Nebraska Football: Why Matt Rhule is Neither Mike Riley nor Scott Frost

On Saturday, Nebraska announced that Matt Rhule had been hired as the 31st permanent head coach of the Cornhusker football program. Rhule signed an eight-year contract with Nebraska.

There’s plenty of other outlets that will tell you who Rhule is and what to expect from him in Lincoln. We won’t try to duplicate that.

But given that the coaching search went on for some months – and given the long-suffering Nebraska fan base since the 1990s – many fans have expressed concern and anxiety about Rhule. Specifically, many fans pointed out similarities to former head coaches Mike Riley and Scott Frost, which is not a compliment in this neck of the woods.

Look, there’s no such thing as a guarantee. No one – not Matt Rhule, not Scott Frost, not Urban Meyer – is a guarantee of success. But let’s take a deep breath, Husker Fan, and at least see how catastrophizing comparisons between previous failed head coaches are misplaced.

He’s not Mike Riley

Rhule’s college experience consists of four years at Temple and three years at Baylor. Some Nebraska fans hear echoes of Riley’s experience at Oregon State as a justification for optimism. Much like Riley, Rhule’s teams overperformed at smaller schools but were never able to reach the elite levels Nebraska fans yearn for.

But there are three significant differences between the coaches. First, Riley coached at one place, Oregon State, for 14 years. In that time, Riley’s teams won ten games only once, in 2006. Rhule coached at Temple for four years and Baylor for three. In three of those seven years (twice at Temple, once at Baylor), Rhule won at least ten games.

Both Temple and Baylor were huge rebuilding programs, for different reasons. Rhule went 2-10 and 1-11 respectively at his two stops before building 10-win programs by the third year. Oregon State in Riley’s 12-year tenure plateaued at 10-wins in 2006 before drifting back to 5-7 in 2014, his last season in Corvalis.

The other obvious difference is age. Rhule is taking over Nebraska at age 47. Riley was 61 when he was announced as Nebraska’s head coach, and referred to the move as his “last great adventure.”

Finally, Rhule is taking over a Nebraska program that is significantly more unified that what Riley inherited. Outgoing coach Bo Pelini infamously poisoned the water of the team Riley would lead before departing. Additionally, there were still many within the Nebraska athletic department that were upset about Pelini’s dismissal and did his replacement no favors in his attempt to be successful.

Riley did himself no favors, of course, in his management of the program. But Rhule will not be inheriting the headwinds Riley had upon his arrival in Lincoln.

He’s not Scott Frost

Anxious Nebraska fans also see echoes of Scott Frost in Rhule. Much like Frost, Rhule is a young coach with a brief resume of success at a smaller school. What evidence is there, those fans fear, that Rhule will not hit the same ceiling that Frost did?

Again, there are significant differences. Most importantly, there is no evidence that Rhule is anything like the fraud Frost turned out to be.

Additionally, Rhule’s second stop was at Baylor, a member of a Power-5 conference, as opposed to Central Florida. In three years, Rhule was able to take Baylor from near death’s door to the Big XII conference title game.

And the “death’s door” part of Rhule’s resurrection at Baylor should not be underestimated. Rhule took over a Baylor program led by Art Briles that was riven with a culture accepting sexual assault. More than perhaps any other rebuilt in modern college football history, Rhule had to start from absolute scratch when he arrived in Waco.

Three years later, the Bears were in the Big XII conference title game.

In addition to being the prodigal son returning, Frost was thought to be a can’t miss prospect given his success at Central Florida. But as a smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out, Central Florida wasn’t exactly a disaster when Frost arrived.

But there’s more to the story. Yes, going from 0-12 to 13-0 is an amazing feat. But let’s broaden the lens a little and look at UCF’s performance over the last seven years.

YEARUCF RECORD
2017 (Frost)13-0
2016 (Frost)6-7
2015 (O’Leary/Barrett)0-12
2014 (O’Leary)9-4
2013 (O’Leary)12-1
2012 (O’Leary)10-4

Yeah, UCF was terrible in 2015, enough to get previous head coach George O’Leary fired mid-season. But it’s not like UCF was a year-after-year disaster that Frost resurrected. The squad that Frost inherited was only a year removed from a nine-win season. It was only two years removed from being a three-point loss to South Carolina away from being in the mix for the final BCS title game.

