Nebraska ended the 2021 season at 3-9, and head coach Scott Frost is 15-27 in his first four seasons. So Nebraska fans could be rightly surprised when ESPN’s Football Power Index tabbed Nebraska as most likely to win the B1G West. Here’s how the projective metric sees the chances for each team to win the division.
I know, I know, another “Nebraska winning the offseason” column. And Nebraska fans certainly are wise to guard their hearts given Frost’s 5-20 (!) record in one-score games.
But hear me out. The FPI really does give some objective reasons why you should at least have some cautious optimism for 2022.
First of all, in the preseason the FPI is based largely on previous season data, including returning starters, coaching tenure, and past performance. Likely starting quarterback Casey Thompson’s experience at Texas helps Nebraska’s performance in the metric.
Second, and probably more importantly, Nebraska’s schedule is far different this year than last. In 2021, even at 3-9, the FPI had Nebraska ranked at no. 29 nationally due to how difficult its schedule was. Last year, the FPI ranked Nebraska’s schedule as the eleventh-hardest in the country, and most difficult in the B1G West.
This year, Nebraska’s schedule is no. 50 nationally. Only Illinois (no. 51), Minnesota (no. 52), and Purdue (no. 62) have easier schedules than Nebraska. Iowa (no. 16), Wisconsin (no. 20), and Northwestern (no. 27) have far more difficult schedules this year.
Of course, the FPI is just a predictive metric based on past performances. It’s no guarantee that this will be the year that Nebraska finally gets back to a bowl game and likely saves Frost’s job. And given what they’ve seen, Nebraska fans could be forgiven for concluding that the team is just plain cursed.
Nebraska doesn’t make it any easier by insisting on a week zero game in Ireland against Northwestern, a team that is almost grown in a lab to cause Frost problems. A loss to the Purples could easily wreck the team’s confidence and start a “here we go again” spiral for the 2022 season.
But if Nebraska is able to beat the Purples in Dublin (and get its first winning record since 2019), then at least the table is set for NU to finally, finally, turn that mythical corner.
One of the strangest spring practices drew to a close with the annual Spring Game on Saturday. Due to injury concerns, the format was changed to offense v. defense with a modified scoring system. Quite honestly, I hope they keep this format – being able to see a full first-team offense against a first-team defense seemed quite illustrative.
Here’s the standard caveats. This is a practice, not a game. In the first half, the teams were basically playing touch football, so even less about the running game could be taken than otherwise even from an event like this. Take it for what it’s worth.
Still, at least we have something to keep our Husker hearts warm until August. So in reviewing the Spring Game …
Casey’s Crew. Transfer portal phenom Casey Thompson didn’t get a lot of time to shine on Saturday, but he made the most of it. On the first play from scrimmage, Thompson threw wide to Nate Boerkircher who was double-covered. As God as my witness, when the ball left his hand I thought it was going to be a pick-six, that’s how conditioned I’ve gotten over the last few years watching Nebraska.
But it wasn’t. Thompson fit the ball into a snug window and completed the pass for an 11-yard gain.
Yes, one swallow does not a summer make. And Thompson basically spent the rest of the game on the sideline, signaling as clearly as possible that he’s the guy this fall. But at least from the small sample size we got on Saturday, Thompson looked like the real deal.
Tailback Talent. Most of the first half was a punt-fest, with neither offense able to generate much momentum. But Anthony Grant took a stretch play to the right, cut it back left, and outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown. Grant’s explosive first step and lateral quickness were on full display.
Jacquez Yant looked every bit like 2018 Devine Ozigbo, a big back who looks to have developed speed and shiftiness. The touch-football rules of the first half definitely hindered Yant’s ability to shine on Saturday, as I lost count of how many gallops to the end zone he had to cut short because he was touched down coming through the hole – plays where he would have been able to lower his shoulder and be able to power through in a real game.
A number of other backs – Markese Stepp, Trevin Luben, Connor Jewett, amongst others – got carries as well and looked impressive, especially in the second half where defenders had to bring a ball carrier to the ground.
The Sea(ish) of Red. Nebraska hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016. Nebraska was 3-9 last year and hasn’t won a football game since October 02, 2021. And still – still – 54,357 people showed up at Memorial Stadium to watch a practice.
Much digital ink has been spilled (including at this very site) fretting about how continued failure in football will eventually wear a fanbase out. I still think that’s true. But once springtime arrives in Nebraska, hope still pops its green shoots out of the ground.
Tackle Trouble. We talked earlier about the first half being a punt-fest. That was in no small part because Nebraska’s offensive tackles were routinely being eaten alive by the outside pass rush of the defense. Garrett Nelson, in particular, looked like a man amongst boys with the way he was able to terrorize the green-shirted quarterbacks.
And yes, that could have been a “Good” about the game. But coming into the Spring Game, Nebraska’s offensive line was a huge question mark. Nothing about this practice – and, again, it’s just one practice – gives any reason to doubt that conclusion.
Oh God Not Special Teams Again. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A 14-yard punt. A missed 40-yard field goal. An extra point shanked so badly it almost missed the net.
