We are now less than two weeks away from Nebraska taking the field under new head coach Scott Frost, and to say that Husker Fan is excited is the understatement of the century. Already, every possible variation of a “Frost warning” t-shirt has been bought and sold, and a long-dormant sense of hope for Nebraska to return to national glory has awoken.
There is plenty of reason for that optimism. All kinds of national media are convinced that Frost is the right guy to lead Nebraska out of college football’s desert of irrelevance. And they’ve got plenty of reasons to think so. He’s got the pedigree, both from his playing days in college and the NFL, and coaching under Chip Kelly at Oregon.
Since Frost’s hire, Nebraska fans have had visions of trophies dancing in their heads. Precious little thought has been given to the other side of that scenario.
Now, let’s be clear. I think Frost is the right guy. I agree with the generally-accepted wisdom that Nebraska under Frost could be back to being – well, Nebraska in short order.
But “likely to succeed” doesn’t mean “will succeed.” And I hate to break it to you, Husker Fan, but there are some reasons out there why Frost might not be successful at Nebraska. Here are five of them.
There’s More to the UCF Turnaround
You may have heard that Frost engineered quite the turnaround in Orlando. The Knights were 0-12 the year before he arrived. In two short seasons under Frost’s tutelage, the Knights were 13-0 and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
Some even crowned UCF the 2017 National Champions of college football.
That’s a heck of an accomplishment, of course, enough to win Frost basically every national coach of the year award he could win for 2017. And he deserved them. Having a guy like that take the reins in Lincoln should give Nebraska fans plenty to be excited about.
But there’s more to the story. Yes, going from 0-12 to 13-0 is an amazing feat. But let’s broaden the lens a little and look at UCF’s performance over the last seven years.
Yeah, UCF was terrible in 2015, enough to get previous head coach George O’Leary fired mid-season. But it’s not like UCF was a year-after-year disaster that Frost resurrected. The squad that Frost inherited was only a year removed from a nine-win season. It was only two years removed from being a three-point loss to South Carolina away from being in the mix for the final BCS title game.
Now, let’s be clear. This doesn’t take any credit away from Frost’s accomplishments at UCF. Going from 0-12 to 13-0 is remarkable, regardless of context.
But UCF’s 2015 debacle was clearly the outlier. So to assume Frost is a necromancer that can raise the football dead based on two years of work in Orlando ignores the platform upon which Frost stepped when he arrived at UCF.
Frost Has Never Done This Before
Frost has been a head coach for two years, and has had phenomenal and demonstrable success. But it’s still just two years. He and his staff have never put a full recruiting class together. Sure, Frost’s recruiting in Lincoln up to now has been admirable, especially without a full cycle.
But we still don’t know how Frost’s recruiting will hold up
We also don’t know how Frost and his staff will handle a step up in class. Going from the American Athletic Conference to the B1G is a pretty big step. There’s a quantum difference between games against South Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston, and Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Frost won’t be successful. But it means that Frost’s ability to get wins against B1G competition – both on the recruiting trail and on the field – is still an open question. Yes, he’s currently doing very well, ranked no. 26 on 247Sports. But he’s also still trading on his 12-0 record from last year. What happens if Nebraska goes through a 6-6 season – or worse – and the shine is off the rose on the recruiting trail is still an open question.
The Schedule Is A Beast
Frost did not pick the best year to arrive in Lincoln trying to raise the dead. Nebraska’s 2018 schedule was rated the nation’s second hardest by Athlon Sports and 247 Sports, and the nation’s hardest by Bleacher Report.
Take a quick look (maybe through your fingers to shield your eyes) and you’ll see why. Nebraska has road trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Iowa. That’s … daunting. If Nebraska gets through this gauntlet at 2-3, it’s doing very well. Going 1-4 through that schedule is more likely.
That leaves Nebraska needing to win four home games – in a best-case scenario – just to become bowl eligible. The home schedule includes a Power Five school in Colorado that’s one year removed from the Pac-12 title game, a Troy team that beat LSU in Death Valley last year, an improving Purdue, and Minnesota squad that hung 54 on the Blackshirts last year.
Oh, and Michigan State, projected no. 13 nationally by Phil Steele.
Let’s say Nebraska has two gimmies, against Akron and Illinois (although as we saw against Northern Illinois last year – or Illinois in 2015 – there’s probably no such thing as a gimmie). That means Nebraska would have to go 2-3 against Colorado, Troy, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan State just to make bowl eligibility.
And that’s if Nebraska wins two games on the road. Otherwise, NU needs a 3-2 mark against those five just to see a bowl in 2018.
Maybe things will click for Nebraska. Maybe Nebraska’s starting quarterback – who will be a freshman, either true or redshirt, regardless of who wins the job – grabs the reins and succeeds right away. Maybe the defense picks up new coordinator Erik Chinander’s new system.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. But that’s a lot of maybes, and a schedule with very little room for error if some of those maybes come up the wrong way.
