Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 28, Buffalo 3

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 …

THE GOOD

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 BAD

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.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Assessing and Power Ranking the Cornhuskers’ 2021 Alternate Uniform

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?

Helmet

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.”

Jersey

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.

Pants

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

11. 2014

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.

10. 2015

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.

9. 2012

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.)

8. 2016

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.

7. 2017

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).

6. 2013

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.

5. 2020

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.

4. 2021

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.

3. 2019

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 …

2. 2018

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!

1. 2009

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).

GBR, baby!

Nebraska Football: A Fan’s Survival Guide After the Illinois Debacle

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’s Dirk 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 …

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Game-By-Game Predictions for the 2021 Season

With the season about to start, it’s time to go on the record and make our call for how Nebraska’s 2021 season will go. As always, we will use a four-tier system to organize the games and help remove at least a little of the guesswork.

BETTER WINExpected to win every time
SHOULD WINExpected to win more than half of the time
MIGHT WINExpected to win less than half of the time
WON’T WINExpected to lose every time

We will put each game into one of these four categories, and then count up how many expected wins Nebraska should have at the end. Of course, we will also include a Fearless Forecast guess at the final score, because who doesn’t want two bites at the apple when predicting the future?

(Kidding, the Fearless Forecast isn’t the official prediction)

AT ILLINOIS (August 28)

Possibly the most important opening game in Nebraska’s history as a football program. Given how precarious Scott Frost’s position has become, a loss to Illinois (who, by the way, manhandled Nebraska last year in Lincoln) could easily send the 2021 season into a death spiral. But with Illinois bringing in a new coach (even one like Bret Bielema with tons of B1G experience) and changing schemes, Nebraska should have an advantage. We’ll see if the must-win quality of this game works to sharpen Nebraska’s focus, or makes the team crack under pressure.

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Illinois 17

FORDHAM (September 04)

Not only are the Rams an FCS team, they aren’t even a particularly good one in that subdivision. If this game is even close coming into the fourth quarter, alarm bells should be ringing.

BETTER WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 51, Fordham 13

BUFFALO (September 11)

This game looked a lot scarier before Lance Leipold took over at Kansas, causing a number of players to enter the transfer portal and putting the program in a rebuilding mode. Even though much of the 6-1 team from last year will be returning, the coaching change and disparity in talent make this a game that Nebraska should be able to win comfortably.

BETTER WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Buffalo 28

AT OKLAHOMA (September 18)

Sure, it was a bad look trying to back out of this game. But in all honesty, I get it. If I’m Frost, given the fragile nature of the program, I want nothing to do with a trip to likely the best team in the country. Blowout losses have ruined seasons before. This is a game that is likely to be all about moral victories.

WON’T WIN

Fearless Forecast: Oklahoma 45, Nebraska 21

AT MICHIGAN STATE (September 25)

At Colorado, Mel Tucker broke Nebraska’s heart twice with gut-wrenching (and head-scratching) wins. Now in charge at Michigan State, Tucker will have his chance to inflict more pain on Frost. Much about this contest will depend on Nebraska’s mindset coming out of Norman. Sparty’s cupboard is pretty bare, but this is a scenario ripe for a team like Oklahoma beating Nebraska twice by inflicting a hangover.

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 17, Michigan State 13

NORTHWESTERN (October 02)

Sam McEwon of the Omaha World-Herald had what I thought was the best insight on Northwestern. The Purples really are kind of a bellweather of the rest of the B1G West. If the rest of the conference is down a little, the Purples can win it. That’s been the case the last couple of years, and Northwestern has beaten Nebraska recently simply by playing smarter, sharper football. But if Nebraska has been able to take care of business up to this point, it should have enough momentum to win this game at home

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 21, Northwestern 17

MICHIGAN (October 09)

Much like Nebraska, Jim Harbaugh has significantly underachieved at Michigan. But underachieving for Michigan (other than last year) has been winning eight-to-ten games a year, not what Nebraska has produced. The Wolverines certainly aren’t the powerhouse of That Team Down South, but they are still a more talented team on both sides of the ball.