A smart and particularly handsome analyst observed that with even a league average special teams unit, Nebraska would likely have been bowl-bound in each of Scott Frost’s non-pandemic-shortened seasons. Nebraska hired a special teams coach whose only job is to make the unit better. Specialists at punter and kicker were transfer portaled in to improve the talent.
And still. And still. Yes, it’s just one practice. But Judas Priest, some of those things just should never happen, practice or not.
AND THE GREAT UNCERTAINTY
I have been uncomfortably disconnected from Nebraska football this offseason. Yes, some of that is just life interfering, but some of it really is just feeling the effects of the soul-destroying way Nebraska’s 2021 campaign unfolded.
Coming back to Memorial Stadium on Saturday – which, I can confidently say, is still my favorite place on earth – was salve to some of those old wounds. I may or may not have teared up as the band played “There Is No Place Like Nebraska” – I had sunglasses on, you can’t tell.
But then the offensive struggles of the first half made me flash back to the reflexive pessimism that had developed as a coping mechanism. The 14-yard punt and the shanked extra point gave rise to bitter black humor that has become an emotional defense strategy.
And to top it all off, it’s impossible to avoid the feeling that Frost’s tenure in Lincoln rides on this year being successful – and if it is not, then the wandering in the desert looks to continue even longer.
My wife, who came with me even being an Iowa fan, observed how much more pleasant the Spring Game crowd was because it lacked the nervous tension of a game day environment. She was right, and it really got me thinking.
It’s not nervous tension she feels, I think. It’s just fear. That’s where Nebraska’s fanbase is in 2022. It’s where it will be in September when North Dakota comes to town. And heaven help us if Nebraska drops the week zero game against Northwestern in Ireland.
It’s a strange place to be. But at least for one glorious spring afternoon, it was good to be home.
So, the Double Extra Point has been on a bit of a hiatus, not posting since November 04.
It’s been … an eventful few months, with the turnover of the entire offensive coaching staff, the departure of the entire leadership cadre of players including talismanic quarterback Adrian Martinez, the remake of the roster through the transfer portal and *gasp* the hiring of a special teams coordinator.
Now we are back at that annual rite of passage, the beginning of spring practice. But in a year unlike any other, expect a spring practice unlike any other. Here’s five things to be watching for.
WHO IS GOING TO PLAY QUARTERBACK?
Martinez will be leading the Kansas State Wildcat offense in 2022, which will be a strange enough sight. But Nebraska’s quarterback room is quite full. Nebraska signed two transfer portal quarterbacks in Casey Thompson and Chubba Purdy. Nebraska also signed a scholarship high school quarterback in Richard Torres. And Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg are still on the roster and will be fighting for playing time.
For the first time in quite some time – and certainly the first time in Scott Frost’s history at Nebraska – we will be seeing a legitimate quarterback battle.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE?
Of all the departures from the 2021 squad, it’s possible defensive tackle Damion Daniels’ loss will be the most keenly felt. Particularly in the B1G, being able to have a strong presence in the middle of the defensive front to stand up against the run is of paramount importance.
Sophomore Nash Hutmacher will like be called upon first to fill Daniels’ role. Hutmacher saw limited playing time last year, but he (and the players behind him) will have a lot to prove.
WHO ARE THE OFFENSIVE SKILL PLAYERS?
Like with quarterback, the transfer portal saw a remaking of Nebraska’s receiving corps. Nebraska added Trey Purdy, an electric playmaker and return specialist, and Isaiah Garcia-Castenada to a group likely led by Omar Manning and Oliver Martin.
But perhaps the biggest addition to Nebraska’s pass-catchers will be the star of last year’s recruiting class, tight end Thomas Fidone. The five-star recruit from Iowa was sidelined last year after an injury in spring practice, but looks ready to contribute in 2022.
WHAT WILL THE OFFENSE LOOK LIKE?
Of all the new arrivals on Nebraska’s coaching staff, new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple might be the most intriguing. Frost arrived at Nebraska with a reputation for innovative, high-scoring offensive prowess. But after four years, his offenses have not exactly lived up to that billing.
Whipple’s arrival signals a number of things. First, he’s been successful wherever he has been, most recently guiding an offense that lead quarterback Kenny Pickett to a Heisman finalist season and likely a first-round selection in this year’s NFL Draft. Second, and perhaps just as important, Whipple brings a wealth of experience.
When Frost arrived in Lincoln, he brought his entire coaching staff from Central Florida. While that made some sense at the time given UCF’s success, one thing that was missing was a voice of experience to help guide and advise Frost. I still believe that one element of former head coach Bo Pelini’s downfall was his refusal to bring in coaches with outside experience that could challenge him and help him to grow.
Frost has done that with Whipple, at least in the hiring. How much that will translate to offensive performance on the field remains to be seen.
WILL SPECIAL TEAMS BE NOT QUITE AS TERRIBLE?
Even if Nebraska were just as mediocre as it was on offense and defense in the last two years – and that’s been plenty mediocre, believe me – Nebraska would still have made bowl games in each of those years were it not for comically, hysterically, inexcusably bad special teams play. Just last year, a win on the road against Michigan State – which could very well have inspired confidence and sparked more of a run the rest of the season – turned into a loss on a punt return.
