Nebraska Football: Osborne’s Legacy as Athletic Director Defined by Big Ten Membership

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Earlier this week, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos announced that Fred Hoiberg would replace Tim Miles as head men’s basketball coach. For a long-suffering fanbase, Nebraska basketball fans were very excited, and Moos received a lot of praise for his hiring of Hoiberg and head football coach Scott Frost.

Of course, Moos deserves a lot of credit. In fourteen months, Moos has basically remade the face of Nebraska’s two most prominent revenue sports. And with that praise, inevitably there came some discussion about how Moos’ performance as athletic director compared to Tom Osborne. As summarized by a smart and particularly handsome analyst:

Initially I had thought that criticizing Osborne for anything amongst the Nebraska fanbase would be a dangerous proposition. But it turns out there is a contingent of the fanbase more than willing to question Osborne’s tenure at the helm of Nebraska athletics.

That tenure is, of course, open to criticism. It was Osborne’s decision to hire Bo Pelini as a replacement for Bill Callahan. Pelini ended up being a very divisive figure in the Nebraska fanbase, and was not able to deliver the success fans wanted in his seven-year tenure. Osborne also hired Tim Miles as head men’s basketball coach. Miles’ inability to deliver an NCAA tournament win in his seven-year tenure, combined with fans’ frustration about Osborne-hired head baseball coach Darin Erstad, has soured some on Osborne’s tenure as athletic director.

It’s fair comment. Osborne’s major hires as athletic director were certainly defensible at the time, but none have panned out. And coach hiring is one of the primary metrics you would ordinarily use to judge the success and legacy of an athletic director.

But notice the word “ordinary” there. Osborne was not Nebraska’s athletic director in ordinary times. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for the summer of 2010. Nebraska was still in its unhappy marriage with the Big XII conference, but the problems were growing. Northern schools like Nebraska were always concerned about how the league tilted in favor of Texas, and the announcement of the Longhorn Network made those concerns even more stark.

Things really got serious, though, when rumors began to swirl that Texas was in conversation to take Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech to the then-Pac-10 conference. With Missouri already having flirted with the Big 10 and Colorado with the Pac-10, it seemed almost a certainty that the Big XII would not survive for long. And for a program like Nebraska, without a massive population base, being frozen out of a conference home was an existential threat.

It was Osborne that faced down that threat, along with then-university chancellor Harvey Perlman. Osborne and Perlman ultimately pulled off the biggest pre-emptive strike, convincing the Big Ten Conference to accept Nebraska as a member.

The move was, to say the least, contentious. Nebraska would be abandoning rivalries with its former Big 8 partners that had lasted for over a hundred years. It would be sailing into uncharted territory, having to be the new guy on the block and competing for attention with blue-blood programs like Michigan and Ohio State.

But in retrospect, the move has paid off. Indeed, the decision to move Nebraska into the Big Ten is the most important one in the history of the Nebraska athletic program. Doing so has all-but-guaranteed Nebraska’s ability to continue as a top-flight college athletic program for the indefinite future. It has funneled more money into the program’s coffers (to the tune of $37 million dollars for fiscal year 2018, according to USA Today).

The importance of that decision, though, can only be seen in imagining the counterfactual. Take, for example, Connecticut athletics. Sure, UConn and Nebraska don’t have the same history or national brand. But it’s not like UConn has no history – in basketball terms, UConn has been a blue-blood for a long time.

Before the conference realignments in the early 2000s, UConn was a founding member of the Big East conference, which was a premier college basketball conference and a member of the BCS. Big East membership for UConn guaranteed the Huskies a seat at the table as a major program in both NCAA revenue sports.

Then the Big East fell apart. Between 2011 and 2012, West Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Notre Dame all left the conference for different homes. Seeing the danger, UConn tried but failed to get itself into the ACC. Trying to stay relevant in football – the all-important sport for revenue purposes – the remaining Big East school made a last-gasp grab and added Tulane.

But adding Tulane – and the travel to Louisiana that the addition would require – was enough for the Big East’s basketball-only schools (St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence, Marquette, DePaul, and Villanova) to break off and form a new conference. That left UConn truly without a home.