Now, let’s be clear. This doesn’t take any credit away from Frost’s accomplishments at UCF. Going from 0-12 to 13-0 is remarkable, regardless of context.

But UCF’s 2015 debacle was clearly the outlier. So to assume Frost is a necromancer that can raise the football dead based on two years of work in Orlando ignores the platform upon which Frost stepped when he arrived at UCF.

He’s Matt Rhule

I get it, Husker Fan. You’ve been burned so many times, and it makes sense that you’re going to be leery of letting your heart be broken again.

And Rhule is no guarantee. Heck, Temple was only two years removed from consistently winning 8 and 9 games before he arrived in 2013.

But there’s lots of reasons to think Rhule can be successful in Lincoln. Keep an open mind about those reasons. Just don’t let the echoes of the past drown out the hope of things to come.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: An Essay On Rivalry

rivalry (noun): competition or fighting between people, businesses, or organizations who are in the same area and want the same things.

Collins Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

I am 53 years old, and have been a Nebraska football fan since my father took me to Memorial Stadium for the first time in 1976. So, yes, it’s his fault.

In that time, I have watched Nebraska be a dominant national power in college football. I’ve watched it rise to the top of its conference, only to be frustrated at attempting to reach the pinnacle of the sport. I’ve watched it reach that peak, and stand astride the mountaintop for five glorious years. I’ve also watched Nebraska fall back to earth, slowly at first, then faster as the descent steepened.

But in all those decades of watching college football, I never really understood what a rivalry meant. Not until Friday night.

Growing up, Nebraska fans liked to fancy themselves as a rival to Oklahoma. And sure, Nebraska-Oklahoma in the days of the Big 8 produced memorable games and storylines.

But Oklahoma wasn’t ever really Nebraska’s rival. In part, it’s because Oklahoma never really thought of Nebraska as a rival. Sure, things usually came down to beating Nebraska for Oklahoma to win a conference title and play for a national championship.

That was (and is) different, though, than Oklahoma beating Texas. Beating Texas was (and is) everything for Oklahoma. In college football terms, Nebraska was just a side piece for Oklahoma.

I always thought that was the reason why Oklahoma-Nebraska never felt like a rival the way “real” rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan, Cal-Stanford, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, or any other of those rivalries were. But I was wrong, because I didn’t understand the missing piece.

When Nebraska joined the B1G and Iowa took up the Black Friday spot, I remember there being lots of talk about how Nebraska-Iowa could become a natural rivalry. In my hubris at the time, I remember saying that we’d only know if it was a rivalry when Nebraska had a losing record and was still overjoyed to beat Iowa to keep the Hawkeyes from a conference title.

How silly, I thought at the time. How impossible that scenario seemed a mere decade ago.

We know where Nebraska football has been since then. Losing season after losing season. Losing to Iowa again. And again. And again. And after each loss, living with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers wearing black and gold and reminding us (some more politely than others) of the scoreboard.

When I was younger, I thought winning nine or ten games then losing just before reaching the pinnacle was pain. I thought I understood what that frustration and anger was having to settle for “minor” New Year’s Day bowl games.

That wasn’t pain. Husker Fan. You know what pain is now. You’ve lived it for the last half-decade.

(To be clear, we are talking pain in a sports-fandom context. It’s obviously not real pain, and to confuse it as such is an insult to the truly suffering. But the joy of sports is to be able to invest such passion in something so utterly meaningless. And in that context, Nebraska fans’ pain has been searing).

That’s what made the fourth quarter so gut-wrenching. A 24-point lead going into the fourth quarter should have felt insurmountable. But we’ve seen this movie before. We knew when Rahmir Johnson fumbled that Nebraska had found oh, so many creative ways to lose games and break hearts. At some level, muscle memory kicked in and we were ready for yet another preposterous, mind-boggling, soul-melting ending that would see the Heroes Trophy in Iowa’s hands yet again.

And then it didn’t happen. When Chris Kolarevic intercepted Alex Padilla with 42 seconds left – and when Casey Thompson executed a victory formation snap without fumbling – Nebraska fans finally got to feel what it is to end seven years of misery and frustration against your neighbors who would have gladly smashed their metaphorical boot in your face forever.