That’s just one example of Nebraska’s special teams disaster area, from an inability to kick a field goal to the inevitable touchdown kickoff returns against Iowa and Wisconsin (including on the opening kickoff against Sconnie last year *insert angry face emoji*). If Nebraska was just average – not good, just average – in special teams over Frost’s career, NU would have been in bowl games each of those seasons.
It was very much an open question as to whether Frost would hire a special teams coordinator. After the end of last season, he seemed quite stubborn in his perception that special teams was not an area that needed drastic change.
But Nebraska did hire Bill Busch as a special teams coordinator, a reflection that at least special teams will get individualized attention. Now, having a special teams coordinator is no guarantee of success – Mike Riley had Bruce Read in that position, and Nebraska’s special teams that season were about as bad as they have been under Frost.
However, at least Nebraska is trying something different this year. And while one hesitates to say this for all the karma it can bring, statistically speaking it would really be hard for Nebraska to get much worse than it has been.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them …”
– Maya Angelou
October 9 doesn’t seem that long ago, does it Husker Fan? Boy things seemed different then. Sure, Nebraska was 3-4, but had come through a daunting stretch where it very, very nearly upset three top ten teams (Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan), two on the road. More importantly, Nebraska showed it had the talent level to be on the same field with those national powerhouses, something that has been in question about the program for some time.
And, for good measure, Nebraska eviscerated a Northwestern team that has always been a challenge at home, 56-7.
Was this it? Were we finally, finally, finally on the verge of turning The Corner and being the program we all envisioned when Scott Frost was introduced as the prodigal son returning?
If the loss to Purdue really was the end of Frost’s time in Lincoln, then there is one thing that can be pointed to more than any other to explain the failure. As a smart and particularly handsome analyst has observed, Frost’s inability to avoid bad losses has doomed seasons and – perhaps – Frost’s career at Nebraska.
You can (and, really, you should, because of those sweet sweet clicks) read the piece for the details, but here’s the takeaway. Let’s call Illinois and Purdue bad losses for this year. If Nebraska could just avoid those bad losses, here’s what Frost’s record would look like:
You’d feel better about Frost’s tenure if this was Nebraska’s record, wouldn’t you Husker Fan? Again, achieving these records isn’t asking Frost’s teams to pull up forests. It’s not asking to beat Ohio State, Michigan, and Oklahoma. It’s not even asking to beat Iowa and Wisconsin.
It’s asking to beat Illinois. Purdue. Colorado. Indiana. Troy, fer cryin’ out loud. Teams that, given Nebraska’s talent level, it should beat regularly.
Four years in, Frost has one signature win – and you kind of have to squint to see it that way – over Michigan State in 2018. Sure, they’ve been close. Sure, there’s three games left in the season and anything can happen.
But we’ve seen enough to know that here on Earth-1, Nebraska would be doing very well to end 2021 at 5-7. Far more likely that we see 4-8 or 3-9 as Nebraska’s final tally. And that would give new athletic director Trev Alberts a difficult decision at the end of the season.
Pretty grim stuff, huh, Husker Fan?
Well, we did promise you some silver linings. And here they are
To start with, let’s go back to how we all felt on October 9. Remember, this wasn’t even Nebraska pulling an upset, just keeping games close against Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan. All of a sudden, Nebraska had buzz. People were talking about Nebraska being the best 3-4 team in the country – which I guess is a compliment.
The point is, though, that Nebraska is still one of the blue-bloods in college football. It still has a name, an image, an aura, that resonates. And the minute that Nebraska shows even flickers of life – like we saw on October 9 – then it will be able to reclaim some of that national prominence that has been lost over these years of wandering through the desert.
So don’t despair, Husker Fan. Nebraska football isn’t going to turn into a ghost town like some doom-sayers had surmised (looking at you Dirk Chatelain) anytime soon.
Additionally, we now have objective evidence that Frost has been successful at rebuilding the talent level at Nebraska to where it can compete with top-10 teams. For quite a while – really, through the end of the Pelini era, the entirety of the Riley era, and the start of Frost’s tenure – Nebraska could not stay on the field with teams like that.
Now, it can. So if Alberts does make a change, the new guy will be handed the keys to a talented roster. He’ll be well-paid, likely top-20 nationally at worst. He’ll inherit a fanbase with expectations lowered to subterranean levels, to where even modest success (coupled with running a clean and respectable program) will make him a star.
If Frost is relieved of his duties, it’ll be a sad day, and worth mourning the failure of a native son unable to find the success we all thought was inevitable. But the sun will rise the next morning, Husker Fan, and the Nebraska job will be one of the best in the country to attract a talented replacement.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. On the cusp of finally delivering a signature win, Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers committed a catastrophic mistake which snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In this case, it was quarterback Adrian Martinez’ fumble late in the fourth quarter which allowed no. 9 Michigan to escape from Lincoln on Saturday, 32-29.
Once again, Nebraska sees a chance for victory come agonizingly close. The players see it too, and are just as sick of it as the fans. Here’s defensive end Ty Robinson, courtesy of 247 Sports.