Now, UConn is competing in both football and basketball in the American Athletic Conference, a “non-power-five” conference. In addition to being all-but-frozen out of the College Football Playoff and being a “mid-major” in basketball, the move has had significant financial implications for UConn. The AAC’s television payout for 2016-17 was $74.47 million – compared with the Big Ten’s payout of $531 million for the same period, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

(A great breakdown of the Big East’s collapse can be found at SB Nation.)

Again, Nebraska isn’t UConn. But it’s not hard to imagine a dystopian future for Nebraska if Osborne wasn’t able to secure Big Ten membership. Imagine a world where Texas takes those four schools and Colorado to the Pac-10. Texas A&M and Missouri bolt for the SEC. And let’s imagine that Notre Dame rather than Nebraska becomes the Big Ten’s twelfth member.

Where would Nebraska be in that scenario? The remaining five teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, and Nebraska) would have been without a conference home and scrambling. While Nebraska would certainly be the most attractive of those remaining, it’s easy to see how NU could have ended up in the Mountain West with schools like Wyoming, or in a far-flung nationwide conference like Conference USA.

Either of those scenarios – which would be best-case scenarios without the Big Ten golden ticket – would put Nebraska athletics in a very similar circumstance to UConn’s current plight. It was Osborne’s leadership (along with Perlman and the rest of the Nebraska brass) that helped NU avoid disaster and protect its place amongst the elite of college athletics.

So criticize Osborne’s coach hires all you want. But solely on the basis of getting Nebraska into the Big Ten, Osborne deserves a statue for his tenure as Nebraska athletic director.

GBR, baby.

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Nebraska Football: Iowa Can Be, and Should Be, Nebraska’s Rival

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Nebraska will play Iowa on the day after Thanksgiving, putting a merciful end to the 2017 season. The contest will feel much more like a wake than a game, given how things have unfolded. A best-case scenario will see Nebraska end the season at 5-7, making that two years in three that head coach Mike Riley has led NU to such a regular season record.

There has been considerable ink spilled about whether Riley will be fired at then end of the season (deep announcer voice – Riley will be fired) and who will replace him. Adding one more voice to that speculation on the decisions of athletic director Bill Moos wouldn’t really add much to the conversation.

So let’s take a look instead on what’s happening on the field on Friday, and in the hearts of Nebraska fans. Nebraska is facing Iowa on Black Friday. What does that mean?

Well, Moos wants it to mean that Nebraska is facing off against its conference rival. Here’s what he said on the Sports Nightly radio program (according to the Omaha World-Herald):

“I’m going to really push, to establish Iowa as being our rival,” Moos said on air. “We came into the Big Ten and we need a rivalry game, and I’ve already been to the Big Ten and talked to them about that so hopefully we can keep that Black Friday game and have that be Iowa each year.”

Moos sounds like he’s reading the writing of a smart and particularly handsome analyst and jumping in quickly to salvage Nebraska’s Black Friday game against Iowa each year.

(Deep announcer voice – Moos has neither read, nor heard of, the Double Extra Point).

That’s an encouraging sign, to see that Moos recognizes the value both of the Black Friday game and a rivalry against Iowa. Hopefully he’ll be able to convince the bigwigs in the conference (B1Gwigs?) to undo the schedule change that sees Nebraska depart Black Friday after 2020.

But, Husker Fan, it’s time for you to embrace Iowa as your rival. There’s a whole bunch of good reasons why now is the time.

First of all, it’s an acknowledgment of where the two teams are. Since joining the B1G, Nebraska is 3-3 against Iowa, with the Hawkeyes owning a two-game winning streak. Iowa and Nebraska have each been to one B1G conference title game, and Iowa has one more Rose Bowl appearance in that time than Nebraska.

Yes, Husker Fan, I know you don’t want to accept Iowa as your rival because you think you’re saying you judge Nebraska against the standard of Iowa rather than teams like Ohio State and Alabama.

At some level, I get that. A program like Nebraska, with its resources and history, should be aiming for national relevance in a way that a program like Iowa has not shown itself to be.

