I have two young children - six and three - and they are a constant reminder that (a) I am older than I once was, and (b) that no matter how much you convince yourself that your kids will understand and comply with whatever you say, the opposite is generally true. For example, this is - finally - the last week of school, and for the past however many months, we have been waking up, getting ready, and magically appearing at whatever neighbor’s house we are supposed to be in front of for carpool. It’s an extremely simple routine with fairly low expectations of my children, and yet, with about two minutes to go we inevitably run into a myriad of disastrous altercations.
Whether it’s a refusal to walk out that door without the pair of shoes she wanted to wear, a meltdown about not eating breakfast after arguing with me for the past thirty minutes about not being hungry, or - and this is generally my favorite - just the decision that today is the day that she is me, and stubborn defiance is a sport, the reality is that this simple - and really quite fundamental - task is at least ten times more difficult than it should be. Of course, my child is all of six years old, is usually fairly exhausted, and is only incentivized by the prospect of not being at school any longer. The point is... well, uh, I have to write about Nebraska football because I’m contractually obligated and the only metaphor I can make is my children... that’s probably not ideal. What exactly are we doing here?
About the 2021 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Team
With 5:54 to go in the third quarter in Iowa City, it was easy to start thinking through possible outcomes in which disaster would strike. Sure, to this point, Nebraska had outscored Iowa 21-6, and by all accounts looked like they would walk out of Memorial Stadium with at least one feel good story for the season. But this was Nebraska under Scott Frost, and a blocked punt returned for a TD, a myriad of defensive and offensive blunders and 22 unanswered points later, Nebraska lost.
Not unlike my children - who I love more than anything in the world - Nebraska Football has a way of being unable to learn from its mistakes and ‘get out the door’. It’s well documented that Nebraska was probably the best 3-9 team of all time last year, but the punchline doesn’t quite do the absurdity justice. Misplaced punts, terrible fumbles, the worst timed interceptions, isolated defensive meltdowns, and just generally bad luck all played into it. To watch it in real time was to basically live sprinting back into the house to find the homework book as the carpool stares at you in disbelief that you forgot something again. It was a trainwreck... and hilarious... and actually quite expected most days.
Now, I realize that this is saying that Nebraska Football is the equivalent of a kindergartner (and their generally tired dad) tripping over themselves to make it to school on time, but really, is that much different than watching Nebraska try to win a damn game that they were in control of well into the fourth quarter? Exactly. And so I ask again, what exactly are we doing here?
What were the things that caused this? Is it coaching? Sure! Is it culture? Probably! Is it bad karma? I’m sure our quadrangle fans will sure tell you it is. But those aren’t actually the questions I am here to discuss. No, I’m here for the most important question of the week.
Is this going to happen again?
Well, that’s where this gets interesting... Ignoring, for a moment, that everyone is pretty sure Scott Frost is doomed and is the worst coach of all time (not arguing that point, but it’s irrelevant for the moment), it is possible that there is no way that the absurdity of 2021 can happen again. The bounces have to start going the other way or, at minimum, things just blow up in a beautiful cloud of Scott Frost confetti. Let’s talk through what I see are the three most likely scenarios for 2022.
Scenario 1: Scott Frost gets himself fired
Summary: Despite what I will probably tell myself until the Dublin game against Northwestern, I think Nebraska has a reasonable shot at going 3-0 to start the season, which would equal the wins Frost has had each of the last two seasons. The hype will go crazy for the new look offense under just hired OC Mark Whipple and new transfer-QB Casey Thompson, and Nebraska will be in the Top 25 going into their clash with Oklahoma in Lincoln.
Then reality hits and Nebraska goes 2-7 the rest of the way - with wins against Rutgers and Illinois - and Scott Frost is unceremoniously fired. His new coordinators, coaches, and transfers question why they spent a cold winter in Lincoln, and I ask myself why I spent 12 weekends watching this team.
Conclusion: The fun part with this scenario is that this would also mark the most successful outing of the Scott Frost experiment in Nebraska and would also quite literally be the most infuriatingly obvious outcome. I don’t necessarily think this is the likeliest scenario, but you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to see it happening.
Scenario 2: Nebraska wins the Big Ten West
Summary: Casey Thompson probably steps into the Big Ten West as one of the most talented - and experienced - QBs. That is less about how talented he is and more about the fact that this division - and really conference - sorta has a QB problem at the moment. Under his brilliance, Nebraska finds a way to get to 6-3 in conference play and that wins the division by some wild tie-breaker that the luck gods swing in the Cornhuskers’ direction.
The Offensive Line somehow learns better fundamentals in one year under new OL Coach Donovan Raiola, and the skills position guys - led by LSU transfer WR Trey Palmer - all step up and give Thompson something to work with. Defensively, new TCU transfer Ochaun Mathis lives up to his hype and is a scary force off the edge, and a deep secondary and young and feisty DL makes the blackshirts at least a little less cringey for a second year in a row.
Conclusions: The likelihood of this scenario seems a lot lower, but this is more or less following the Michigans playbook.
Specifically, Nebraska has given Frost a do-or-die situation in which he followed in the footsteps of Jim Harbaugh and fired the bad parts of his staff (basically the entire offensive staff minus actually-good-at-his-job TE Coach Sean Beckton) and filled it with interesting pieces like Bryan Applewhite from TCU and fan-favorite Mickey Joseph from LSU, plus the previously mentioned Raiola. Oh, and he hired a real ST coach - former ST analyst Bill Busch - because for reasons beyond me, he did not previously believe in that idea at all. This is more or less what the Wolverines did with Harbaugh and his staff last year, and that was really quite successful.
Also, Frost knew his talent pool needed to have some more proven guys across the board and he LOADED up. I mentioned it above, but there are 14 transfers coming in and they are a really good group. I have already mentioned Thompson, Palmer, and Mathis, but look out for Tommi Hill and former FCS Punter of the Year, Brian Buschini who should - at minimum - routinely kick the ball the direction he is told. The best case scenario analogue here is what Michigan State did last year with transfers and look, I’m talking myself into this as we speak.
Unfortunately, I don’t really know if I buy into this one as much as...
Scenario 3: Nebraska does enough to keep Frost, but not enough to be interesting
Summary: Nebraska wins six games, makes a mediocre bowl in Detroit, gets murdered by a MAC School, and has to do this all over again next year.
Conclusions: This feels like the inevitable end... and so I ask this one more time, “what exactly are we doing here?”
It is the last week of school for my daughter, and I will diligently get up and push her out the door for five more days. We will inevitably argue about something innocuous as we have learned absolutely nothing about the routine, and it will frustrate both of us to no end (and look, I must also point out that most days she is fine so this is end of the year exhaustion for me more than reality most likely but you all are making me come out of semi-retirement to talk about Nebraska football and I’m not super happy about it). It will be fine and we’ll move on to summer and we will go into next year thinking that mornings aren’t that bad and that we don’t need to get into routines. It will be a disaster and we will both hate mornings.
This is my life, and well, this is Nebraska Football. Welcome to Nebraska week... I guess.