We’re so close. I mean, I’m sick and tired of hearing we’re so close.
It’s hard not to think that the Nebraska program is cursed, trapped in a time loop like Loki in the TVA. Certainly the pain of all these close losses feels the same, over and over.
So why should you keep coming back? Why should you – dare we even say it out loud – be more encouraged about Nebraska now than a month ago?
A smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out that before this year, Nebraska was losing heartbreakers to mediocre teams and getting blown out by good ones. This year (Illinois notwithstanding), Nebraska is beating mediocre teams and losing heartbreakers to good ones.
That’s progress! Baby steps, sure. As unsatisfying as rice cakes without peanut butter, absolutely.
But it’s progress. Nebraska hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since September of 2016 with a 35-32 win over Oregon. Since then, Nebraska is an eye-watering 0-15 against ranked opponents.
Which is terrible of course. But the margin of defeat tells a little more of the story. Here’s the list of those games.
at (11) Wisconsin
at (6) Ohio State
(9) Ohio State
at (13) Penn State
at (19) Michigan
at (16) Wisconsin
at (8) Ohio State
(5) Ohio State
at (5) Ohio State
at (3) Oklahoma
at (20) Michigan State
But take a look at the margin of victory in visual format (with the tenures of Mike Riley and Frost separated out).
Notice something at the right end of that graph? See how in 2021, the comically-bad margins of defeat evaporate? From 2016-2020, Nebraska’s average margin of defeat against ranked opponents was 25.25 (!) points.
In 2021? The average margin of defeat is 4.33 points.
Now sure, losses are losses. And 2021 is a small sample size. Ohio State is still on the schedule. And Nebraska certainly has a history of clunkers against teams it should beat.
But now for a sustained period of time, this Nebraska looks different than Nebraska of years past. And maybe that’s why you should take the rest of Robinson’s quote seriously.
But gosh darn it, we’re close. If it isn’t this game, it’s definitely going to be the next game, and we’ll move on from this and learn from our mistakes.
Never mind the fact that Robinson clearly falling prey to the gambler’s fallacy. Any human being that large who comes at you with a “gosh darn it” to the press is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
So don’t just take it on faith, Husker Fan. There’s reasons for hope. It’s no guarantee, of course. But it’s not blind faith any more, either.
Was that it? Was that what we’ve all been waiting for?
Since December of 2017, we’ve been waiting. We were promised the flashy, exciting, high-scoring offense Scott Frost ran at Central Florida. We were promised motion, formation adjustments, personnel mismatches, and lots and lots of points.
Until Saturday, we hadn’t seen anything like that. Until Saturday, Scott Frost seemed like a mirage, an illusion sold to a fanbase desperate for a return to college football relevance. Until Saturday, hope seemed in very short supply.
And then, for at least one glorious autumn evening, things seemed to snap back into place. For at least one night, Nebraska seemed like … Nebraska again. For one glorious night, a Nebraska team that seemed permanently cursed had everything bounce its way – even a punt, fer cryin’ out loud!
Memorial Stadium felt like a weight had been lifted off the roof, that this long surreal nightmare was finally over. At least for one night, Nebraska football was a joyous, raucous party. And when Thunderstruck hit after the third quarter, the venerable old cathedral vibrated with an energy it hadn’t seen in a decade.
So was that it? Was that the sound of everything finally, finally falling into place for Frost’s Nebraska squad?
We’ll see. It’s so hard to invest trust in Nebraska. M.C. Escher didn’t have as many corners as Nebraska’s seemed to have, waiting for that right one to turn coming next. We’ve been promised that we’ve seen progress, only to see this team fall flat on its face time and time and time again.
So why is this different? Why is a team that lost to Illinois (as it turns out, a baaaaaad Illinois) at the start of the season worthy of an investment of hope?
Well, if you want tangible evidence of hope, think about it this way. Nebraska’s identity (if you call it that) throughout the entirety of Mike Riley’s tenure and up to now with Frost has been to get blown out by good teams and to find bafflingly-creative ways to lose games against mediocre opponents. A smart and particularly handsome analyst wrote about how avoiding the latter was really all Frost needed to accomplish in 2021.
Take a look at Nebraska post-Illinois – which, yes, I know isn’t a thing, but go with me on a Week 0 game against a new coach. Now, Nebraska is beating (or, as of last Saturday, eviscerating) mediocre opponents and playing good opponents (nationally ranked Oklahoma and Michigan State on the road) within an inch of victory.
I know you kind of have to squint at it, but that’s progress, Husker Fan. Progress we really didn’t see except for flashes in the second half of 2018. And given the talent upgrades between now and then – and apparently finding a solution on the left side of the offensive line – this progress feels far more sustainable.
When undefeated and no. 9 Michigan comes to town this Saturday, Nebraska will get to put this new-found momentum to the test. The Wolverines have the no. 40 total offense in the country, which is (amazingly) better than Oklahoma at no. 43 but far worse than Michigan State at no. 25. Michigan’s defense is the best Nebraska will have yet faced, at no. 15 nationally in total defense.