And yes, I know you felt like Colorado and Kansas State were forced upon you as rivals after the Big 12 took away Nebraska’s yearly meeting with Oklahoma, and you’re still pining for those “Bury Switzer” bumper stickers your father put on his station wagon.

Well, that ain’t happening. Nebraska isn’t – and shouldn’t – even considering departing the B1G. It is now a member of one of the two most powerful conferences in college sports. Through the Big Ten Network, Nebraska has access to one of the most innovative and far-reaching marketing outlets to showcase itself. Membership in the B1G enhances the credibility and prestige of the university as a whole.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also 51 million other reasons why the B1G is a great home for the Big Red.

So you can hold your breath until your face turns Sooner Crimson all you want. The future of Nebraska football is annual tilts against Wisconsin, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois – and, yes, Iowa – from now on. You can either keep pining for your lost love, or you can lean in and embrace Nebraska’s new home.

In some ways, Nebraska fans’ reluctance to do has been part of the problem. Nebraska’s performances against its divisional opponents has been pretty average. Yes, part of that has been a talent and coaching issue. But part of it, I’m convinced, is the team not really investing in its divisional home and really buying into the need to win consistently against the B1G West. And if the fans buy in, that just puts all the more pressure on the team to do the same.

And it’s not like the other side isn’t willing to engage. Sure, Iowa might seem a little cool on Nebraska as a rival, especially given Iowa’s trophy games against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa State. And given that Nebraska is struggling and kind of asking to be let into the rivalry tent, Iowa is sure to give Nebraska a taste of its own medicine and play coy.

Don’t let that fool you. There’s a built-in hatred within the Iowa fanbase for Nebraska. Some of that is being a divisional rival, but some of it pre-dates Nebraska’s arrival in the B1G. Here’s how RossWB from Black Heart, Gold Pants described his (not safe for work) feelings for Nebraska in 2011:

No, my first hate* was Nebraska. Growing up in northwest Iowa, it was an easy hate to develop. In those days, there were really only two choices: you could be an Iowa fan or you could be a Nebraska fan. (Outside of my parents, I knew a few masochistic Iowa State fans, but they were a definite minority.) It would have been a very easy time to be a Nebraska fan — they were just beginning their run of three titles in four years — but it was also easy to not become a Nebraska fan. Their fans were (too often) arrogant, preening assholes** and their program was, in many ways, loathsome***. They combined many of the worst aspects of rednecks and blue blood royalty, taking two often-terrible things and creating something even worse.

That’s a pretty good summary of Iowa fans’ perception of Nebraska. It’s not entirely unearned, given how Nebraska fans cling to the 90s like a lifeboat in the ocean. That hubris was brought into full focus in 2014 when then-athletic director Shawn Eichorst cited as a reason for firing then-head coach Bo Pelini a comparison between the Nebraska and Iowa programs – basically subtweeting that Nebraska is too good of a program to be rubbing shoulders with a program like Iowa.

It is also, without question, born in part of resentment and jealousy watching a neighboring agricultural state have a wildly successful football program with a nationally-known brand.

(Deep announcer voice – this is an example of the kind of shade that rivalries are built on)

So, yeah, the pump is primed for Iowa fans to embrace this rivalry. Just look at this. And this. And this. Heck, you know it’s probably a rivalry already if Iowa fans are rolling out smack-talk like this after last year’s 40-10 (!) Iowa win:

If it’s 9:20 in Iowa City, what time is it in Lincoln? 40 to 10.

It’s time for Nebraska fans to embrace it right back. And on Friday, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to test out whether you can embrace that Iowa rivalry.

Nebraska is 4-7, and isn’t going to a bowl game. Iowa is 6-5, and a win will likely affect only whether Iowa will be going to Detroit or New York for its December bowl game. Substantively, there’s nothing on the line.

But there’s that trophy, that ridiculously-sanitized Heroes Game trophy the B1G picked up from a grocery store. Take a look at the picture on this post, Husker Fan. That’s Iowa, in 2013, running across the Memorial Stadium turf, grabbing that trophy off the Nebraska sideline, and parading it in front of the assembled black and gold faithful pouring “let’s go Hawks” cries into your ears as you trudged home.

How does that make you feel, Husker Fan? If you’ve made it this far, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how it makes you feel, even if you don’t want to admit it out loud.

