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Nebraska Post-Mortem: A Year That Was

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Ope there goes gravity

Michigan State v Nebraska
Nebraska 2018: A Whole Lot of Meh
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

It’s really hard to think back to Nebraska’s football season, and that’s only partly because it ended several months ago now. The other part is that it’s not one that most Husker fans are really going to want to remember. Scott Frost’s first season was certainly not what he or the fanbase hoped, as the Huskers finished a lackluster 4-8 (for the second straight year.) Oof. However, in spite of the dismal final record, Husker hope springs anew, and signs of growth were evident, at least to the faithful.

Starting Off With a Bang (of Thunder and Lightning)

The season began in memorable fashion—although in retrospect, it was perhaps an omen of what was to come. Nearly a full year of frenzied excitement over the return of the native son (sometimes carried way too far, as we memorably documented here) had Husker fans bubbling over with excitement as the first kick of the Frost era occurred. But that was all they saw, as the game was cancelled due to lightning. Would playing that game have launched the Huskers on a more successful path for the season? Maybe. Maybe not. But it was certainly a let down after months of anticipation. Unfortunately, the let down was just beginning—the next week saw the Huskers lose a close one to Colorado, and then the week after that brought a 5-point loss to Troy. Things were not looking good in Huskerland.

Starting Off Conference Play with a Splat

The Huskers began conference play against the then-mighty Michigan Wolverines. The Huskers got thrashed, losing 56-10 and sending tremors of panic throughout the state. Losses to Purdue and Wisconsin followed, during which we discovered that Nebraska did not have a defense, and that this was, in fact, a significant problem. The next game against Northwestern raised hopes—but a spectacular defensive meltdown in the final minutes of the game allowed the Wildcats back into the game, which they won in overtime. Nebraska, incredibly, was 0-6.

Thank God for the Gophers

But then, Minnesota came to town. It promised to be an exciting, if low-stakes, game, pitting the conference’s two hot young coaching thangs against each other. This time, the Huskers finally put it together and answered the bell. The offense exploded, and the defense feigned competence, gaining the Huskers a slump-busting rout of Minnesota 53-28, and one suspects, working out a few demons from the 2017 match-up. A makeup game against FCS Bethune-Cookman offered little in the way of useful practice, but no one on either team was injured, a BC coach (maybe not a coach, but it’s a better story that way) got a Runza, and the Huskers technically had a win streak going.

Finishing Strong(er)(ish)

Given the season to that point, there was little reason to hope for much against Ohio State. The greatest hopes were that the Huskers could hang in there and not get too embarrassed. Remarkably, that’s exactly what they did, and they ended up hanging with OSU far more than anyone expected, losing by only five points in the season’s signature moral victory. Illinois was happily next, in a bizarre game that completely omitted defense for most of the first half and ended with 89 total points. Completely flipping the script the next week, Nebraska won a defensive struggle in the snow, as everyone predicted (edit: no one predicted this), beating a hapless Michigan State offense 9-6 in a game where neither team scored a touchdown.

Nebraska’s improvement in the latter half of the season seemed marked enough that there was hope that the Huskers could play spoiler to the Iowa Hawkeyes, even though a bowl game was out of reach. Alas, the Huskers gave the Hawkeyes all they could handle, but ended up losing in dramatic fashion when Iowa escaped with a last-second field goal, a victory that assured all Iowa fans that they were indeed great, having decisively slain a 4-8 team.

What’s to Come?

In spite of ending with a dismal record, the general feeling toward the team is that there was real improvement and that things are trending in a hopeful direction. The Huskers could have easily spiraled after starting out 0-6, but to both their credit and to the coaching staff’s, they didn’t seem to. Instead, there appeared to be marked improvement, even within the limitations that existed. Given that, the vibe in Huskerland is not one of despair, but one, once again, of excitement.

Is there real cause for this, or is it simply Husker Hubris refusing to face reality? For the answer to that, I turn to my fellow Husker writer and sage, Jesse Collins:

Jesse: It’s an excellent question and one I keep asking over and over. Advanced stats, people who more or less watched them, and fans - who may or may not have watched Nebraska - all thought this team was improved year over year. Gone were the games Nebraska was never really in, Michigan aside, and while the defense is still a work in progress, Adrian Martinez gives a lot of hope for the future.

That said, what really should progress be? Would we be happy with not 4-8? 8-4? 12-0 or bust? I think that the way we measure success moving forward needs to be a mix of eye test - are we playing tough, non-quitting football - and wins and losses. In looking backwards on last year, it’s obvious that Nebraska is better in 2018 than they were in 2017, but that gap between where they want to be moving forward and 2018 remains pretty large. Oh, and they’re losing a lot of production... again... on both sides of the ball.

So, my answer is a healthy, “who knows?” I’m excited for the future overall, and whether that means I’m sitting there watching Nebraska lose to Northern Illinois or if we’re in the Big Ten West race, I guess we’ll wait and see what happens next. I’m hoping for better days ahead.

Poll

I enjoyed Nebraska’s 4-8 campaign:

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    I didn’t enjoy it at all
    (23 votes)
  • 39%
    A medium amount
    (40 votes)
  • 37%
    An unhealthy amount
    (38 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Next year, Nebraska’s level will mostly likely be closest to:

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Worse than 4-8. Frost is a sham.
    (4 votes)
  • 7%
    4-8 again. Frost is a sham.
    (9 votes)
  • 52%
    Better than 4-8. Jury’s still out.
    (63 votes)
  • 36%
    Winning the West and giving Iowa fans aneurysms
    (44 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now