Could we see a reversion to form with a blowout loss at home and have the ghosts of seasons past come back to haunt Memorial Stadium? Of course. No one who has watched this team – even you Husker Fan, admit it – can honestly say part of you doesn’t dread that outcome.
But this is also a monstrous opportunity for Nebraska to finally, finally turn that mythical corner. It’s also evidence that programs like Nebraska with deep and passionate fanbases really don’t die, they just lie dormant like a bear in hibernation, waiting for the spring to arrive to resume their hunt.
So maybe, just maybe, that spring will arrive for Nebraska on a warm mid-October night in Lincoln, with echoes of Thunderstruck ringing in the ears of the patient faithful. Just listen for it, Husker Fan.
Nebraska came into Norman as a 23-point underdog against the Sooners, and left with a seven-point loss and a new-found respect around the country. Penalties and an atrocious placekicking performance marred what was otherwise an impressive performance on both sides of the ball against a team that many (including me) thought would overmatch the Cornhuskers.
So, in looking back at Nebraska’s near-miss against Oklahoma …
Adrian’s In Charge. Before the season started, hopes around Nebraska’s season centered around whether quarterback Adrian Martinez could revert to his 2018 freshman form. After a disastrous first half against Illinois, it looked like those hopes would be in vain.
But since then, Martinez has been nothing short of brilliant. He’s made plays with his arm and his legs. He’s made good decisions. He’s protected the football. He’s done everything Nebraska has needed him to do for success. And absent a competent kicker (more on that later) he would have led Nebraska to its biggest win this century.
Staying On The Field. I thought this game would be a bloodbath for Nebraska in part because of the fragile mentality of the team, but mainly because I didn’t think Nebraska had the talent to compete with a team like Oklahoma. I was wrong. While the offensive line certainly struggled, Nebraska more than looked like it could compete with Oklahoma’s talent. That’s a hugely encouraging sign going forward.
Stripes! A smart and particularly handsome analyst observed this about Nebraska’s contest against Oklahoma.
Now, sure, maybe the stripes were there as an homage to the 1971 Game of the Century (which if that was the case, then varsity stripes on the shoulders plz). But the alternates last week against Buffalo also had stripes on the pants. Maybe – just maybe – Nebraska is finally realizing the grotesque mistake its stripeless yoga pants look has inflicted on the college football world.
The Dumbest Team in America. Eight penalties for 70 yards. Two unsportsmanlike penalties that helped keep Oklahoma drives alive. Former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan called his Raiders team the “dumbest team in America” after a mistake-filled loss. And in a close-but-no-cigar match, Nebraska simply cannot afford the kind of undisciplined mistakes it made in Norman.
Kicker Conundrum. It’s really hard to blame Frost for Nebraska’s current placekicking woes. Connor Culp is the returning B1G Kicker of the Year. With all the other moving parts, it was entirely fair to think that the placekicking role was basically set.
It isn’t. Culp is 3-8 (!) on field goal attempts and 13-16 (!!) on extra points in 2021. Culp’s two missed field goals and the blocked extra point returned for a two-point conversion adds up to an eight-point swing in Oklahoma’s favor.
Oklahoma won by seven.
This sounds like a reprise from 2019, but Nebraska was a competent placekicker away from pulling off the program’s biggest win of the century in Norman.
(In an utterly bewildering statistic I had to check to believe, Nebraska’s opponents are a combined 1-7 in field goal attempts. One for seven! How is that even possible?)
The Rough Road Ahead. You guys, Michigan State is good. The Spartans looked like a pretty soft opponent at the start of the season, but new head coach Mel Tucker has Sparty off to a 3-0 start and a no. 20 ranking nationally after an impressive 38-17 win against the Hurricanes in Miami.
Take a look, if you dare, at the rest of Nebraska’s schedule. Michigan State is now ranked. Michigan will be ranked. Ohio State will be ranked. Wisconsin will be ranked. Iowa will be ranked. Shoot, Minnesota will probably be ranked.
That will make at least six, likely seven of Nebraska’s opponents in 2021 being ranked. It is likely that at least three (Oklahoma, Ohio State, Iowa) and maybe more (Michigan, Wisconsin) will be ranked in the top 10.
That’s quite a gauntlet. Frost’s results for this season have to be graded on a curve accordingly.
AND THE MORAL VICTORY
I’ll admit it, I thought this game would be a slaughter for Nebraska. So much so that this is how I spent my Saturday afternoon.
You may commence your mocking of me in the comments below (although I did tie for third in the tournament!)
Nebraska’s players are certainly saying the right things after the close loss, about how being close isn’t good enough and that they want to win. And having an unfinished business mindset will be the best possible way to prepare for a smart and tough Michigan State team on the road.
But the fans? Heck, moral victories are for fans. After the Illinois debacle, a good chunk of the Nebraska fanbase was ready to fold the tent on the Frost era and start looking ahead to another rebuild. Nebraska’s spirited performance against Oklahoma offered the briefest of glimpse at the tantalizing possibility that Nebraska could be … good again?
FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt, who called the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, had this to say about where the Nebraska program is after seeing the contest.