I can only speak for myself. I’ve watched Nebraska try to get past Oklahoma for years. I’ve watched Nebraska get oh-so-close to titles for years and come up short. I’ve watched Nebraska finally win national titles.

But I’ve never felt the way I did when Thompson’s knee hit the Kinnick Stadium turf that one last time on Friday.

Because now I finally get it. Rivalries are born out of pain. They’re forged in the crucible of all that defeat and frustration that comes from watching your neighbor experience the joy you ache for, and remind you about it every day for the following year.

The University of Nebraska has played college football since 1890. Nebraska has been nationally famous for football for over half a century. But Nebraska has never truly had a rival, at least not in the modern era of college football. It does now. That’s how a sloppy victory to end a 4-8 season can reduce a grown man to tears.

Thanks, Dad. Without you, I never would have experienced any of this.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: The Optimal Pre-Game Plan

There really is no experience quite like Memorial Stadium on game day. The sights, the sounds, the history, the band, the balloons, all of it makes for a culture-defining experience.

But, let’s face it Husker Fan, the games themselves haven’t been all that fun. I have not witnessed Nebraska win a game in Memorial Stadium since October 02, 2021 – and it’s not for lack of going to games.

Of course, I keep going. We keep going. The Wisconsin game on Saturday is officially a sellout, keeping the streak alive.

Some of going to the games is tradition – it’s just what we do as Nebraskans on an autumn Saturday. Some of it is the belief that something glorious will happen – even if that belief has been harder and harder to maintain over the last few years.

But getting the pre-game right is a guarantee of an experience. You can be undefeated in the pre-game. You can scratch that itch, connect with your history, and feel good about being a Nebraska fan in the pre-game, and bring that good feeling in … well hopefully for a quarter or two, at least.

Many of you are tailgaters, and I am constantly amazed at the creativity – and investment – that tailgaters put into their get-togethers. I’ve done it in the past, and it’s fun, but it’s not really my jam.

I have, however, over the years put together what I believe to be the optimal pre-game routine that gives you the best experience, both logistically and experientially. And because we’re a full-service content provider, we’re going to let you in on the pre-game hack.

Park at the baseball stadium

This is for those of you coming from Omaha, or at least east of Lincoln. You turn off I-80 going towards downtown, but before you reach it (and the inevitable traffic snarl) you pull off at the turnoff for the baseball stadium. As you drive towards the baseball complex, you’ll pass by a number of surface parking lots that are without charge if you’re up for a walk. You can go a little farther and there are pay lots to shorten your hike to the stadium.

The advantage to parking here is twofold. First, you avoid having to drive into Lincoln proper and dealing with all the traffic. Second, when you’re leaving the game, you’re also avoiding the Lincoln traffic leaving the city. You’ve got basically three turns to get onto I-80 and head home.

Also, the restrooms on both sides of Haymarket Park are open and operational, which is a nice option both departing and returning.

Choices over the bridge

Once you cross the bridge over the railroad tracks, you’ll have a number of options. You can head straight to the stadium, walking under the interstate, if you’re pressed for time. If you have a lot of extra time, you can walk right into the Haymarket and choose from any number of options for food and drink before the game.

But the optimal choice is to go just a few blocks east and walk onto the campus. Specifically, you walk to the open area outside the Glenn Korff School of Music to the southeast of the stadium. Make sure you’re there an hour before kickoff.

Listen to – and watch – the band

You’ll see the crowd assembling, waiting for the band to come out. An hour before kickoff, the band will assemble and rehearse their halftime show, ending with Hail Varsity. The band is cool to see from the stands. To be right up next to them, hearing the sounds, seeing the sights, and letting Hail Varsity wash over you is pretty amazing.

Don’t leave once the rehearsal is over, though. Within about ten minutes the band will assemble and prepare to process to the stadium. You can walk along with them through campus as they make their way.

Once the band reaches the stadium, they’ll sing the band song (“let the team all know the band is here!”) and then play Hail Varsity again – and sing you the words to the song too (yes, there’s words to the song!)