MIGHT WIN

Fearless Forecast: Michigan 28, Nebraska 20

AT MINNESOTA (October 16)

Goldie has likely the best running back in the league in Mo Ibrahim, and a quarterback in Tanner Morgan that’s been in the program for, what 24 years. It’s also attempting to revive an atrocious defense from last year. Minnesota’s win over Nebraska last year with a COVID-ravaged squad might be Frost’s most unforgivable loss in his Nebraska tenure, and going to Minneapolis to get revenge will be a challenge.

MIGHT WIN

Fearless Forecast: Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24

PURDUE (October 30)

At one point, Jeff Brohm versus Scott Frost looked like it was going to be one of the most fun battles of two sharp-witted offensive coaches. The tide has turned for both Brohm and Frost, and although Purdue has one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in wide receiver David Bell, its overall talent level makes it harder for the Boilermakers to dig out of a hole.

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 35, Purdue 24

OHIO STATE (November 06)

Listen, the Buckeyes will be breaking in a new quarterback, and the game is in Lincoln. So if there’s ever a chance Nebraska would be able to …

Yeah, I’m not buying it either. Nebraska has been competitive with Ohio State in the past, taking the Buckeyes to the wire in Columbus when Adrian Martinez was a freshman and hanging around for a half last year. Like with Oklahoma, hope for the best as a Nebraska fan, but be satisfied with moral victories.

WON’T WIN

Fearless Forecast: Ohio State 49, Nebraska 17

AT WISCONSIN (November 20)

Since Nebraska’s entry into the B1G, Sconnie has loomed as a specter over the program. The Badgers are what Nebraska thought it would be coming into the conference, and now is what Nebraska is aspiring to become. The last few games against Wisconsin have been closer than the score would indicate, but turning the tide in Madison this year seems a bridge too far.

MIGHT WIN

Fearless Forecast: Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 17

IOWA (November 26)

Hey, remember this guy?

Yep, the last game played in Memorial Stadium with fans present was Keith Duncan blowing kisses as Iowa walked Nebraska off for its fifth (now sixth) straight Heroes Game win. Husker Fan, if you don’t have that image burned into your soul – if you still think this isn’t a rivalry between Nebraska and Iowa – there’s something wrong with you.

The last three Heroes Games have been razor-thin, with Nebraska at least even with if not outplaying Iowa, but making enough mistakes for a gritty and smart football team to get the best of them.

I am fully aware that this is falling victim to the Gambler’s Fallacy, but Nebraska’s due for one of these to break its way.

SHOULD WIN

Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 27, Iowa 24

SUMMARY

OK, so let’s tally up how many games we put into each of the four categories:

BETTER WIN2
SHOULD WIN5
MIGHT WIN3
WON’T WIN2

That means Nebraska is expected to win all the Better Win games (2), more than half of the Should Win games (3), less than half of the Might Win games (1), and none of the Won’t Win games. That puts Nebraska at 6-6, which is probably the bare minimum Frost needs to keep the hounds at bay and work with a much more manageable 2022 schedule.

The Fearless Forecast is a little more optimistic, putting Nebraska at 7-5. Given the amount of change in Nebraska’s roster, particularly at the skill positions on offense, forecasting this year’s season is even more challenging than usual.

Now all we need is a football season to prove how right – or wrong – this forecast really is.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Avoiding Bad Losses Key For Frost’s Turnaround

Following Nebraska football has never been relaxing. This summer started two of Nebraska’s best offensive players leaving the program, and ended with a new athletic director and an NCAA investigation.

This has made Nebraska in general and Frost in particular the source of yet another round of bad publicity nationally, which is never helpful for a struggling program. And given the struggles Nebraska has gone through in the last few years, it seems like there’s a million problems to fix.

But really, there’s just one. Fix this, and everything else pretty much falls into place.

What’s this silver bullet, you ask? Well (assuming you didn’t read the headline and spoil it), just stop putting up bad losses.