Between a really solid performance against Buffalo and last week’s effort against Oklahoma, there’s reason to be hopeful from the Nebraska fanbase. At the very least, the Frost-on-the-hot-seat talk should die down some.
In a sneaky-huge challenge for Scott Frost, Nebraska comfortably beat Buffalo at home, 28-3. While the score stubbornly stayed close until a Luke Reimer interception set up Nebraska for an insurance touchdown, NU avoided the catastrophic errors that had plagued it for years and never gave the Bulls the momentum and opportunity to stage an upset.
So for Nebraska’s win over Buffalo …
Adrian’s Back? One of the enduring mysteries of Nebraska in the Frost era has been the inconsistency – which might be a more polite way to say regression – of quarterback Adrian Martinez. His inaccuracy and critical turnover against Illinois was a huge factor in Nebraska’s upset loss to open the season.
Martinez shone against Fordham last week but, let’s be honest, it was Fordham. Buffalo has been the best of Nebraska’s first three opponents, so the question was how Martinez would fare.
He answered the bell. His long run after surviving a jailbreak pass rush was the spark that seemed to start Nebraska’s offense. He began to make plays, including an improvised forward flip. After having watched Martinez throughout his career, that flip prompted this response from a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst.
That catastrophe, of course, never came. Martinez continued to make plays and, far more importantly, make good decisions and protect the football. Even though Nebraska didn’t really pull away from Buffalo until late, Martinez’ smart play never created a scenario where Buffalo could feel life coming back into the game.
Resiliency. Nebraska had two touchdowns taken off the board on … questionable refereeing decisions. Nebraska’s all-conference placekicker went 0-3 on field goals, meaning Nebraska came away with no points on three scoring opportunities.
As fragile as Nebraska’s confidence has been, little things like that have been enough to start the team spiraling and unable to respond to challenges. But at least for this week, Nebraska was able to weather the storm and keep fighting, ultimately getting a comfortable win.
Stripes. Sure, they were hard to see on the super-sharp alternate uniforms. But the stripes on the pants were back. It’s a welcome sight, and at least a glimmer of hope that the powers that be will finally see the light and end the unfortunate era of yoga pants for the scarlet and cream.
The Question of the Year. What’s happened to Nebraska’s offensive line? The Pipeline was supposed to be a source of strength, but over the first quarter of the season it has been anything but. Against inferior talent, Nebraska has been unable to generate any consistent rushing attack between the tackles. Martinez played brilliantly but was running for his life almost immediately upon getting the snap.
The defenses Nebraska will face the rest of this year are significantly better, on the whole, from what its seen so far. If the offensive line can’t find its feet – and quickly – any chance of a resurgence for Nebraska this year is unlikely.
The Other Question of the Year. How is it possible that Nebraska’s special teams can continue to be this comically bad? Yes, Nebraska’s kickoff coverage is worlds better than it was last year. But that’s really it. Other than one punt, Daniel Cerni has been underwhelming in terms of both punting distance and accuracy. Placekicker Connor Culp, as discussed earlier, has been nothing short of a disaster. And Cam Taylor-Britt has fumbled at least one punt return in each of Nebraska’s first three games. Yes, it’s not entirely fair to charge this week’s fumble on Taylor-Britt, but the fact that Nebraska’s punt return unit is good for at least one fumble per game is unacceptable.
Much like with the offensive line, being this bad on special teams is enough on its own to kill any chance of Nebraska turning a corner in 2021.
Where Was This In Champaign? Since beating Nebraska, Illinois has lost by 7 to the UTSA Roadrunners and by 28 (!) to Virginia. Nebraska’s performance against Buffalo – which, again, would likely be favored over Illinois on neutral ground – was its most complete since a 54-7 win over Maryland in 2019.
Had Nebraska put this performance on in Champaign against the Illini, it’s hard not to see that NU would be 3-0 and with a far different vibe preparing for a trip to Norman.
AND THE PROOF OF CONCEPT
Oh, that’s what it’s like when Nebraska doesn’t beat Nebraska. Even with the struggles running the ball between the tackles (even against a six-man box), Martinez’s ability to go over the top and attack the edges with a nifty option package let Nebraska’s offense thrive.
And Nebraska’s defense finally looked on point for four quarters. Against a sturdy rushing attack and quick-pass offense, the Blackshirts stood tall and kept Buffalo from ever really threatening to get back into the contest.
Nebraska beat the best team its faced by 25, and absent to questionable-to-ridiculous official calls would have won by 40. Sure, Oklahoma’s next, and Nebraska looks dramatically overmatched. But after Oklahoma is a well-coached Michigan State squad and a struggling Northwestern team at home. Should Nebraska survive its trip to Norman, physically and emotionally, then there are two winnable games on the schedule.
A 4-2 record after the first half of the season is certainly on the cards, which seemed a million miles away after the loss in Champaign.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front. Yes, Nebraska should probably be worrying less about cool alternate threads and more about putting a less-atrocious product on the field. But these things have been ready to go for a while, so I doubt that the Illinois loss can really be hung too much on uniform focus.
Plus, come on now, we could use something positive and fun to focus on, right? More importantly, the uniforms will pay homage to first responders on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Like always, we’re going to judge this year’s entry using the standards from Paul Lukas’ groundbreaking Uni Watch website – good or stupid?