At this point, not only have you gotten a really neat experience, you’ve also timed your appearance at the stadium perfectly. You’ve got enough time to go in, get your hot dogs and popcorn (but not a Runza because, come on, that’s gross) and get up to your seats. By the time you sit down there will be about 20-25 minutes before kickoff. You’ll be able to relax for just a bit before the pregame spectacular starts and Sirius plays the team onto the field.

Once the game is over (because you’re not leaving before the end of the game, one way or the other, right?) then you can make your way out of the stadium. If you’re feeling good (or have time and need to drown your sorrows), the Haymarket is right there for you. If you’re just ready to go home, you can walk right back to the car and hit the road without having to navigate downtown Lincoln traffic.

There you have it, Husker Fan. I can’t promise you that the result of the game will make you happy. But follow this routine, and at least you’ll win the pre-game.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Husker Fans Can – And Should – Handle The Truth About Their Program

Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan Jessup in “A Few Good Men”

The dismissal of Scott Frost after his loss to Georgia Southern was far from a surprise. Indeed, it seemed like a relief, with interim head coach Mickey Joseph now getting a nine-game audition for the job.

Even with such a monumental change at the heart of the Nebraska program, it was hard to come up with anything new to say about it. A smart and particularly handsome analyst talked about the potential for Frost’s failure before his tenure started, and how the commitment of the fanbase would be part of Nebraska recovering.

Ironically, it’s the dark side of that fanbase’s passion that has created a new controversy after Frost’s firing. Mike’l Severe, a fixture in the local sports media, was featured on a video from Hurrdat Sports talking about how the firing was about more than wins and losses.

“[Athletic Director Trev Alberts] can’t talk about his head coach being late for practice every day. He can’t talk about his head coach not making recruiting phone calls.”

Damon Benning, on 1620 The Zone’s “Sharp and Benning” show, had more to say on Severe’s comments, and more broadly on whether local sports media should be really be covering the bad things that are happening behind the scenes at the beloved football program.

To summarize, Benning quotes the famous “you can’t handle the truth” line from “A Few Good Men” in saying that Nebraska fans were neither interested in nor able to handle negative reporting about their team or the coaching staff. Benning’s perspective, echoed by co-host Gary Sharp, was that reporting about problems within the program would just be met with criticism and anger. The deluge of calls, e-mails, and tweets to “quit being negative” and “just support the program” would be, in their words, exhausting.

And I get that! There’s a portion of the fanbase – a vocal one, to be sure – that just wants the sunshine pumped for Dear Old Nebraska U. Any member of the media who is perceived as being critical of or challenging the current coach gets labeled as “disloyal” or “negative” or (what might be my least favorite word in the English language) a “hater.”

Just as Dirk Chatelain, or Sam McKewon, or Mitch Sherman, or anyone who has pushed back on the company line or asked tough questions what their inbox and Twitter mentions have looked like.

But that really raises a bigger question as to what the point of having an independent media is in the first place. Let’s presume for a moment that Severe’s allegations are true. If that was actually happening, wouldn’t it have been better for the program for it to come into the light, so the problem could have been addressed – one way or the other – before the program unraveled as spectacularly as it has?

Now let’s be clear. I’m not talking about rumor-mongering. The internet is full of salacious stories and rumors of all the goings-on within the Nebraska football program. Repeating rumors and amplifying them with a large platform would be incredibly irresponsible and inappropriate for the local media.

If that’s what Benning was talking about – hearing rumors but not spreading them – I’m with him all the way. But that wasn’t the impression I got. What it sounded to me is like there were knowable, reportable things happening, and a choice was being made to not report them because the Nebraska fanbase “can’t handle the truth.”

Remember, though, that famous line in the movie was from Colonel Nathan Jessup – the villain of the movie. And trying to suppress the “truth” that Jessup was so sure we couldn’t handle was going to result in an innocent man going to jail.

I get not wanting to deal with that vocal portion of the fanbase that gets upset at anyone being a “hater.” But if that vocal portion of the fanbase is given a heckler’s veto to stop truthful, factual reporting on problems within the program, then any problems hidden behind closed doors will just continue to fester.

The purpose of journalism is to speak truth to power. Sports journalists who require ongoing access to the team they cover – and thus staying in the good graces of that team’s administration – are presented with all kinds of challenges and ethical quandaries.

