The Nebraska Cornhuskers are 1-20 combined in football and men’s basketball. That is bad. Really bad. But is it historically bad? Are they having the worst season in B1G history? Not yet, but they do have the chance to establish new standards for futility.
Winless conference football seasons are fairly easy to come by. Believe me, I know. Illinois has done it four times in the last 20 years. (Wait, have we really not won a single B1G game in 20% of the last 20 seasons??? Yes, yes we have. Yikes!) However, winless basketball seasons are really pretty hard to (un)achieve. In the last 100 years, only two schools have managed to pull off this (de)feat. One of those schools was so embarrassed, they just said Screw it and quit the conference (Chicago) Who was the other?
When you are thinking of complete and total B1G futility, where do start to look? Evanston, IL and Piscataway, NJ naturally.
Rutgers came tantalizingly close to going 0fer a B1G season. In 2015-16, the Scarlet Knights were 1-7 in football. It would be Kyle Flood’s final season as the red armor guys would not accept 1-7 football and turned to Chris Ash to turn things around. Talk about your all-time backfires, but anyway. The basketball team was also quite bad. In Eddie Jordan’s third season, Rutgers entered B1G play at 6-7. The six wins were a real murderer’s row: Rutgers Newark, Howard, Central Arkansas, Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, and UMass-Lowell. Whoo, boy! Then in B1G play, Rutgers would start 0-17 with an average margin of more than 23 points per game, including a 50 point loss to Purdue and 39 point loss to Nern. They had a grand total of two games that weren’t double figure losses; a 7 point loss to the Indiana Hoosiers and a soul crushing triple overtime loss to John Groce and the Illinois Fighting Illini. (Why they even let Groce fly home from that game is mind-boggling to me) All that stood between Rutgers and history was Little Dickie Pitino and the Minnesota Golden Gophers who had smacked Rutgers around 83-61 two weeks previous at the Barn. Alas, it was not meant to be. Rutgers smoked the Goofers 75-52 to end up 2-24 combined in conference play.
Soooo, that just leaves Evanston’s B1G team. Have they gone winless in B1G play? Yes, TWICE in fact. Both of those teams combined with their gridiron brethren to collect a single, solitary win in conference play.
The team with the penultimate season of futility in B1G history was the turn of the century Northwestern Wildcats. In 1999, Northwestern and the Iowa Hawkeyes would play a high stakes football game for the cellar of the B1G in Randy Walker’s first season. The Mildcats would come away with a 23-21 win to go 1-7. The Hawks, who were coached by Hayden Fry disciple Kirk Ferentz in his first year, would end up 0-8. Clearly, that Ferentz guy is in over his head and will never survive in Iowa City. In the Y2K basketball season, Kevin O’Neill’s squad would go 0-16, including getting doubled up twice; 29-59 against the Michigan State Spartans and 30-63 against their in-state conference foe Illinois. They did have one close game, taking the Michigan Wolverines to OT before falling. Add it all up and you get 1-23 and a .0417 winning percentage.
So, someone did worse than that??? Who could pull that off? Well, only Northwestern can outdo that kind of tragedy. In 1990-91, Northwestern collected their sole Big Ten football win against the hapless Wisconsin Badgers, who would go on to an 0-8 receord under first year head coach Barry Alvarez. Clearly, that Alvarez guy is in over his head and will never survive in Madison. Unlike the 2015-16 Rutgers team, the basketball team, coached by Bill E. (not Billy) Foster, would have numerous close games, losing by 2-3 points against Purdue, Michigan State, and Iowa at home and by three points at the Wisconsin Field house. Despite these close games, they never did pull off a win and went 0-18 for a combined 1-25 record. That is a .038 winning percentage and is the record for B1G futility.
Where does that leave Nebraska? Well at 1-20, they are certainly in the running and now with 20 games on the schedule for shootyhoops and 9 games for oblong-spherical-ball. there are more opportunities so Nebraska has a chance to set a new historical standard for crappy B1G seasons. Ultimately, I think Hoiberg has his team playing with solid effort and they will come up on the right side of the scoreboard at least once, but you never know. Maybe NU will be able to overtake jNU and lay claim to having the worst season in the long and storied history of the Big Ten Conference?