Basically the same cream shell, same scarlet skinny stripe, but it’s the old-school interlocking block-NU rather than the sans serif N. Nebraska seems to be giving more space to that old-school logo, so this helmet could very well make its way into a regular rotation. Super sharp, and an easy “good.”
The white at home will be a little jarring, but the typeface on the numerals looks amazing. It should be plenty legible and distinctive (in other words, no trash bags). There is an incredibly subtle camouflage pattern throughout the uniform – which, not gonna lie, I didn’t notice until someone else pointed it out. Camo unis are almost always stupid, but because it’s so subtle it actually works as the homage it is intended to be. This one “good” but nearly veering into the other category.
There’s a camo pattern there too but OMG OMG OMG STRIPES GAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!
Long-time readers will know that this site is firmly Team #SaveTheStripes, and is now holding out the slimmest of hopes that this alternate will be a tentative step towards sartorial sanity and a return to the striped pants. It’s not just “good” it’s fricking awesome!
NEBRASKA ALTERNATE UNIFORM POWER RANKING
The infamous trash bag uniforms, which had numerals which literally couldn’t be read from the stands. The two-toned helmets were pretty cool, but overall the unis were a disaster.
Mystifyingly, adidas took its disastrous 2014 concept and made just a slight tweak, putting it on a black background instead of a red one, and made the uniform only marginally less horrific.
These original (well, except for 2009) throwbacks get far more hate than they deserve, especially how well they combined with Wisconsin’s to make a truly memorable spectacle. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, Wisconsin had the better unis that night.)
The first road alternates Nebraska has worn ended up making good use of the trash-bag silver, working them into an ice concept that ended up very sharp.
The concept was brilliant, to pay homage to the 1997 team by replicating the mesh uniforms. And while it came out great, it was also hard to tell the unis apart from normal ones on the field during the game. (In full disclosure, this picture is also my avatar on an unsettling number of websites).
Even early in the process, adidas got this one right. The basic black uniforms, the different-but-legible stencil numerals, and the overall simplicity gives this one a place of honor in the Nebraska alternate uniform pantheon. The unique stenciled numerals and (of course) the stripes on the pants give 2013 the nod over 2019.
Yes, Nebraska has never actually worn this outfit, but it doesn’t make it any less sharp (especially with the scary Hallowe’en motif for which I am a total sucker). Once you’ve swallowed the concept that the Blackshirts logo is for the whole team – which took some work – then it’s hard not to love this set.
I really do love a monochrome uniform set as an alternate (or unless you’re the Seahawks). And mainly because you can’t really see the camo unless you look hard, this set is incredibly clean. The old-school NU logo on the helmet is a nice change of pace without the helmet looking dramatically different, and the typeface on the numerals is unique and sharp.
And then there’s the stripes. Those blessed, amazing, gorgeous stripes matching the shoulder sleeves and making the uniform connect rather than wearing yoga pants. Hopefully a bellweather of things to come.
OK, I admit it, these things have grown on me to the point where they surpassed the 2013 set, something I didn’t think would happen. Now, if Nebraska goes the full Darth Vader and rolls out with these shirt and the 2020 black pants …
Anything that involves old-school numerals, a shout-out to the Stadium Clock, and the full In the Deed The Glory inscription is going to be hard to beat. If it wasn’t for the silly helmet, this one would be the one to beat. Also, adidas, why could I not buy an “18” jersey with the cool 8 numeral, instead of getting stuck just buying a “1.” Just take my money already!
Because of the three-year hiatus, these gorgeous threads frequently get left out of the alternate uniform consideration. That’s a shame, because these throwbacks, with the curly-Q numerals and numbers on the helmets, have yet to be surpassed. Quite honestly, Nebraska could go to these uniforms as their regular ones tomorrow and I’d be quite happy (as long as they put the stripes back on the pants, natch).
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results
Rita Mae Brown, “Sudden Death” (and not Albert Einstein)
’But I don’t want to go among mad people’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
Lewis Carrol, “Alice in Wonderland”
You felt it, didn’t you Husker Fan? That familiar tingle of excitement, of connection, as Nebraska’s 2021 season started up. You opened your heart, you let yourself believe again, you got on the roller-coaster and started the ride.
It started … ok, at least. Yeah, Nebraska couldn’t run the ball between the tackles, which was troubling. Yeah, it looked like Adrian Martinez didn’t realize he was allowed to step into a throw. But the Blackshirts looked like the Blackshirts and maybe, just maybe …
When was it for you? For me, it was when Cam Taylor-Britt – one of the team’s unquestioned leaders – inexplicably fielded a punt running backwards at the one, let his momentum take him into the end zone, then tried to throw the ball out of bounds. That mystifying, skull-numbing, soul-crushing moment which you could never predict and was so utterly predictable for this Nebraska team, finally generated this response from a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst.
We’ve been trying to fight against this conclusion, haven’t we Husker Fan? We’ve been hoping against hope that despite what our lying eyes have shown us, that this year, this game, this play, will be different. We’ve been wanting to ignore the weed of stagnation that’s taken root, choking out the sunlight of progress.