Sure, if you squint real hard, you can see 8-4 in this schedule, like this dope argued. But it’s just as easy – maybe even easier – to see a path to 4-8 in Nebraska’s 2018 campaign.
Tackle Depth Is Scary
Brendan Jaimes. Christian Gaylord. Matt Farniok. Matt Sichterman.
As a very wise man once said, that’s it, that’s the list. In this case, that’s the list of true tackles on Nebraska’s roster. Most of you reading this know that you need to start two tackles, meaning Nebraska has a two-deep at tackle for the season – if everyone stays healthy and performs up to expectation.
Tackle is, put mildly, an important position. And an injury to any one of those four guys puts Nebraska in a circumstance where it will have to rotate players out of position at tackle, or ask the remaining tackles to play more games than they otherwise would.
Oh, and did I mention that Frost’s hurry-up offense focuses on speed, meaning that it will ask its offensive players – particularly its offensive line – to be in peak condition to put pressure on opposing defenses.
Losing one or two of those four guys, either to injury or poor play, could end up being an Achilles heel for Nebraska’s offense in 2018.
The Fans Could Wreck Everything
Yep, Husker Fan, this one’s on you. I know just how excited y’all are for the Frost era to begin. And you’ve got every reason to be. Frost looks every bit as advertised, and on paper he looks tailor made to return Nebraska to glory.
Heck, Nebraska fans are standing in line just for hours to get the guy’s autograph (according to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald).
But remember, Husker Fan, you haven’t seen Frost coach a game for Nebraska. More importantly, you haven’t seen Frost lose a game for Nebraska.
I know, I know, y’all are all about being patient, about knowing that the process will take time for Frost.
Honestly, I believe that’s what you think right now. I’m less convinced that you’ll think that if Nebraska is 2-6 this year, coming off home losses to Troy (!) Purdue, and Minnesota, and twenty-point blowouts to Michigan and Wisconsin on the road.
Don’t forget that the hurry-up style of offense Frost prefers, when it doesn’t work, can be pretty ugly. An unsuccessful hurry-up offense leads to a lot of quick three-and-outs and pressure on your defense. Nebraska’s defense is already preparing to face 90 (!) plays per game, according to McKewon.
To put that in perspective, Minnesota scored 54 points against last year’s Blackshirts in 61 plays. So if things go badly, they could go pretty spectacularly badly. And that’s hard for fans to watch.
The word “fan” is shorthand for “fanatic.” Almost by definition, fandom defies cool, rational analysis. If Nebraska is sitting at 2-6, and looking ugly with Frost’s unique scheme, then there will start to be fans that turn on the team.
It wouldn’t be many at first, given the incredible goodwill and credibility Frost has coming into the job. But a sub-.500 2018 will, almost without question, leave a portion of the fanbase at best uneasy and at worst skeptical of Frost’s ability to raise Nebraska from the dead.
That puts immense pressure on 2019, then. Nebraska has a road trip to Colorado for its second game of the season, and hosts Ohio State in game five. Even assuming a win over the rest of the slate (which includes Northern Illinois, so we know not to take anything for granted), how would the fanbase feel about a 3-2 Nebraska coming off a blowout loss in Columbus after a 4-8 season?
Again, this is not to say that this dystopian future will happen. It’s not even to say that it’s likely – I think it’s not, to be honest. But can you look at where Nebraska’s been since the 2001 version of Black Friday and say that outcome is impossible, or even preposterous?
And even If the situation isn’t that dire, fans are still fans. Eventually, Frost the prodigal son returned to save the kingdom will become Frost the coach who called the wrong play and cost Nebraska a win. This year – mark it down – there will be a portion of the fanbase that will turn negative.
It’s likely not a big portion, of course, and Nebraska having success early will put those nattering nabobs of negativity far out of the spotlight.
But this has been a traumatized fanbase, rent asunder by the firing of Frank Solich, abused and taken advantage of by Steve Pederson, willfully divided and antagonized by Bo Pelini, incompetently managed by Shawn Eichorst, and historically failed by Mike Riley. Yeah, I know, it’s only a game. But that’s a lot of trauma (in relative terms) for a fan base to absorb, especially one for whom Nebraska football is such a core part of its identity.
Winning, of course, makes that trauma go away. But continued lack of success – and how much and for what length of time is the great experiment upon which we are all embarking – will bring those demons to the surface.
Abraham Lincoln himself – the namesake of the school’s home town – said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Possibly the greatest danger to Frost being successful as Nebraska head coach is if that success does not come quickly enough, and a critical mass of that traumatized fanbase ends up giving up on hoping in Frost, turning in with negativity, and destroying itself.