In this context, I’m defining a bad loss as a team that Nebraska – even as currently constituted – should be beating more often than not. Take a walk with me over the last three years at the bad losses Nebraska has piled up – if you dare

2018

Colorado 33, Nebraska 28. The Buffaloes were coming off a dreadful season, and Nebraska gave new head coach Mel Tucker a gift.

Troy 24, Nebraska 19. I don’t care that Adrian Martinez was hurt. I don’t care that Troy is one of the better G5 programs, especially in 2018. Losing to a Sun Belt team at home is always a bad loss.

Purdue 42, Nebraska 28. A team that needed every win to reach a bowl game coming into Lincoln and winning by double digits still is a head-scratcher.

2019

Colorado 34, Nebraska 31. Boy did this game have every chance to be the iconic moment of Frost’s tenure to date, with Nebraska fans painting Folsom Field red. But Nebraska’s chronic inability to close a game out soured the day, and in some ways the season.

Indiana 38, Nebraska 31. Yes, I know the whole Indiana program will be offended to be included in this list. And to be honest, 2021 Indiana wouldn’t count as a bad loss. But 2019 Indiana – especially at home – most certainly did.

Purdue 31, Nebraska 27. Nebraska caught a huge break in playing Purdue without phenom Rondale Moore – and lost anyway.

2020

Illinois 43, Nebraska 21. Possibly the ugliest loss in the Frost era – and that includes a loss to Troy. Nebraska was bullied and intimidated by an Illini squad that fired its coach at season’s end.

Minnesota 24, Nebraska 17. A comically-undermanned Minnesota team (thanks to COVID) rolled into Lincoln and ended up beating a Nebraska squad that had clearly had enough football for the year. If the Illinois loss was Frost’s ugliest, this was his most unforgivable.

That’s … a big list. But let’s just imagine what Nebraska’s program would look like if everything stayed the same – blowout losses, frustration against Iowa and Wisconsin notwithstanding.

2018: 7-5

2019: 8-4

2020: 5-3

That would mean, of course, that Nebraska would have been to a bowl for three straight years too. How much better would you feel about the status of the program if this was Frost’s resume instead of what it currently is?

So really, that’s the hill Nebraska needs to climb right now. Not beating the Buckeyes in Columbus. Not even (shudder) beating Iowa. Just stop losing to Sun Belt teams and teams about to fire coaches and teams that can barely field a full roster.

If Frost can accomplish that – and the fact that it’s a question is quite the indictment of the program – then Nebraska’s program should be on far better footing moving forward.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Three Quick Takes on the Hiring of Trev Alberts as Athletic Director

Photo from si.com

On Wednesday, Nebraska hired Trev Alberts as athletic director, replacing “retiring” director Bill Moos. Alberts, a standout linebacker at Nebraska from 1990-1993, served as athletic director for the University of Nebraska-Omaha since 2009, and saw UNO through a tumultuous period. While Alberts guided UNO’s transition to a full Division I athletic program, some fans of the program hold a grudge against him for cancelling the school’s football and wrestling programs.

Here’s three quick things to know about Nebraska’s new athletic director.

It’s a home-run hire for Nebraska

I’m a UNO alum and a hockey season-ticket holder since the program’s inception in 1997, so I have plenty of cred to talk about Alberts’ time in charge. I was devastated at the news about the football and wrestling programs being cut. But Alberts walked in to a UNO athletic program that was straining under massive mis-management, and under a time pressure to make a move to Division I. Alberts made the only decision he could have made for UNO’s athletic survival, as there was no way to preserve football and wrestling while maintaining D-I and Title IX eligibility.

Since then, UNO’s athletic department is experiencing a golden age. He hired Mike Gabinet as UNO’s hockey coach, who has put the program in better shape then it has been since its inception. He got the Baxter Arena built in AkSarBen, near campus and providing an amazing home for hockey, basketball, and volleyball. Soccer now occupies Caniglia Field on campus and is thriving, including a legitimate “Dodge Street Darby” rivalry with Creighton. Baseball and softball are flourishing, with brand new and gorgeous fields across the street from the Baxter Arena.