It pisses you off. It makes your Husker blood boil seeing those guys carry a trophy off of your stadium. It makes you want to right that wrong, to shut up your Hawkeye-fan neighbor or co-worker or family member over the holidays and the long off-season.

In other words, it pumps you up and gives you real, visceral stakes on the Nebraska-Iowa game. A win on Friday won’t send Nebraska to a bowl or put Nebraska in the top-25. But it will feel damn good to have in your back pocket as you see your Hawkeye friends and family.

So, Friday’s game is important to win, regardless of either team’s record. Sounds like a rivalry, doesn’t it, Husker Fan?

Nebraska Football: Five Rules For Husker Fans For The Rest of 2017

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Most of you are expecting a Re-View of Nebraska’s 54-21 loss to Minnesota. But I just don’t see a point in breaking down this game. Full credit to Minnesota, a team under first-year coach P.J. Fleck who is on the rise and will be good in coming years.

But there’s no way to understand this loss without knowing that head coach Mike Riley is almost assuredly is going to lose his job after this season. This loss had much more to do with Nebraska’s mental state – or lack thereof – than anything in terms of strategic breakdowns.

So what do you do now, Husker Fan? There’s still two games left, but for all practical purposes there’s nothing left to play for. It’s really weird for Nebraska fans to be in early November with games left on the schedule and having nothing to do but wait for the offseason.

We’re here to help, Husker Fan. I know you’re struggling for how to respond – anyone of us who wear scarlet and cream are struggling. So here are some rules to help you out.

You Can’t Stop Caring

I know, I know, this stinks. Your Husker heart is aching about this whole surreal situation. You just saw Minnesota – yes, the no. 119 team in national scoring – put up a fifty-burger on the Blackshirts. And there’s two games left. The first is at Penn State – yipes – and a loss to the Nittany Lions will guarantee Nebraska’s second losing season in three years. The second is home to Iowa – a team that hung 50 on Ohio State – in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd that will be more than ready to bid farewell to 2017.

This hurts. This is no fun. And the rational response to this feeling is to give up and pull away.

Don’t. You don’t get to do that as a fan. I’m not saying you have to soak up every play of the next two games. I’m not even saying that skipping the Iowa game if you have tickets is a problem. Disengaging some, especially from the exhibition-style games that 2017 has left for Nebraska fans, is defensible.

But that’s different than not caring. You’re reading this because you care about Nebraska football, and you’re looking for answers.

I’m not sure I can give you much in terms of answers, although I am going to suggest some ways to get through this year. But I can tell you that giving up on Nebraska football based on this season – or, heck, based on the last decade and a half – would be a huge mistake.

Sure, it’s been since 1999 since Nebraska gave you a conference title. Sure, you’ve watched a lot of embarrassing losses and ugly performances. But be honest – you’ve had a whole bunch of great experiences too.

Not just wins, although those have been fun too. But Nebraska football is woven into the fabric of your life. It’s something to get excited about during the dog days of summer. It’s something to organize your autumn Saturdays around. It’s an easy gift for your family to buy you at Christmastime.

Being a fan – being truly, fully emotionally invested in a team – is an amazing gift. Your fandom lets you intensely experience a range of emotions – admittedly, some bad as well as good – in a way that people who aren’t sports fans can’t understand. To give that up, even while in the throes of Nebraska’s current struggles, would be a very high price to pay.

You Can Be Frustrated, Angry, and Sarcastic

Look, just because you’re not disengaging doesn’t mean you have to say that this is all great. You’re upset about all of this, and you should be. And now, even more than in 2007, you’ve got social media platforms that are built for sarcasm and snark.

Let it rip (within certain limits). Dark comedy is a great outlet for your frustration. Sarcasm can make you feel better. Even a long, ALL CAP FILLED rant is a great vent of your feelings.

All of those things mean you still care, and are looking for an outlet for all your anger and frustration. So as long as you’re not being hurtful (and we’ll discuss what that looks like in a bit), let your snark flag fly.

You Can’t Take It Out On The Players

Social media is great to let your frustration out. But the players live on social media, too. Many of them put themselves out there on media like Twitter and Instagram, and are available to be reached by fans.