But that doesn’t change the fact that no one ultimately benefits if the heckler’s veto stops us all from finding out if there are problems within the walls of the program we love. If Severe’s story is to be believed – that off-the-field problems were at least at part to blame for Nebraska’s mystifying inability to win close games – then failing to report on those did nothing but prolong the agony of Nebraska fans everywhere.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: Is Obligation All That’s Left?

I’m all out of faith, this is how I feel

I’m cold and I am shamed

Lying naked on the floor

Illusion never changed

Into something real

I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn

“Torn,” Natalie Imbruglia

In a season-defining, career-defining, program-defining opening game, Nebraska lost to Northwestern 31-28. Nebraska lost despite holding an 11-point lead twice in the game. Nebraska had chance after chance as the game wound down to pull the game out, but fell short yet again.

Nebraska is now 5-21 in one score games under Frost, including 0-9 since 2021. Nebraska is now 15-30 overall, reaching the stage where they’ve lost two games for every one win.

We can dissect the details of the game, including the decision to try an onside kick (a reckless but aggressive one which, at the time, I was fine with).

But, really, this isn’t about Xs and Os anymore, is it? You know what it felt like, Husker Fan. The bad break that lead to a slide and the late-game collapse. Be honest, once Northwestern took the lead, did you think that Nebraska was going to win?

I didn’t. And it sure looked to me like no one wearing scarlet and cream did either.

Please hear me, I’m not calling the players quitters. But in the fourth quarter, it looked like those uniforms weighed a thousand pounds. That the players felt the weight of every close loss, every dashed hope, every suffering Saturday throughout the Nebraska fanbase. It’s quite a lot to ask college kids to bear that weight.

I honestly don’t know what to do now. I thought about waiting for a few days before writing anything, so I wasn’t writing something for public consumption while being so up in my feelings about this.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe this is the honest part.

For the whole week before the game, my friends and family kept asking if I was excited for the game. And I kept saying no, and it was true. I wasn’t excited. I was dreading it.

Apparently, for good reason.

So now what? I know you’ve come here for years now to hear about how Nebraska football connects us to our history and how we can all stick together in all kinds of weather and all that rah-rah jazz.

Right now I’m just pretty numb inside. I am all out of faith.

I never thought I would look myself in the mirror and realize that I don’t want to go to Lincoln next week for the North Dakota game. I have consistently referred to Memorial Stadium as my favorite place on earth.

Now? The thought of being one of the greatest fans to pass through those gates just fills me with sadness.

I’ll will go, more than likely. The season tickets are my parents’ and having the opportunity to spend that day with my mom is a gift I would be a fool to turn down.

But Nebraska football isn’t fun anymore. It’s an obligation. It’s muscle memory on a Saturday afternoon.

I can hear myself saying to stay the course, to take in the pageantry, to live in the hope that something wonderful will happen.

So I will probably be there, performing the rituals I have since I was small. Chanting the chants and clapping slightly off-beat to the band. Hoping to find some solace in that familiarity.

But I’m out of faith in this program. Maybe it will come back. Maybe a win over Oklahoma will wash the taste of this Irish debacle out of my soul.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: It’s OK That ESPN’s FPI Picks Huskers to Win B1G West

Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton in “Avengers: Endgame”

Don’t do that. Don’t give me hope.

Clint Barton, Hawkeye/Ronin, “Avengers: Endgame”

Nebraska ended the 2021 season at 3-9, and head coach Scott Frost is 15-27 in his first four seasons. So Nebraska fans could be rightly surprised when ESPN’s Football Power Index tabbed Nebraska as most likely to win the B1G West. Here’s how the projective metric sees the chances for each team to win the division.

Nebraska29.2%
Wisconsin28.9%
Minnesota14.2%
Iowa13.9%
Purdue13.0%
Illinois0.6%
Northwestern0.3%

I know, I know, another “Nebraska winning the offseason” column. And Nebraska fans certainly are wise to guard their hearts given Frost’s 5-20 (!) record in one-score games.

But hear me out. The FPI really does give some objective reasons why you should at least have some cautious optimism for 2022.

First of all, in the preseason the FPI is based largely on previous season data, including returning starters, coaching tenure, and past performance. Likely starting quarterback Casey Thompson’s experience at Texas helps Nebraska’s performance in the metric.