His decade-plus of success as an athletic director – in the state of Nebraska, no less – will be invaluable as he takes over in Lincoln. It’s clear from his emotional reaction at his introductory press conference that leading his alma mater is important to him. And his status as an ex-Husker combined with his success at UNO will give him all the credibility he needs to implement his vision.

The hot takes will be coming

Dunking on Nebraska has become popular sport for national media covering college athletics. At some level, I guess I get it, as Nebraska’s on-field performance has fallen so amazingly short of what coaches and at least some fans talk about it being.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when we see something like this as a reaction to Alberts’ hire.

Yeah, ha ha, isn’t that funny to bring up Alberts’ time on ESPN from 2002-2005. Never mind the decade-plus of athletic director experience he’s picked up since then. And take it from someone who religiously watched College GameDay Final when Alberts and Mark May were on it – May never sounded reasonable on that show.

And this is from Matt Brown, who is for the most part a really solid and insightful journalist covering college sports. I shudder to think what Pat Forde’s Twitter timeline looks like.

So buckle up, Husker Fan, more of this will be coming.

Frost and Hoiberg are officially on the clock

No, not in 2021, absent things going comically wrong. But if Frost and Hoiberg aren’t able to right their respective ships in football and basketball, Alberts is exactly the kind of leader that will be able to make the tough call to let go a favored son. His status as an ex-Husker would give him the innate credibility necessary to talk about what it means to be successful at Nebraska. And his history at UNO of making the hard, necessary decision shows Alberts has the mettle to make that call if he has to.

Of course, Nebraska fans hope that call never needs to be made. And as we’ve discussed here, the table is set for both Frost and Hoiberg to find the success that they were assumed to bring.

But if Moos’ “retirement” turned up the heat on their metaphoric seats, then Alberts’ hiring just added a few logs to that fire.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Moos’ Retirement Turns Up Pressure on Frost

Yeah, I know it’s been a minute since we’ve gotten back together, and a lot has happened in the world of Nebraska football. There was a Spring Game. Name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules are about to radically change the shape of college athletics. The Supreme Court handed down a ruling which may – or may not – fundamentally change the business model of college sports. The playoff is expanding to 12 teams. There’s a new college football videogame coming.

But right now the big news is right in Lincoln. On June 25, athletic director Bill Moos announced that he was retiring – on June 30.

“I step away completely content, knowing that our athletic program is reborn and rebuilt and that it has a solid, stable foundation,” Moos said in a statement, as reported by ESPN.

Moos was under contract until 2022, and gave up $1.25 million in deferred compensation if he would have stayed for the contract’s full term.

Now, sure, Moos is 70 and has basically checked all the boxes that brought him to Nebraska. He hired a new football coach (Scott Frost), men’s basketball coach (Fred Hoiberg) and baseball coach (Will Bolt). Frost and Hoiberg still have all the pedigree of great hires, and Bolt wildly outperformed expectations this year. And Nebraska’s new athletic complex is well underway.

Still, something doesn’t seem right when the head of the athletic program goes statewide on the Big Red Blitz and then drops a bombshell retirement with a one-week turnaround saying “apparently, this was the best time.”

Don’t take my word for it. Sean Callahan of HuskerOnline has questions too.

Typically when somebody retires on good terms in a role like this, they hold some sort of exit press conference. The fact Moos is not holding one today tells you there’s probably much more to this.

 Regardless of who the new athletic director is though (as of this writing, Ed Stewart seems to be in pole position), it’s hard not to see this development as doing anything but ramping up pressure even more on Frost as he enters year four of his tenure.

Whoever the new athletic director is, it won’t be the guy that hired Frost, which means Frost’s performance isn’t a referendum on the athletic director’s leadership, at least at first. Indeed, if you really wanted to go down a dark path, Moos’ early departure would make it easier for Nebraska to let Frost go after the 2022 campaign. That depressing scenario would have Frost with six years in charge and the new athletic director a full year to evaluate the status of the football program.

Now, of course, it is highly unlikely that’s the reason Moos is leaving so quickly. We may or may not find out more details about all the different factors involved with Moos’ sudden retirement.