Some of you have decided that the college kids who play for Nebraska are good targets for your ire on social media. No one is getting named and shamed on this forum, but there’s only one response I can give to you.

Stop it.

Seriously there is no set of circumstances where calling out the players is a good idea. And I know that some of you will respond by telling me that the players gave an unacceptable effort against Minnesota.

I’m willing to listen to that, and certainly willing to listen to former Nebraska players discuss it. But there’s a difference between an athlete who has bled and sweated for the scarlet and cream and @JoeCouchGuy_7 popping off.

Ladies and gentlemen, football is hard. It’s a really hard game, and it’s really hard work to get ready to play, week after week. Every player on that team, I’m confident to say, has put in more work to be a football player than most people reading this blog have put in for anything in their life.

You know what else is hard? Losing. Continuing to lose plays with your confidence, and losing track of all your season goals makes it hard to give that extra little bit that is the difference between winning and losing.

Nebraska’s players are better than Minnesota’s. All else being equal, that means Nebraska should beat Minnesota. But that doesn’t mean there is a chasm of difference between the two teams. And desire, passion, “want to,” all those things that you hear football fans speak in clichés about, make a difference.

I can’t argue the fact that Nebraska’s effort against Minnesota was unacceptable. But I will argue that it’s awfully hard, awfully hard indeed, for college kids to give the kind of extreme effort necessary to win a football game – yes, even against Minnesota – when many of them have to be convinced that the entire coaching staff is going to be fired shortly after Black Friday.

Yes, that means a team that didn’t give acceptable effort is still doing its best. More importantly, it means that the kids on that roster still need – and deserve – the support of the fans.

You know that whole bit about “in all kinds of weather?” Now’s the time to put that to the test, Husker Fan, and stick together in support of the players as we close out 2017.

You Can’t Strike Your Colors

No hiding, Husker Fan. Now is the time where it’s important to fly your flag and broadcast your fandom. I know, Thanksgiving is coming, and your Hawkeye relatives will be licking their chops waiting for you.

What are you going to do? Put your scarlet and cream away and hope they don’t notice? Good luck with that. Now is the time to earn your stripes.

In 2004, I suffered from a bout of what you might call irrational exuberance. Before the season started, I bought tickets to the Big XII title game in Kansas City. I thought for sure the worm would turn, and this would be Nebraska’s year to scale the mountain.

Well, that didn’t exactly work. But I went anyway, and watched Oklahoma dismantle Colorado, 42-3.

But that’s not the point of the story. I wore my Nebraska coat (because it’s Arrowhead, and Arrowhead is bone-chilling cold in mid-July). And I got more comments – more respect – from the fans that were at the game than any other time I can recall

(Well, from the Oklahoma fans, anyway. Colorado fans are the subject of another essay.)

Here’s your chance, Husker Fan. You’re not 10 years old. You don’t get to change your allegiances when a new shiny object comes around or when you hit a little choppy water.

Lean into the struggle and fly your scarlet and cream proudly. Trust me, it will be worth it when things turn for Nebraska.

You Can’t Forget You’ve Seen This Before.

This is kind of a two-edged sword. It’s a problem for Nebraska as a program that we have been here before, in 2007 after Steve Pederson was fired. We’ve seen a team come unglued under the tutelage of a dead coach walking. We’ve seen ugly losses – although, in fairness, in 2007 the losses weren’t to teams as poor as 2017 Minnesota.

But we survived, didn’t we? We found hope in 2008, even when we thought we’d never feel that again after Kansas put up 76. We dreamed of titles when Nebraska played Oklahoma and Texas in the Big XII title game (although not at the same time, that would have been tough). We thought Nebraska had cracked the B1G nut when a four-loss Wisconsin showed up in Indianapolis – at least until the game started.

Hope will come again, probably sooner than you think. Riley has to go, but he’s not Bill Callahan or Bo Pelini. He’ll still coach and recruit, and leave the team in the best shape possible for the next guy in charge. He won’t shut things down in a fit of pique or poison the well to salve his bruised ego.

