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Nebraska Football 2023 Post-Mortem: They Were Who We Thought They Were?

The first year of the Matt Rhule Era is over. Let’s assess.

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Well, well, well... the end of another college football season. Or, if you’re from around here, the lament is that it is the end of the last college football season.

If you’re a Nebraska Cornhuskers football fan, neither of those things is necessarily bad news, because once again, we have been through it! We got a new coach, but the same old curse lingers on (or the same old commitment to the bit, depending on where you’d like to place the blame). We, your intrepid, stubborn, and stupid Husker writers endured another season and are here to take you through what went wrong this time.

The Predictions:

Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Predicted: 6.2-5.8 (3.6-5.4)
  • High: 8-4 (6-3) — BRT
  • Low: 3-9 (2-7) — WSR
  • Std. Dev.: 1.21 (overall), 1.12 (B1G)

BRT hilariously predicted Nebraska to go 8-4 because she just makes picks based on wishing and vibes, and August is really the only time she can do that with Nebraska. DeadRead predicted 7-5, with a losing conference record of 4-5. We are both dumdums.

The Results:

The Huskers ended with a 5-7 record, coming up just short of bowl-eligibility as we probably all should have expected. In spite of a 3-6 conference record, they still finished 4th in the Big Ten West! Sure, it was a four-way tie for fourth, and another way to say it is that they were in a four-way tie for last, but phrasing is everything when it comes to Nebraska football.

God bless the B1G West.

The Analysis:

How did you feel about this season? Was it better or worse than you expected?

BRT: Well, obviously it was worse than I predicted, although I wouldn’t say that I seriously expected 8-4 for the Huskers. About half of it went better than I expected, but the last month or so was deeply disappointing. I shouldn’t be disappointed by Nebraska football anymore, but there it is. I was. It’s insane that out of four really winnable games (and I’ll add the first game of the year, vs. Minnesota to this category) they could not hold on and win even one of them. Expected? Maybe. Enjoyed? No.

Jesse: Well... I guess it’s kind of a glass half-full type of thing, right? If this was “do I genuinely think Nebraska is on the right path after this season based on how thing went,” it’s like... sure, why not. That’s A LOT of caveats though and 5-7 is still 5-7. Add in the loss of the Big Ten West inflation, and it’s not exactly an ideal situation. But hey, I really think this is probably what you should’ve expected. New regimes take time. Oh, and the defense... damn that was a lot better than I saw coming.

DR: Did the team fail to capitalize on a bunch of opportunities? Yes. Was the team appreciably better than it was during the Frost regime? Yes, even though that is a bar so low that it serves as a tripping hazard in Hell. Were there a bunch of things to build on? Yes. Rhule is moving in the right direction, and things are definitely getting better — particularly defensively.

What game this season did you enjoy the most? The least?

BRT: I liked the Louisiana Tech game. It was a nice, comfortable win with NO turnovers! That alone makes it a real standout for the Huskers this year.

The game that I enjoyed the least is a tie between MSU, Maryland, and Wisconsin. Three amazing chances to make moves in the world. Three instances of pissing it down our leg in the most disappointing way. MSU was probably objectively the worst of these three, but they were all so irritating.

Jesse: Most? I dunno. Any win is something I savor, especially a conference win. Remember when we beat Northwestern on like three useful offensive plays? That was really fun. Least favorite is Maryland I think. I have no rational reason for this but it just felt the most annoying.

DR: I hated the last four games. Pissing games away is a hard habit to break, it seems. I liked the Purdue game. Nebby won by 17 points and I have no memories of it, whatsoever. Good win.

How are you feeling about Matt Rhule with one season under his belt?

BRT: I am still pretty happy with him, though there were some late-game decisions that were pretty awful (notably, in the Wisconsin game) and I’m scared that those will crop up again at some inopportune time. However, I have appreciated that he is an adult and did not contribute anything off-field or soundbite-wise that made Nebraska look silly, which was a nice change.

Jesse: I think he’s a great coach. I also am an optimist? But seriously, generally speaking he seems to be putting together a strategy, and is focused on executing that strategy. This is more than our last few coaches which seems... ideal? He also is actually well respected by his peers it seems, so that’s a nice change too!

DR: There is not much to dislike. He is smart, he seems to run the program professionally, and he gets along with most everyone. After the season ended, his ability to retain sixth-year seniors, with minimal losses to the portal, are also good signs. There were some questionable in-game decisions, but he was dealing with a questionable offense. Let us hope that the tactics and the offensive talent both improve.

So, once again, Nebraska was bowl-less. The streak of that going back to 2016 is, shall we say, not ideal. It was perhaps more maddening this year as the Huskers had four amazing opportunities to get into a bowl game at the end of the season, and blew every single one of them. Were you surprised?

BRT: No. I was not surprised. I was disappointed. But in spite of announcers in each of these games declaring confidently that “Nebraska fans can’t believe it!” the reality is that we absolutely can. Why? Because we’ve done this schtick for many seasons now, and only a fool would actually be surprised. I always hope for the best, but I am absolutely always prepared for the worst when it comes to the Huskers—and this has served me well.

Jesse: Look, it was maddening but also I liked that we had even MORE chances to get to bowl eligible this year. Maybe next year we can actually, you know get there! But seriously, if this is our new defensive identity, I actually think we can eventually get there. Having a competent QB would be a nice first step.

Dead Read: I wanted to be surprised, so much...a win would have been the surprise. I will be legitimately pissed if this pattern persists next season. Really. I mean it. Dadgummit.

The speculation surrounding why Nebraska football is like this (coughing up close games with startling regularity) is varied and often creative. What do you think the real reason is?

BRT: Honestly, I think we’re really into something with the occult at this point. It is too baffling for any other explanation.

Jesse: 100% with BRT. I’m all for any sort of voodoo we need to do to get rid of this curse. Do we need someone to pass this to? Can it go to one of the new guys? USC feels ripe for a curse, right?

DR: Fightin’ Frankie Solich just got elected to the CFBHOF. I postulate that (along with naming the locker room in his honor) brings balance to the Huskerverse, and closure to the curse. Inshallah.

Will they finally make it back to a bowl next year, or is this just how it is now and ever shall be? (Here’s the 2024 schedule)

BRT: I’m sure I’ll predict that they will in the rosy optimism of August, but no, they probably won’t. I won’t believe they’ve broken the curse until they show otherwise, and so far, we aren’t there.

Jesse: HELL YEAH WE’RE BOWLING NEXT YEAR! I AM NOT GOING TO LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE AND WILL CONTINUE TO BELIEVEEEEEEE.

DR: I think six wins veeerrry sorta possiblish if they cut turnovers by 25%. I have already been roped into a bowl trip with some buddies, should it happen.

I’ll ask Thump about fun things to do in Detroit.

Poll

Nebraska in 2023 was...

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Better than I expected given Rhule’s typical first-year results
    (24 votes)
  • 18%
    Worse than I expected - I thought they were going to break through this year
    (31 votes)
  • 66%
    About what I expected, tbh. B1G West gonna B1G West.
    (110 votes)
165 votes total Vote Now