Second, and probably more importantly, Nebraska’s schedule is far different this year than last. In 2021, even at 3-9, the FPI had Nebraska ranked at no. 29 nationally due to how difficult its schedule was. Last year, the FPI ranked Nebraska’s schedule as the eleventh-hardest in the country, and most difficult in the B1G West.

This year, Nebraska’s schedule is no. 50 nationally. Only Illinois (no. 51), Minnesota (no. 52), and Purdue (no. 62) have easier schedules than Nebraska. Iowa (no. 16), Wisconsin (no. 20), and Northwestern (no. 27) have far more difficult schedules this year.

Of course, the FPI is just a predictive metric based on past performances. It’s no guarantee that this will be the year that Nebraska finally gets back to a bowl game and likely saves Frost’s job. And given what they’ve seen, Nebraska fans could be forgiven for concluding that the team is just plain cursed.

Nebraska doesn’t make it any easier by insisting on a week zero game in Ireland against Northwestern, a team that is almost grown in a lab to cause Frost problems. A loss to the Purples could easily wreck the team’s confidence and start a “here we go again” spiral for the 2022 season.

But if Nebraska is able to beat the Purples in Dublin (and get its first winning record since 2019), then at least the table is set for NU to finally, finally, turn that mythical corner.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: A Reason For Hope In Frost’s Cornhuskers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. On the cusp of finally delivering a signature win, Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers committed a catastrophic mistake which snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In this case, it was quarterback Adrian Martinez’ fumble late in the fourth quarter which allowed no. 9 Michigan to escape from Lincoln on Saturday, 32-29.

Once again, Nebraska sees a chance for victory come agonizingly close. The players see it too, and are just as sick of it as the fans. Here’s defensive end Ty Robinson, courtesy of 247 Sports.

We’re so close. I mean, I’m sick and tired of hearing we’re so close.

It’s hard not to think that the Nebraska program is cursed, trapped in a time loop like Loki in the TVA. Certainly the pain of all these close losses feels the same, over and over.

So why should you keep coming back? Why should you – dare we even say it out loud – be more encouraged about Nebraska now than a month ago?

A smart and particularly handsome analyst pointed out that before this year, Nebraska was losing heartbreakers to mediocre teams and getting blown out by good ones. This year (Illinois notwithstanding), Nebraska is beating mediocre teams and losing heartbreakers to good ones.

That’s progress! Baby steps, sure. As unsatisfying as rice cakes without peanut butter, absolutely.

But it’s progress. Nebraska hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since September of 2016 with a 35-32 win over Oregon. Since then, Nebraska is an eye-watering 0-15 against ranked opponents.

Which is terrible of course. But the margin of defeat tells a little more of the story. Here’s the list of those games.

DateOpponentOppNebMargin
10/29/2016at (11) Wisconsin23176
11/5/2016at (6) Ohio State62359
10/7/2017(9) Wisconsin381721
10/14/2017(9) Ohio State561442
11/18/2017at (13) Penn State564412
9/22/2018at (19) Michigan561046
10/6/2018at (16) Wisconsin412417
11/3/2018at (8) Ohio State36315
9/28/2019(5) Ohio State48741
11/16/2019(15) Wisconsin372116
11/29/2019(19) Iowa27243
10/24/2020at (5) Ohio State521735
9/18/2021at (3) Oklahoma23167
9/25/2021at (20) Michigan State23203
10/9/2021(9) Michigan32293

But take a look at the margin of victory in visual format (with the tenures of Mike Riley and Frost separated out).

Notice something at the right end of that graph? See how in 2021, the comically-bad margins of defeat evaporate? From 2016-2020, Nebraska’s average margin of defeat against ranked opponents was 25.25 (!) points.

In 2021? The average margin of defeat is 4.33 points.

Now sure, losses are losses. And 2021 is a small sample size. Ohio State is still on the schedule. And Nebraska certainly has a history of clunkers against teams it should beat.

But now for a sustained period of time, this Nebraska looks different than Nebraska of years past. And maybe that’s why you should take the rest of Robinson’s quote seriously.

But gosh darn it, we’re close. If it isn’t this game, it’s definitely going to be the next game, and we’ll move on from this and learn from our mistakes.

