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2018 Closing Arguments: The Nebraska Cornhuskers are Back*

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*mileage varies on definition of back

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Media Day Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, I wrote the following about the Nebraska Cornhuskers:

The case for Nebraska is far from an open and shut affair. Between new coaches, both proven and unproven talent across the entire roster, and a schedule with lots of possible pitfalls, it’s easy to see that variance should be expected.

Three extremely iffy - and with the benefit of hindsight, predictable - seasons later and it feels like we could start all over. This time around, though, instead of ushering in the Mike Riley Experience, Nebraska fans - and everyone who has to endure Nebraska fans - are in full-on (Scott) Frost Advisory**. A new Athletic Director - the PR savvy Bill Moos - and a new administration at Nebraska got their guy. Now the good team at Off Tackle Empire are here to talk to you about why that means the Nebraska Cornhuskers are back.

**I hate snow, ice, cold, and other things winter related. This idea of Frost Advisory hasn’t really changed that.

I. Case History and Opening Statement

A. Case History

Okay friends, it’s time to really talk about what went wrong with Mike Riley and Company. Was 2017 a bridge too far? Was pretty boy Bob Diaco just a face? Was this Tanner Lee’s fault? Does the past predict the future?

BRT: I mean, apparently it was a bridge too far, since he got fired. 4-8 is pretty damning—I’m certainly not a Husker fan who believes that the 90s can return or anything like that, but it’s hard to justify a program with Nebraska’s resources and support winning only four games.

As for Bob Diaco, yeah, it does seem he was just a pretty face. There is a small story arc on 30 Rock where Liz Lemon dates a very handsome man (played by Jon Hamm, who is indeed a very handsome man) who is also a doctor! This seems to be the dating jackpot... until she slowly realizes he’s actually a moron. It turns out, he’s so pretty that he lives in “the bubble,” where he is shielded from the unpleasant effects of life because no one will ever tell him no because he’s too beautiful to disappoint. Therefore, he cannot do things like play tennis, in spite of once being a tennis coach.

The similarities between this comedic arc and the Bob Diaco Experience cannot be ignored.

Dead Read: As I recall, the Jon Hamm character severed at least one appendage in a bizarre household accident...so this is an apt parallel.

Jesse: As I watched Tanner Lee run around like he had no idea what he was doing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, I was reminded that I bought into the hype that he was a real QB who would change the direction of Nebraska football. My only consolation is that a NFL GM also was duped, so like, football is stupid like that.

As for 2017, let’s just say that it was one of those years where the annoying cliche of, ‘they just seemed to give up’ rang true. Nebraska looked terrible on defense, mediocre on offense - and that’s before accounting for the aforementioned Tanner Lee, and lost in general direction. I will always appreciate the candor and kindness of Mike Riley, but it turns out that he was a bad coach. Time to turn the page, I suppose.

Dead Read: Last year’s Nebraska team was protoplasmic - it lacked any higher organization. The defense was horrid. One could sense that each player was living in fear of blowing an assignment - which might be admirably conscientious - but it also appears that no player actually knew what the assignments were. Evidently, there was no offensive group work in practice, so certain specific skills (like blocking) were lacking. I remember hearing positive things through preseason camp last year. Don’t believe everything the beat writers tell you if the off-season.

B. Opening Statement

Nebraska has not won a conference championship since 1999, has barely been relevant nationally since 2001, and has been downright mediocre for most of its B1G tenure. Scott Frost is coming off an undefeated season with UCF and says there is more talent than the four wins of 2017 would seem to indicate. What should the frame of reference be going into 2018? Is it possible that this team is good enough to flip the script? Will it take a few years? Is Scott Frost terrible?

BRT: No, this team will not be good enough to flip the script. But if it’s good enough to not get destroyed by five touchdowns by nearly every team in the conference, that will probably be good enough for most Husker fans, because they loooooooove Scott Frost, and this is going to be a hell of a honeymoon.

That said, I do think, and hope, they’ll win more than four games.

But whatever we say is moot, because no matter what the outcome is, all you non-Husker fans are going to be claiming that we all said that Scott Frost was going to take Nebraska to the National Championship in his first year, or some such nonsense. And given how annoying Husker fans are likely to be this year, I only blame you for your inevitable lies a little bit.

Jesse: I have somewhat stopped reading 2018 previews from Nebraska outlets because Husker fans are starting to get a little hyped. It’s hard not to be excited in light of what the last three years have looked like, but hearing whispers of 9 or 10 wins is some real next level Scarlet-tinted glasses. I think Nebraska can win 6-7 games which is a 2-3 game improvement from last year. Hell, even with 5 wins, I’m seeing that as an improvement so long as we aren’t beat to hell by Minnesota on a vanilla approach.

I’m curious about Scott Frost, though. Taking all of the nonsense aside, he’s been an objectively good coach everywhere he’s gone. He has the credentials you would look for in any up and coming star in the sport, and having an understanding - and really, passion - for Nebraska seems to make this too perfect. If he succeeds, he’s coach for life. If he doesn’t, well, he may still be coach for life. I’m excited to see how this plays out.

Dead Read: All I want is for Nebraska not to embarrass itself on a weekly basis. I need to see things truly click a few times. I hope the Huskers go bowling.