But it’s an unavoidable conclusion that the result of Moos’ retirement ramps up pressure on Frost even more than his 12-20 record over three seasons has done.

You know who else understands this reality? Frost.

When asked what he thought his significantly diminished crowds at this year’s Big Red Blitz signaled, Frost’s answer was both telling and true (as reported by Evan Bland of the Omaha World-Herald).

“It tells me I better start winning,” Frost said with a grin. “Starting to feel like The Charlie Daniels Band — used to be really big, now he just plays county fairs and stuff like that.”

Frost knows the clock is ticking and this year – brutal schedule and all – is pivotal for him to show proof of concept. And there’s at least some objective evidence of this to show. A smart and particularly handsome analyst said that you’d know when to be concerned about Frost’s tenure when his recruiting began to slip.

Yes, it’s early, but Nebraska’s 2022 recruiting class currently sits at no. 43 nationally and no. 11 (!) in the B1G, according to 247 Sports. And while recruiting rankings in June might not be the most reliable indicia of success (I mean, Rutgers is currently no. 7 nationally), seeing Nebraska in that territory at any point – given the current state of the program – should be just a tiny bit terrifying.

It’s probably not the hottest of hot takes to say Frost needs to start winning. And putting additional pressure on a season that already looks daunting makes for an uncomfortable wait for the autumn. But ignoring this tough situation isn’t going to make it go away, and it’s better to face it with eyes wide open, Husker Fan.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Five Questions For Scott Frost In Spring Practice

We are well and truly into spring practice for Nebraska football ahead of the 2021 season. After a disappointing 3-5 campaign, Nebraska now enters head coach Scott Frost’s fourth season surrounded by uncertainty. With a number of high profile departures on offense and a strong corps of returning defensive starters, anyone who says they know what Nebraska will be like in 2021 is guessing.

But it is year four, and even Frost’s most ardent defenders understand that results on the field need to be seen this year. So what questions will need to be answered as the new season begins?

So, about that offense?

Look, there’s a lot about Frost’s first three years in Lincoln that have been surprising and befuddling. But by far the most surprising is how lost Nebraska’s offense looks. Frost arrived from UCF bringing an innovative spread-based option attack that looked to meld what he learned at Oregon with the principles he learned under Tom Osborne.

The results have not been what anyone expected. In total offense, Nebraska was no. 25 nationally in 2018, which gave fans hope for things to come. But in the last two years, Nebraska has been no. 55 and 65 nationally in total offense – meaning things have gotten comparatively worse in the three years since Frost arrived.

Sure, there’s plenty of explanations. Nebraska’s roster wasn’t where it needed to be, particularly in the trenches. Nebraska’s culture (I know, I’m sick to the teeth of hearing about “culture” too) wasn’t the best. Frost’s offensive system hadn’t been tested against defenses of the caliber and style of the B1G.

But it’s year four, with a four-year starter at quarterback and a well-stocked offensive line. It’s time for Frost’s offense to show proof of concept.

Blackshirt resurgence?

For as much as Nebraska’s offense has been an enigma, Nebraska’s defense has been a surprising star. After being ranked no. 94 nationally in total defense in 2018, Nebraska’s ranking improved to no. 65 in 2019 and no. 50 in 2020.

And for as much turnover as Nebraska’s offensive personnel has seen in the last couple of years, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander sees almost his entire squad return for the 2021 campaign. We’ve seen Nebraska’s offense be – put charitably – a work in progress in the last three years. Is it really possible that Nebraska’s defense can be the glue that holds things together until Frost gets the offense on track?

Can special teams not be a disaster?

What is truly maddening – well, one of the things that are truly maddening – about Frost’s time in Nebraska is how special teams have been a quiet culprit of failure. Think about, even if nothing on offense or defense was any better than it was, how many games Nebraska could have or should have won with even league average special teams play.