So here we are. And after Illinois 2021, I would wager that most of you are where I am right now.
But … where is that place we are? A loss of faith in the current regime, sure. A protective distance emotionally from the team, of course.
Striking your colors, abandoning Nebraska football – abandoning the heritage and tradition handed down to us from generations past? Nah, Husker Fan, you’re made of sturdier stuff than that.
Uncomfortably, after last year’s Illinois loss the program seemed to be at an existential crisis, and a smart and particularly handsome analyst gave you Ten Commandments about how to wander through what appeared to be the impending desert. Go read that again, everything in there you’re gonna need in the next few months – and likely years.
But there’s still 11 games left to play, and a squad of kids that still need your support.
I know you say you don’t want to. Heck, I don’t want to. After all the pain of the last decade seemed to be balled up and concentrated into a three-hour gut-punch on Saturday, I get the instinct that you don’t ever want to let that team hurt you again.
But, like King George sang to the colonists in “Hamilton” …
(Yeah, I know, King George in that show is a metaphor for an abusive relationship and the colonists did not, in fact, come back. But come on, where else are you gonna get that GIF in a piece about Nebraska football? This is the content you come here for, admit it.)
And that’s ok. Remember, even after last year’s Illinois debacle, Nebraska just about went to Iowa City and got the Heroes Trophy back.
Nebraska fans don’t expect championships, regardless of what silliness Paul Finebaum and Colin Cowherd might like to spout. They don’t even expect conference titles on the regular.
They just want Nebraska football to be fun. Nebraska football is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a source of excitement, of escape, of being that incredibly important irrelevant thing you spend your summers anticipating, your autumn days obsessing over, and your Saturdays being all-consumed by.
Nebraska football isn’t fun, and it hasn’t been for some time. It’s heavy, like an obligation, like a curse laid upon a fanbase by an angry ghost.
And I promise you, Husker Fan, there’s still fun to be had in Nebraska football. Read up on the Commandments, take a deep breath, check your expectations, and don’t check out. I know you’re mad (or as Dave Feit masterfully observed in Sports Illustrated, just disappointed) at him right now, but listen to what Martinez is asking of you (from his post-game Illinois quotes)
Look we are here to play some football. We are here to enjoy it. We are here to have fun. And our guys are going to do that. And we are getting better and we are giving it everything we have. There is a lot of investment on this end. We are going to get things right so stick with us. We are going to play our tails off every week and I sincerely hope you enjoy watching that.
Adrian Martinez, Illinois post-game quotes 08/30/21
I’m … not as convinced as 2AM that this team will, in fact, get things right. But I owe it to him, to this team, and to myself to give him the shot.
One thing I’m definitely not going to do is go all Spectre of Death like the Omaha World-Herald’sDirk Chatelain did. It’s a long piece, but here’s the conclusion of his column.
But what does this program look like in 10 years? Main Street after the factory left town? Dry-land corn during a summer drought? Wyoming?
I don’t know. You don’t know. For years, I’ve told myself that it’s coming back when the circumstances get right again. When the right people fill the big chairs. Frost was supposed to make it right.
“I believe in my heart this team can still have a special season,” Frost said Saturday.
There was a time when those words would’ve read like Gospel truth. Now they just sound like desperation.
Dirk Chatelain, Omaha World-Herald
Chatelain is a great writer – you can read that just in those paragraphs. And I was one who defended Chatelain to the hilt when he was former head coach Bo Pelini’s favorite cartoon villain.
But this column is just maudlin nonsense. It’s raw, undiluted despair spilled out in newsprint and pixels behind a paywall. It’s also exactly how I felt most of Saturday evening.
After just a bit of reflection, though, it’s not true. At least it’s not the only truth.
Could Nebraska be the college football equivalent of a ghost town in 2031? Sure. The zombie apocalypse could also finally happen making all of this discussion relatively moot.
But all of Nebraska’s inherent advantages – specifically its history, its home in the B1G, its pound-for-pound unrivaled fanbase which leads to eyeballs on televisions – still remain.
That smart and particularly handsome analyst we keep talking about told you back in 2018 how Scott Frost could fail at Nebraska. And that same analyst told you this about where Nebraska would be if that failure should come to pass.
Nebraska football as a program is bigger than one coach – yes, even Frost. Maybe he’s not the right guy for the job. Maybe it’s the next guy that comes in that gets Nebraska back to the promised land.
Nebraska has played college football since 1890. Memorial Stadium was built in 1923. Nebraska fans have been, well, Nebraska fans, swarming to follow the scarlet and cream to its first Rose Bowl in 1941.
Nebraska football will be there after Frost is gone – whether he’s fired after abject failure or after winning national championships. That’s why being a Nebraska fan is so powerful – because it connects you to that history, that tradition, that rhythm of life that was there before you were here and will be there once you’re gone.
Patrick Runge, The Double Extra Point
Keep the faith, Husker Fan. Find the joy in the little things as we prepare ourselves for another trek through the desert. Just know that you’re not going to be wandering alone. Because, y’know, in all kinds of weather …