Never mind the fact that Robinson clearly falling prey to the gambler’s fallacy. Any human being that large who comes at you with a “gosh darn it” to the press is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

So don’t just take it on faith, Husker Fan. There’s reasons for hope. It’s no guarantee, of course. But it’s not blind faith any more, either.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 56, Northwestern 7

*click*

Was that it? Was that what we’ve all been waiting for?

*click*

Since December of 2017, we’ve been waiting. We were promised the flashy, exciting, high-scoring offense Scott Frost ran at Central Florida. We were promised motion, formation adjustments, personnel mismatches, and lots and lots of points.

*click*

Until Saturday, we hadn’t seen anything like that. Until Saturday, Scott Frost seemed like a mirage, an illusion sold to a fanbase desperate for a return to college football relevance. Until Saturday, hope seemed in very short supply.

And then, for at least one glorious autumn evening, things seemed to snap back into place. For at least one night, Nebraska seemed like … Nebraska again. For one glorious night, a Nebraska team that seemed permanently cursed had everything bounce its way – even a punt, fer cryin’ out loud!

*click*

Memorial Stadium felt like a weight had been lifted off the roof, that this long surreal nightmare was finally over. At least for one night, Nebraska football was a joyous, raucous party. And when Thunderstruck hit after the third quarter, the venerable old cathedral vibrated with an energy it hadn’t seen in a decade.

*click*

So was that it? Was that the sound of everything finally, finally falling into place for Frost’s Nebraska squad?

We’ll see. It’s so hard to invest trust in Nebraska. M.C. Escher didn’t have as many corners as Nebraska’s seemed to have, waiting for that right one to turn coming next. We’ve been promised that we’ve seen progress, only to see this team fall flat on its face time and time and time again.

So why is this different? Why is a team that lost to Illinois (as it turns out, a baaaaaad Illinois) at the start of the season worthy of an investment of hope?

Well, if you want tangible evidence of hope, think about it this way. Nebraska’s identity (if you call it that) throughout the entirety of Mike Riley’s tenure and up to now with Frost has been to get blown out by good teams and to find bafflingly-creative ways to lose games against mediocre opponents. A smart and particularly handsome analyst wrote about how avoiding the latter was really all Frost needed to accomplish in 2021.

Take a look at Nebraska post-Illinois – which, yes, I know isn’t a thing, but go with me on a Week 0 game against a new coach. Now, Nebraska is beating (or, as of last Saturday, eviscerating) mediocre opponents and playing good opponents (nationally ranked Oklahoma and Michigan State on the road) within an inch of victory.

I know you kind of have to squint at it, but that’s progress, Husker Fan. Progress we really didn’t see except for flashes in the second half of 2018. And given the talent upgrades between now and then – and apparently finding a solution on the left side of the offensive line – this progress feels far more sustainable.

When undefeated and no. 9 Michigan comes to town this Saturday, Nebraska will get to put this new-found momentum to the test. The Wolverines have the no. 40 total offense in the country, which is (amazingly) better than Oklahoma at no. 43 but far worse than Michigan State at no. 25. Michigan’s defense is the best Nebraska will have yet faced, at no. 15 nationally in total defense.

Could we see a reversion to form with a blowout loss at home and have the ghosts of seasons past come back to haunt Memorial Stadium? Of course. No one who has watched this team – even you Husker Fan, admit it – can honestly say part of you doesn’t dread that outcome.

But this is also a monstrous opportunity for Nebraska to finally, finally turn that mythical corner. It’s also evidence that programs like Nebraska with deep and passionate fanbases really don’t die, they just lie dormant like a bear in hibernation, waiting for the spring to arrive to resume their hunt.

So maybe, just maybe, that spring will arrive for Nebraska on a warm mid-October night in Lincoln, with echoes of Thunderstruck ringing in the ears of the patient faithful. Just listen for it, Husker Fan.

*click*

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 16

Nebraska came into Norman as a 23-point underdog against the Sooners, and left with a seven-point loss and a new-found respect around the country. Penalties and an atrocious placekicking performance marred what was otherwise an impressive performance on both sides of the ball against a team that many (including me) thought would overmatch the Cornhuskers.

So, in looking back at Nebraska’s near-miss against Oklahoma …

THE GOOD

Adrian’s In Charge. Before the season started, hopes around Nebraska’s season centered around whether quarterback Adrian Martinez could revert to his 2018 freshman form. After a disastrous first half against Illinois, it looked like those hopes would be in vain.

