College Football Pick’em
Talking the business of sports
If there was a slam-dunk, sure-bet hire made over the course of the past several years, it was Scott Frost at Nebraska. In fact, when Frost accepted the job at his alma mater in 2017, his arrival could have legitimately been hailed as one of the best programatic fits in recent history.
He was a native son of Nebraska. He was a national championship-winning star quarterback for the Cornhuskers. He was an accomplished coach who pulled off the biggest two-year turnaround in the history of the sport at UCF. But maybe most importantly, Frost not only knew the Nebraska culture … he was .
There was credibility. There was refreshing impudence. Most of all, though, Frost had a plan. In the end, it’s possible not even Frost himself knows entirely what went wrong.
The closest comparison to this situation is Jim Harbaugh, who had a similar background at Michigan as Frost at Nebraska. The difference? Harbaugh, as a beloved former great, won. Perhaps it was not “enough” until last season, which culminated in a College Football Playoff appearance, but he reached five straight bowl games and finished 8-5 or better every season until the COVID-19 pandemic. The difference was the results.
When the on the heels of a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt, one obvious questioned loomed over the college football world: If Frost didn’t work at Nebraska, who will?
Whomever replaces Frost will walk in the door knowing the obvious: Nebraska has lost its way, and the road map out isn’t immediately available. Getting on a hamster wheel of coaches would to slow down any program. Frost, the fifth Nebraska coach since Tom Osborne retired in 1997, was just the latest example of a giant whiff that no one saw coming.
Nebraska is now a rebuild the scope of which its next coach may not realize. In leaving the Big 12 in 2012, Nebraska lost a big part of its history and tradition — to the point that the average 17-year-old recruit might have trouble distinguishing Tom Osborne from Ozzy Osbourne.
All of it combined to highlight Nebraska’s isolation as an outpost in a league that bragged about its big-city links to New York and Chicago. Thanks to more realignment, it is now the closest Big Ten program to incoming members USC and UCLA (1,500 miles). So, there’s that.
ESPN executive Burke Magnus made news a couple of weeks ago when he said the network looks for rivalries, not markets, in realignment. Try to name Nebraska’s biggest rival in the Big Ten. A contrived rivalry with Iowa never caught on with the masses. To be realistic, though, these are ruthless times.
Nebraska needed to take the Big Ten money and cut ties with a lot of its history, but it doesn’t mean it fit. In fact, the Big Ten move feels like a net negative. Look what scores of Nebraska athletic directors and administrators did with those millions: not nearly enough. A conference marriage of economic convenience has been witness to the continued eroding of a program. All of it has been confounding.
The Program Formerly Known as a National Power had plenty of practice at this. It tried the unknown (Bill Callahan), the fiery defensive assistant (Bo Pelini) and the retread (Mike Riley).
Nebraska can get back; there’s simply too much ambition there. In the process of watching Georgia Southern gain 642 yards on Saturday, possibly the game’s most loyal fans were screaming their lungs out. There are growing NIL opportunities for players, which negates the isolation issue.
Athletic director Trev Alberts, another Huskers legacy, has taken a calm, steady approach to the inevitable. The school ate $15 million in Frost buyout money to get in line early to hire the best coach possible and ensure recruiting did not suffer further in the 19 days it would’ve needed to wait to see that buyout drop to $7.5 million on Oct. 1.
As long as the Nebraska job is open, the program is a national story. No. 6 Oklahoma visits this week, so consider that game a three-hour commercial for what could be in Lincoln, Nebraska. A potential coaching savior and the talent who might follow will be watching. There are scores of accomplished .
Gary Patterson, a youthful 62, would be interested. The former TCU coach, now a Texas analyst, had his fingerprints all over the Longhorns’ stout defensive effort against No. 2 Alabama last Saturday.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has competed at the highest level at a basketball school in the SEC, winning 10 games twice in a division that includes Florida and Georgia. How hard can it be for Kentucky’s winningest coach — Stoops passed Bear Bryant on Saturday — to win the Big Ten West?
Iowa still hasn’t broken double-digits in points in a game two weeks into the season. Wisconsin just got beat at home by Washington State. Heck, if interim coach Mickey Joseph can light a fire, Nebraska’s not out of the division race this year. But let’s not get carried away.
The head-scratching at Nebraska is drawing blood in the scalp at this point. Still, a turnaround is possible. USC this season has the look of going from 4-8 to Pac-12 champion. All it took was going all in on Lincoln Riley and giving him room to be successful. Riley brought with him a quick-flip transfer philosophy that was worked magnificently thus far.
But a turnaround has been possible at Nebraska many times throughout the quarter-century since Osborne retired. If there was an obvious process, there wouldn’t be The Process — Nick Saban’s mysterious, ultra-effective corporate-athletic philosophy. It has been often imitated but never duplicated.
Consider that Alabama faced a similar situation in 2007. Rich Rodriguez, according to substantive reports at the time, had accepted the job. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, he got cold feet. Saban will go down in history as the world’s best-ever backup plan.
That’s as mind-boggling as Nebraska being this average. There is a whole separate discussion to be had on whether the program ever gets to national championship contention again. Probably not, if only because there has been only a handful of teams who have been in the conversation over the past 15 years. Most of those teams reside in the SEC.
But the Big Ten has sent a message it wants to surpass the SEC in … everything. The conference just announced a historic media rights deal that could net over $1 billion annually, and Nebraska will have access to that money beginning in 2023. Will that make a difference? (Typically, such revenue is backloaded, starting out as a trickle and peaking in later years.) Nebraska can’t afford that sort of slow pace to this rebuild.
The Cornhuskers program, fans, players — heck, all of college football — have waited long enough. In the end, Nebraska will pay whatever it takes to get the guy it identifies as the ideal candidate to lead this program back to prominence.
The cruel reality? After the Frost hire fell flat, no one knows whether it will make a difference.
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