. You’re the ones who have sold out Memorial Stadium since 1962. You’re the ones, ultimately, who provide the platform from which Nebraska has the potential to launch itself back into the college football stratosphere.

You know the tune. You’ve sung the words – probably about a half-count off the beat, because that’s how we Nebraskans roll.

We’ll all stick together, in all kinds of weather, for dear old Nebraska U

So keep the faith, Husker Fan. Yes, this loss will test the strength of your resolve. Yes, you’ll want to cast it all aside in your agony. Yes, you’ll wonder why you do this to yourself, over and over. Yes, your anger and frustration will want to make you lash out and walk away.

Keep the faith. You do this for a reason. You are fortunate enough to be part of this fanbase, fortunate enough to be able to cheer for these young men who literally give their blood and sweat for you. You are fortunate enough to have the kind of emotions – both good and bad – that those poor souls who aren’t fans never get to experience.

One of the amazing things about sports is that ability to feel such intense emotion about something that is ultimately meaningless. You can get the same kind of experiences in politics, or finance, or medicine, or law, or any number of other real-life endeavors. But failure in those have real consequences, where real harm is suffered by real people.

With sports? You have to put up with a little razzing from your Hawkeye neighbors.

Husker Fan, stay with us. Be frustrated, of course. Be angry, sure. Complain and criticize and scream and cry, do whatever you must to get by.

But don’t stop caring. Come back next week. Come back next year. Come back to watch Frost – or the next guy, if it isn’t Frost –  proceed in contest and in victory. Keep the faith that the payoff is coming, that all of this pain and disappointment will repay you with the unrivaled joy and excitement that comes from victory and glory.

And in the meantime, if not enjoy the experience then at least have some observation how bleeding scarlet and cream gives you a rhythm to your life, and a bond with all of your fellow denizens of Husker Nation who are riding the same crazy emotional thrill ride you’re on. Feel those feelings – good and bad – that your friends and neighbors who aren’t fortunate enough to be infected with this particular virus never get a chance to feel.

Because on Monday, it’s Northern Illinois week.

GBR, baby.