C. Timeline of Events (It’s just the schedule)

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2018

Date Opponent
Date Opponent
9/1/2018 vs Akron
9/8/2018 vs Colorado
9/15 vs Troy
9/22/2018 @ Michigan
9/29/2018 vs Purdue
10/6/2018 @ Wisconsin
10/13/2018 @ Northwestern
10/20/2018 vs Minnesota
11/3/2018 @ Ohio State
11/10/2018 vs Illinois
11/17/2018 vs Michigan State
11/23/2018 @ Iowa
Nebraska Cornhuskers Schedule 2018

Not great...

II. Discovery

A. What We’ve Written about Nebraska this Offseason

B. What We Can Learn from Pop Culture

Alright team, I’m writing the question so I get to set the parameters here. What band from the 90s is Nebraska most like? Please show your work.

BRT: Britney Spears. Pretty hot in the 90s, really. Was kind of everywhere. But the sh*t really hit the fan in the 2000s, and though she’s tried, she’s never really made it fully back. I leave it to you to decide which Nebraska moments correspond to: impulsively shaving off all one’s hair, beating a paparazzi car with an umbrella, marrying a childhood friend in Vegas for 55 hours, marrying a kinda skeevy backup dancer, and not wearing underwear in a highly photographed situation. (Note to self: I should totally write this article.) And was our “conservatorship” under Tom Osborne, AD, or Scott Frost, HC? Hot messiness aside, both Britney and the Cornhuskers still have a rabidly devoted fanbase, because, well, it’s ‘Braska, b*tch.

Jesse: OH MAN I AM SO SAD YOU TOOK BRITNEY.

Okay, I’m going with Collective Soul. The band really peaked in 1994 with ‘Shine’ on what was somewhat a surprise in the big picture. The next year, they got a 3x Platinum hit with ‘December’ and were at the top of the Rock charts. Oh, and just for good measure, they got some nominally impressive hits in the latter half of the 90s with songs like Heavy.

Sounds kind of like the Nebraska of the 90s, right? But where it gets REALLY fun is that they eventually decide that they want control of their own destiny where they would be able to avoid that gravitation to mediocrity, they started their own label and it was... well, mixed. One more chance to be special with Why (Part II) was released, but nobody really listens or cares about Collective Soul now.

So yeah, Nebraska has the success arc of Collective Soul and writing this sucks.

Dead Read: I know nothing of music. I’ll go with Eric Clapton. He won a bunch of Grammys off of Unplugged. He played a couple of new songs, but also found a new way to package a bunch of classics. Slow Hand, like Nebraska, is universally admired.

III. Emotional Plea

What would be the best story for the 2018 Cornhuskers? Are we sure the world is ready for the Scott Frost experience? Would it almost be better if it took a few years?

BRT: Well, I think it’s going to take a few years, if it happens at all. I know you’re trying to trick me into making some grandiose statement for what the best story is for the Huskers in 2018 and I AM NOT FALLING FOR THAT, JESSE.

Jesse: Really, I just want this team to not get beat down and look completely lost. Is that too much to ask? I honestly think that the best case scenario is a 8 win season where we knock someone off where we had no chance to do so. I obviously wouldn’t mind if the unthinkable happened and we really were an undefeated team or some nonsense, but that’s not happening and anybody who says otherwise is just asking to be mocked.

That said, this should take a few years to turn around. And like, I mean that as competing for the division. That’s the first step. Not National Championships or whatever, but just learning to be competitive in the B1G West. If we do that, we’ll see what the new baseline of reality is.

Dead Read: I am going to take Frost at his word. He says there will be some improvement in the first year, but that the big jump is between years one and two. This seems plausible based on his record at UCF. Nebraska will contend for the division next year.

IV. The Verdict

BRT: Savior narratives rarely work out how fans wish they would (see: Michigan). They just don’t—the weight of insane expectations can stymie the best of coaches and make even success seem shabby and inadequate if it’s not the most extreme level of success. Of course, as a Husker fan, I hope I’m deeply wrong about this and that it might work for us...

...but it probably won’t. And certainly not right away. I think that I’d be really happy this year to see them make a bowl game and to lessen the number of crazy blowouts. There’s never really any reason to lose 54-21 to Minnesota. It would be a good sign of positive progress, but modest enough to perhaps take the Frostmania down a few notches (but then, I dare to dream.)

Jesse: The team at OTE predicts Nebraska to be 5.9-6.1 (3.6-5.4) which is pretty much what Vegas seems to think (Nebraska at 5.5). I flipped at 7-5 (5-4) so I’ll probably look stupid at the end of the year, but I would not be surprised with 5-7 either. This team had 4 wins last year, has a new QB who will have not taken a live snap in two years, an OL who looked terrible last year, and about a 33% roster turnover. Oh, and that’s before we discuss an entire scheme change. Things will be fascinating, that’s for sure.

Dead Read: I believe that Nebraska will be better than it was the last couple of years. I think the range is somewhere between five and eight wins (I chose 6-6 in predictions). What is most important is that Nebraska starts looking like a football team and shows the fans that it is moving in the right direction. There are going to be a bunch of road losses, but I think Nebby can scare the favorites a few times and maybe knock one off. Nebraska fans will recognize improvement when they see it. They will see it.