And now Nebraska has an experienced football mind in Bill Moos to fire Riley and hire his replacement. That’s no guarantee, of course, the Moos will pick the right guy. Or that the right guy will want to come to Lincoln. Or that the “right guy” will actually be the right guy and get Nebraska back to national relevance.

But there’s reason for hope. Not only because there’s reason to believe in the new decision-maker, but because the drought has been so long for Nebraska that it can ill afford another wrong guy wearing the headset in Lincoln.

Give in to that hope, Husker Fan, at least a little bit. Life is too short, and too hard, to indulge yourself in the cowardice of cynicism. At the end of the day, it is still college football – the most important irrelevant thing around these parts. Whether or not Nebraska is good at football isn’t going to put food on your table or a roof over your head.

But being a Nebraska fan can make you happy. To allow that, though, you have to find a little space in your heart for hope. It’s a tough ask now, I get it. But it was a tough ask before, too. And hope came back, just as sure as day follows the night.

Don’t be afraid of it, Husker Fan. Search out the hope. And embrace it when it comes.

Now, more than ever, GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU Re-View, Nebraska 25, Purdue 24

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In the fourth quarter against Purdue, Nebraska was down 24-12 after being unable to score a touchdown the entire game. Not only did it look like Nebraska was going down to a second straight loss on the road against Purdue (!) but it seemed like a fait accompli that new athletic director Bill Moos would be dismissing head coach Mike Riley and looking for a new leader.

But then Nebraska found its offensive mojo, scoring a second touchdown with fourteen seconds remaining to pull out a dramatic 25-24 victory.

The Good

Have a game, Tanner. Yeah, there was a lot about that game that was pretty ugly for Nebraska. But quarterback Tanner Lee sure wasn’t one of them. Lee was 32-50 (!) for 431 yards (!!) and two touchdowns. He was calm in the pocket, braving at times a heavy rush to keep Nebraska’s offense moving.

I know Run The Ball Guy hated this game. But without Lee’s heroics, Nebraska is 3-5.

Pick-zero. So, imagine a sign outside of Memorial Stadium. On the sign, it reads as follows:

It has been –11– quarters since Nebraska threw a pick-six interception. Safety first!

There was not a lot to like about Nebraska’s offense for most of the game against Purdue. But one thing to like was the fact that it didn’t give away any turnovers helped keep hope alive for Nebraska’s comeback – and perhaps for Riley’s career in Lincoln.

Never say die. It’s been … a rough couple of weeks in Lincoln. A fired athletic director, two embarrassing losses at home, and a native son hanging in the background like a shadow cast over the entire football program. The fan base – certainly the most vocal parts of it, anyway – have already made their plans for a new coach to be in place for next season.

That’s an easy scenario for negativity to set in throughout the team. And with Nebraska down 12 points in the fourth quarter – after having scored only 12 points the entire game – it would have been easy to see NU rolling over and giving up the ghost.

But instead, Nebraska dug in, and finally scored a touchdown. And the defense which had been so tormented against Ohio State got not one, but two sets of stops to set up Nebraska’s offense for its heroic last-second win.

It says a lot about how the team has bought in, both to the coaching staff and to each other, that they were able to dig deep and find a way to win.

The Bad

Big red cross. Look, Nebraska made heavy weather of game it shouldn’t have. There’s plenty of reasons for that, but it can be fairly summed up by saying that Nebraska being a five-point underdog to Purdue was well deserved in 2017.

But Nebraska got pretty well banged up during the game, too. Center Michael Decker is likely lost for the season. Safetys Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams are questionable, as is Eric Lee and Jaylin Bradley. There’s plenty of reasons to explain Nebraska’s struggles against Purdue that had nothing to do with injuries. But the injuries didn’t help, either.

Red zone woes. Nebraska outgained Purdue by over 100 total yards, had ten minutes more of possession, and five more first downs than Purdue. On paper, Nebraska looked like it controlled the game. On the scoreboard, of course, Nebraska needed Lee’s last-second heroics to save it from a second straight loss in West Lafayette.

One of the main reasons why Purdue was winning the game even though it was losing the statistics was because of Nebraska’s ineptitude in the red zone. Nebraska had five red zone trips, and only got twelve points. Thank heavens for Drew Brown’s accuracy, because Nebraska needed all twelve of those points to win the game.