2019 Iowa with a kick return touchdown. 2019 Wisconsin with a kick return touchdown. 2019 without a field goal kicker. 2020 Illinois with a fake punt. And these are just the ones that come to mind the quickest. Imagine without these debacles that Nebraska could have won some of those agonizingly-close games it always seemed to be on the wrong side of. And if a couple of those games turn the other way, especially against teams like Iowa or Wisconsin, how much does that change the confidence – and, dare I say, the culture – of the team?

Can Frost reboot the roster?

Yes, a 3-5 record in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season made it hard for even the hardest of die-hard Nebraska fans to stay optimistic, particularly with head-scratching losses to Illinois and Minnesota.

But what really shook Nebraska fans to their collective core was seeing how many players – Frost recruits, not just previous staff guys – who were leaving the program. Some, like running back Dedrick Mills, were a loss but understandable. But when leaders like Luke McCaffrey and Wan’Dale Robinson left, alarm bells started to ring.

Frost has been able to restock the cupboards pretty quickly through the transfer portal, landing running back Markese Stepp from USC and wide receiver Samori Toure from Montana. If Omar Manning, last year’s shining hope as a transfer, is also able to contribute, then Nebraska’s offensive weapons will look very different than they did last year.

That might very well be a good thing given Nebraska’s anemic performance. But it is also a very strange thing given that – other than at quarterback – Nebraska’s skill positions will look almost entirely different next year.

Can Frost keep the vision alive?

One of DC’s most under-rated superheroes is Green Lantern (maybe because this movie got made). Whether it’s Hal Jordan, Jon Stewart, Guy Garder, or any other incarnation, a Green Lantern’s willpower is what he or she uses to keep the galaxy safe. It is the strength of the Lantern’s will, focused through a power ring, that makes Lanterns the scourge of despots throughout the universe.

Much like a Green Lantern, right now Frost is holding Nebraska’s program together through the force of his own will. Even though Frost is 12-20 since 2018, Frost has never waivered in promoting his vision for the program, how he sees this thing turning around and where it will be.

In many ways, Frost is willing Nebraska’s program into existence with his vision. His success at Oregon and UCF certainly help, but ultimately it’s Frost’s force of will and charisma that is keeping Nebraska afloat. It continues to work, as a smart and particularly handsome analyst has observed, based on how Frost continues to out-recruit his results on the field.

But now it’s year four, and willpower can only take you so far. Green Lanterns have to recharge their rings every 24 hours, and at some point Frost is going to have to recharge himself with some success on the field for his willpower-created program to avoid collapse.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Robinson’s Transfer Puts Frost’s Nebraska Vision In Question

The transfer of junior phenom Wan’Dale Robinson sent shockwaves through the Nebraska fanbase. In head coach Scott Frost’s three years in charge, Nebraska has seen an inordinate amount of players – both recruited by Frost and by his predecessor – leave the program.

For the most part, fans have invested their trust in Frost, believed him when he talked about how the culture within the Nebraska football program needed to change, and that the departures were a necessary part of that culture shift. And given what Nebraska had seen under previous head coach Mike Riley, it was evident that Frost was correct.

But as the departures continued, especially departures of players Frost recruited, an unease began to crop up that the departures were less about Frost excising bad culture and more about players becoming dissatisfied with the progression of the offense and their place in the program.

Robinson’s departure brought those concerns to a head. Yes, Robinson ended up returning to his native Kentucky. Yes, there is little question that he was motivated by his mother contracting COVID and wanting to be closer to home. That’s been the motivation of many transfers this season, throughout the country.

But part of Robinson’s motivation, according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, was to be in an offense that would better set him up for an NFL career.

That should send alarm bells through Nebraska’s program, as well as through the fanbase. Except maybe for Adrian Martinez, Robinson was the face of Nebraska’s program. He was the offensive archetype, the kind of player that Frost at Central Florida used to create a dazzling, dynamic offensive attack.

Unfortunately, very little of that dynamic offense has materialized in Lincoln. In Robinson’s two years, Frost seemed to struggle finding the right ways to utilize Robinson’s skills to their fullest. Last year, Robinson ended up being used as a tailback, getting carries and running between the tackles quite a bit.