But since then, Martinez has been nothing short of brilliant. He’s made plays with his arm and his legs. He’s made good decisions. He’s protected the football. He’s done everything Nebraska has needed him to do for success. And absent a competent kicker (more on that later) he would have led Nebraska to its biggest win this century.

Staying On The Field. I thought this game would be a bloodbath for Nebraska in part because of the fragile mentality of the team, but mainly because I didn’t think Nebraska had the talent to compete with a team like Oklahoma. I was wrong. While the offensive line certainly struggled, Nebraska more than looked like it could compete with Oklahoma’s talent. That’s a hugely encouraging sign going forward.

Stripes! A smart and particularly handsome analyst observed this about Nebraska’s contest against Oklahoma.

Now, sure, maybe the stripes were there as an homage to the 1971 Game of the Century (which if that was the case, then varsity stripes on the shoulders plz). But the alternates last week against Buffalo also had stripes on the pants. Maybe – just maybe – Nebraska is finally realizing the grotesque mistake its stripeless yoga pants look has inflicted on the college football world.

THE BAD

The Dumbest Team in America. Eight penalties for 70 yards. Two unsportsmanlike penalties that helped keep Oklahoma drives alive. Former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan called his Raiders team the “dumbest team in America” after a mistake-filled loss. And in a close-but-no-cigar match, Nebraska simply cannot afford the kind of undisciplined mistakes it made in Norman.

Kicker Conundrum. It’s really hard to blame Frost for Nebraska’s current placekicking woes. Connor Culp is the returning B1G Kicker of the Year. With all the other moving parts, it was entirely fair to think that the placekicking role was basically set.

It isn’t. Culp is 3-8 (!) on field goal attempts and 13-16 (!!) on extra points in 2021. Culp’s two missed field goals and the blocked extra point returned for a two-point conversion adds up to an eight-point swing in Oklahoma’s favor.

Oklahoma won by seven.

This sounds like a reprise from 2019, but Nebraska was a competent placekicker away from pulling off the program’s biggest win of the century in Norman.

(In an utterly bewildering statistic I had to check to believe, Nebraska’s opponents are a combined 1-7 in field goal attempts. One for seven! How is that even possible?)

The Rough Road Ahead. You guys, Michigan State is good. The Spartans looked like a pretty soft opponent at the start of the season, but new head coach Mel Tucker has Sparty off to a 3-0 start and a no. 20 ranking nationally after an impressive 38-17 win against the Hurricanes in Miami.

Take a look, if you dare, at the rest of Nebraska’s schedule. Michigan State is now ranked. Michigan will be ranked. Ohio State will be ranked. Wisconsin will be ranked. Iowa will be ranked. Shoot, Minnesota will probably be ranked.

That will make at least six, likely seven of Nebraska’s opponents in 2021 being ranked. It is likely that at least three (Oklahoma, Ohio State, Iowa) and maybe more (Michigan, Wisconsin) will be ranked in the top 10.

That’s quite a gauntlet. Frost’s results for this season have to be graded on a curve accordingly.

AND THE MORAL VICTORY

I’ll admit it, I thought this game would be a slaughter for Nebraska. So much so that this is how I spent my Saturday afternoon.

You may commence your mocking of me in the comments below (although I did tie for third in the tournament!)

Nebraska’s players are certainly saying the right things after the close loss, about how being close isn’t good enough and that they want to win. And having an unfinished business mindset will be the best possible way to prepare for a smart and tough Michigan State team on the road.

But the fans? Heck, moral victories are for fans. After the Illinois debacle, a good chunk of the Nebraska fanbase was ready to fold the tent on the Frost era and start looking ahead to another rebuild. Nebraska’s spirited performance against Oklahoma offered the briefest of glimpse at the tantalizing possibility that Nebraska could be … good again?

FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt, who called the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, had this to say about where the Nebraska program is after seeing the contest.

Between a really solid performance against Buffalo and last week’s effort against Oklahoma, there’s reason to be hopeful from the Nebraska fanbase. At the very least, the Frost-on-the-hot-seat talk should die down some.

This week, anyway.

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!