But imagine what the game would have looked like if Nebraska would have cashed in a couple of those red zone opportunities into touchdown.

8. Eight. Freaking. Yards.

That was Nebraska’s rushing total at the half against Purdue. Nebraska ended the game with forty yards rushing, in comparison to 431 of passing, so it’s not like the run-pass balance got any better.

And The Sense of Perspective

As Nebraska fans were bathing in the glory of a comeback win like travelers in a desert oasis, Twitter was helpfully providing some perspective.

That, by the way, is a totally fair assessment of the state of Nebraska’s program. What Iowa State is doing is remarkable, and should be the goal to which Nebraska aspires.

(And, no, I never thought I’d write that sentence either.)

And in the long run, that’s the right perspective. Nebraska, as a football program, should not be looking up to Iowa State. The fact that Nebraska is behind Iowa State now is prima facie evidence that something is wrong in Lincoln.

But, admit it, Husker Fan. That didn’t matter to you when Nebraska started its fourth quarter comeback. When Tyler Hoppes took the ball into the end zone to bring the margin to one score, it wasn’t that important what the Cyclones were doing. When Nebraska got a third down stop for a chance to engineer a game-winning drive, you weren’t focused on what Moos was thinking about in the pressbox. And when Stanley Morgan caught Lee’s pass to give Nebraska the lead, all of the hurt of this season – and, really since 1997 – went away.

Not forever, of course. But just for that moment, all that negativity and hard feeling disappeared. You were too busy jumping around and cheering like a crazy person, feeling that sense of unbridled euphoria that only comes from the emotional gambling that is being a sports fan.

And that’s why you do it, Husker Fan. That’s why you come back, week after week, month after month, season after season. That’s why you expose yourself to all the pain and frustration that comes with following your team – hoping for that one moment of unfiltered, crazy, unreplacable joy.

By all means, Husker Fan, stay plugged in on what should happen in the big picture of Nebraska football. Whether Riley should stay or go is a question everyone has an opinion on.

But don’t let all that big picture drama rob you of why you’re a fan in the first place – to have that sense of anticipation on game day, that sense of excitement and nervousness during the game, and the joy (or despair) of the result.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Making Sense of Riley’s Status as Husker Head Coach

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Where do we go from here now that all other children are growing-up?

And how do we spend our lives if there’s no-one to give us a hand?

– Games People Play, The Alan Parsons Project

It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? Nebraska came into 2017 as a huge unknown, and has to this point been a borderline-disaster. Ugly defensive performances early against Arkansas State and Oregon, pick-six interception after pick-six interception, Nebraska’s worst loss in over a decade, and capitulation against the measuring sticks of the conference have hit Nebraska fans like a train wreck.

Nebraska’s seen the firing of athletic director Shawn Eichorst and the hiring of replacement Bill Moos from Washington State. And, most importantly, it’s seen head coach Mike Riley’s job seriously called into question seven games into the third year of his tenure.

So what do we make of all this?

Ohio State was never going to define Riley’s tenure

Yeah, last week wasn’t pretty. Sure, Nebraska’s 56-14 loss to Ohio State in Memorial Stadium was better than last year’s 62-3 debacle. But if anything, the 56-14 score was flattering … to Nebraska. As a smart and particularly handsome analyst put it on Twitter:

So if you’re judging Nebraska against Ohio State, then clearly last week wasn’t good enough. But, realistically, Nebraska was never expected to compete against the Buckeyes. If Moos has not made his mind up about Riley yet (a position which is clearly not universally shared), then Ohio State wasn’t going to be the measuring stick against which Riley’s performance would be judged.

Nebraska’s next five games are at Purdue, home to Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Penn State, and home to Iowa. According to SB Nation’s five-year recruiting averages, Nebraska has better talent than every school on that list not named Penn State. So if you are judging Riley’s future based on the remainder of 2017, then winning four of the next five would seem to be the fairest test.

If Riley is still coaching for his job, Nebraska’s performance against Ohio State shouldn’t be what decides his fate. Instead, it should be how Nebraska performs against the winnable games left on its 2017 schedule.