While getting your most dynamic player the ball as often as possible is certainly wise in any offense, Robinson is 5 foot 9 and 180 pounds. He is not at all built to survive the rigors of a between-the-tackles running back, particularly in the B1G. And Robinson began to break down at the end of 2019, underlining the need for finding the right ways to use Robinson’s amazing skills.

The 2020 season was always going to be a challenge, playing through a pandemic with no spring football and an uncertain (to put it mildly) future for B1G football. Nebraska did find more balance in using Robinson during the 2020 season. But Nebraska’s offense on the whole was a huge disappointment this year.

While Nebraska’s defense began to find its feet, Nebraska’s offense looked lost. Frost switched between Martinez and Luke McCaffrey at quarterback, trying to find a signal-caller that could get Nebraska’s offense into rhythm, but never quite succeeding. And Robinson’s production in his second season at Nebraska suffered as a result.

Robinson clearly has designs to play in the NFL. And his electric skill set should be tailor-made for the modern NFL offense. But to get there, he’s got to be able to put what he can do on video, to make sure he can stand out from the crowd.

It’s clear that Robinson came to the conclusion that Frost was not going to be able to provide him that stage upon which to showcause his talents. That, as much as his mother’s illness, is why Robinson is no longer wearing scarlet and cream.

A smart and particularly handsome analyst said that you would know when Frost’s tenure at Nebraska was truly at risk when his recruiting started to tail off. And to be clear, we’re not there yet. In addition to Nebraska still landing a top-25 recruiting class, Nebraska landed an NFL-caliber wide receiver and running back through the transfer portal.

Nebraska’s talent level on offense should be sufficient to succeed. But almost the entire offense is an open question. Martinez, McCaffrey, or freshman Logan Smothers could all reasonably be expected to be the starting quarterback for week one of the season. Nebraska’s most experienced returning non-quarterback rusher had 24 carries last season. Nebraska’s most experienced returning receiver had 18 catches.

It’s worrying, to say the least, that Frost will be basically starting over offensively in year four. And the 2021 schedule – with games against Ohio State, Michigan, and Oklahoma, in addition to the B1G West slate – is awfully challenging for an entirely rebooted offense.

Robinson’s departure is in no way guaranteed to be the end of the Frost era. But ultimately Frost needs to maintain confidence and faith in his offensive scheme for Nebraska to be successful under his leadership. Robinson’s transfer is the first truly undeniable rejection of Frost’s vision. If that lack of faith were to take hold generally, then Robinson’s transfer really could be seen as the beginning of the end of Frost’s time in Lincoln.

So 2021 after Robinson’s departure brings a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before. While Frost’s contract situation is clearly secure, the faith in his ability to succeed offensively needs proof of concept on the field desperately in this upcoming season.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Five Takeaways from the 2020 Season

After a challenging season both on and off the field, Nebraska ended its 2020 campaign with a 28-21 win over Rutgers to finish with a 3-5 record. While Nebraska certainly could have gotten into a bowl game even with its record (oh hai 3-7 mississippi state), the team voted to end the season and decline any bowl invitation. Head coach Scott Frost, after the Rutgers win, sounded like a man ready to let the 2020 season go.

Nebraska also completed its early signing period with a top-25 recruiting class, headlined by four-star tight end Thomas Fidone from Iowa (and keeping Fidone from the Hawkeyes, avoiding another Noah Fant situation). So now that an exhausting, maddening, at times cringe-inducing season is over, let’s step back and take a look where Nebraska football is right now.

A brave decision to end the season

After Nebraska’s … uneven win over Rutgers, Frost talked about how much of a toll the 2020 season had taken on both the team and the coaches, and that it would ultimately up to the players to decide if they wanted to play in a bowl.

The players decided they did not, and that ended Nebraska’s 2020 season.

Frost, of course, didn’t have to give the players that choice. And he opened himself up to the possibility of ridicule by doing so. After all, it was Frost who was a vocal as anyone before the season started wanting to play football whenever, wherever – even in Uzbekistan, if need be.