Nebraska is worse now than when Riley arrived

Boy, that’s a rough subhead to write. But it’s hard to argue. Nebraska likely wasn’t as bad as its 6-7 mark in 2015, after being the victim of a number of ridiculous bad-luck losses. But it also likely wasn’t as good as last year’s 9-4 mark, benefitting from a number of fortunate victories.

This year? Nebraska’s earned every bit of its 3-4 mark. It was a last-minute drive by Arkansas State away from sitting at 2-5 with losses to a Sun Belt and a MAC school.

Riley’s defenders would point out, fairly, that Nebraska is installing an entirely new defense and functionally a new offense given the change at quarterback. Nebraska’s struggles this season were in some way inevitable as a result.

That’s a big ask, wanting functionally a “reset” year-zero year at a program like Nebraska. This is Riley’s third year in Lincoln, and it’s fair for him to expect a little more time to get his players and install his system.

But in his tenure, Nebraska has three indefensible losses (2015 Illinois, 2015 Purdue, and 2017 Northern Illinois). And Nebraska now has the kind of blowout losses (2016 Ohio State, 2016 Tennessee, 2017 Wisconsin, 2017 Ohio State) that helped show Bo Pelini the door even with winning nine games consistently.

The stage is set for a coaching change

Moos’ arrival in October wasn’t good news for Riley. I don’t believe it’s a guarantee that Riley will be fired, which puts me at odds with many of the reporters covering Nebraska on a local and national level.

But if Riley is going to be fired, having a new athletic director in place makes that process work a lot better. If Moos decides that Riley has to go – whether that was on the plane ride to Lincoln, or at some point during the remainder of the season – then a sitting AD can start right away on the job search process. And if this year’s off-season coaching carousel might be competitive, having someone get a jump start on the process could be critical.

But there’s history that might suggest Riley could stay

The consensus seems to be that Riley is a dead coach walking. I know it feels that way after Wisconsin and Ohio State. And if Nebraska drops a game to Purdue or Minnesota, then it’s going to be a hard conclusion to avoid.

But remember how you felt after Northern Illinois. It seemed like there was no way Riley could continue. But two wins (over two pretty atrocious football teams) got Nebraska fans excited enough to generate an electric atmosphere in Lincoln when the Badgers came to town.

What do you think a three-game winning streak would do for the mood of the fanbase? How much better would things look after three straight wins?

Don’t forget, too, that Moos gave Mike Leach a fourth year at Washington State after winning three, six, and three games in his first three years. The scenarios are different, of course, but Moos at least has some history of taking his time when appropriate.

So what’s next?

I have no idea. I really like Riley as a person. I can see what he’s trying to do on offense. And I really like the direction Nebraska recruiting is heading.

But I don’t like the direction Nebraska’s product on the field has been heading. I don’t like some of the personnel decisions and game-management that have led Nebraska to its current overall record. And I really don’t like the sense of resignation seeping into the fan base. For the Ohio State game, secondary market tickets were available for less than $20. That’s an unsustainable level of faith in the program by its fans. It’s hard to imagine going into an offseason with this level of defeatism permeating the fanbase. That, by itself, would be a convincing argument for a coaching change.

Then there’s the native son, Scott Frost, waiting in the wings. Frost seems to be the next big thing in coaching, and it’s hard to imagine him saying no if Nebraska came calling. Frost would likely be able to unify a fan base that’s been fractured since the firing of Frank Solich in 2003 (although, don’t forget, Frost was booed by Nebraska fans after spurning NU to attend Stanford as a freshman).

And while you don’t want to make a decision from fear, can you imagine what Nebraska fans would be like if Moos stuck with Riley and Frost went to Tennessee? There would be an element of the fan base that would never stop comparing the two – and woe to Moos and Nebraska if Frost took off with the Volunteers.

Ultimately, I think it’s very unlikely that Riley is back for 2018, primarily because I don’t see this group of Cornhuskers being able to win all four games likely needed to save his job. So I am resigned to a coaching change, taking a hit on the recruiting class (which is far less important in the long run than it will seem at the time), and an off-season of uncertainty for Nebraska.