After a disappointing 3-5 season, Nebraska turning down a bowl could easily have been made to look life Frost tucking tail and shying away from further embarrassment. Frost knew that, but let his team make the decision anyway.

Recruiting still on track

It’s probably not a surprise that there is at least some buzz about Frost being on the hot seat after going 12-20 in his first three-ish years in charge. In most circumstances, there would be some truth to that.

But not here. Athletic director Bill Moos has made a long-term commitment to Frost. And although Illinois and Minnesota did shake the faith of many in the fanbase, ultimately there’s little question Frost will be in Lincoln for the long-term.

If you really want a canary in the coal mine about Frost’s tenure in Lincoln, watch Nebraska’s recruiting. Last year, a smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out that Nebraska’s recruiting ranking nationally was far out-pacing its success on the field. That over-performance was Frost’s ability to connect with recruits and get them to believe that the on-field success will be coming.

Well, the Frost Effect is still working. After the first National Signing Day, Nebraska ended up no. 25 nationally in recruiting, third in the B1G West. While that’s below both Wisconsin and Iowa this year, a top-25 class is still more than good enough for Nebraska to compete.

Blackshirt resurgence

When Frost arrived in Lincoln, we all expected Nebraska’s offense to be fast and explosive, and its defense to struggle and be at best a complimentary piece to the offensive engine.

As we finish year three, that’s … not quite how things have worked out. Nebraska’s offense has been a mess, and there’s all kinds of different reasons as to why that is.

But Nebraska’s defense has been quietly improving. Nebraska ended 2020 no. 46 nationally in team defense, no. 66 nationally in scoring defense, and no. 52 nationally in total defense.

Sure, those numbers aren’t anything to write home about. But they show a defense that’s above-average nationally, which in Nebraska’s proof-of-concept should be more than good enough. If the offense can catch up – and that’s still very much an open question – Nebraska’s defense looks ready to do its part.

Special teams disaster

There’s lots of things that Nebraska needs to fix. But top of the list needs to be special teams, writ large. Nebraska did make a massive improvement in placekicking, going from having no functional kicker to an all-conference player in Connor Culp.

But Nebraska still cannot cover a kick return. Nebraska allowed two fake punts for first downs – in eight games – where the punter was essentially unguarded and gifted a long run. Letting that happen once is bad enough. But when it happens a second time under almost identical circumstances, it’s evidence of a systemic breakdown.

Nebraska tried to have special teams be handled by a special teams consultant this year, rather than having a coach specifically tasked with handling that role, which at least reflects an attempt to shake the system up. It hasn’t worked, clearly, but there’s little question that Nebraska needs drastic action to fix a gaping hole.

Quarterback still a question

Boy, how much fun was it to see Adrian Martinez go off against Rutgers, going 24-28 for 255 yards in the air and 157 yards on 23 carries and scoring three total touchdowns? That’s the guy we’ve been waiting for to lead Nebraska’s offense, right?

Well, that same guy – in the same game – lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions. More disturbingly, the turnovers were repeat performances of mistakes we’ve seen in the past, mistakes which have killed Nebraska in the last three years.

If there’s one weakness in Frost’s offensive concept, it’s that it needs supremely talented quarterback play. Frost’s quarterback needs to be a threat on the ground, have the ability to deliver the ball to dangerous playmakers, and stretch the field to keep defenses honest and put them in conflict. He’s got to do all that while protecting the ball and making consistent smart decisions.

Whether it’s injury or understanding, Martinez has yet to demonstrate his ability to check all those boxes – and in his defense, that’s a lot of boxes to check. Luke McCaffrey, while an exciting and dynamic athlete, has not demonstrated his ability to throw or protect the ball sufficiently for Nebraska to rely on him as a starting quarterback option.

So Nebraska comes into 2021 with questions at quarterback. It is entirely possible that, with a full offseason, that Martinez or McCaffrey could grow into the position. It’s possible that freshman Logan Smothers, after watching this season from the sideline, will be able to challenge for the position.

But we don’t know – and more importantly, Frost doesn’t know – who is going to be that guy in 2021.

GBR, baby.