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Bo Pelini: Good Coach or Underachiever?




In our piece on Gary Patterson, we focused on the extremely fickle nature of college football fan bases. No longer are fans looking from year-to-year to analyze the state of their football program. In today's college football world, fans are now looking week-to-week.

For a case in point, let's turn to Nebraska and Bo Pelini. Nebraska is coming off a somewhat embarrassing 45-17 loss to Michigan. Combine this with a loss to Northwestern and a 48-17 blowout loss to Wisconsin, and you can almost start to hear those whispers of discontent that turn into screams before you can blink.

Here a few things to keep in mind about Nebraska football and about Coach Pelini:

1. From 1941-1961, the Cornhuskers had 17 losing seasons.

2. In steps Bob Devaney in 1962. In 1969, Bob Devaney hires Tom Osborne as his offensive coordinator. In 1973, Coach Osborne takes over from Coach Devaney. All-in-all, from 1962-1997, Nebraska won 356 of the 430 games it played, didn't have a single losing season, and won 75% of its games 33 of the 36 seasons.

3. Tom Osborne retires in 1997 and from 1998 - 2007, Nebraska won 67.72% of its games and had two losing seasons.

4. In the five years prior to Pelini being hired, the Cornhuskers won 59.68% of their games and only had two seasons with nine or more wins.

5. In 2008, Nebraska hires Bo Pelini. Let's dig into some numbers on Pelini's tenure at Nebraska:


Overall WP%

Conf. WP%

Non-Conf. WP%

Against Top 25 (Time of Game)

Against Over .500 Teams

9+ Win Seasons


71.15% (37-15)

63.64% (21-12)

84.21% (16-3)

40.00% (6-9)

47.62% (10-11)

3 (on pace for 4 with one win in last two games of 2011)

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Let's consider one other set of numbers:


WP% w/ Superior Talent

WP% w/ Equivalent Talent

WP% w/ Inferior Talent


81.82% (27-6)

54.55% (6-5)

33.33% (2-4)

So, what's the verdict so far on Pelini? One thing we know for sure is that Coach Pelini knows defense. Of the nine seasons Pelini has been either a defensive coordinator (5 years) or a head coach (4 years), he has had top 25 nationally ranked scoring defenses in seven of the nine years. In fact, he has had top 10 nationally ranked scoring defenses in five of the nine years.

Furthermore, Pelini seems to have elevated Nebraska from having to worry about 5+ loss seasons (Bill Callahan lost 5 or more games in three of his four seasons as head coach at Nebraska). Pelini has not won less than nine games in his four years as head coach at Nebraska and barring two straight losses to end the 2011 season, he will once again win 9+ games.

On the somewhat negative side of the numbers is Pelini's winning percentage against Top 25 teams (40.00%) and winning percentage against teams finishing the season over .500 (47.62%). We have seen these numbers play out this year for Pelini. All three of Nebraska's losses this year have come against over .500 teams and two of their three losses have come against Top 25 teams. All three of their losses this year have also come against guys that can flat out coach (Brady Hoke, Bret Bielema, and Pat Fitzgerald).

With Pelini, you pretty much know what you are going to get. You are going to get a coach whose teams play great defense and who beat the teams they should beat around 80% of the time. You are getting a coach that will more than likely win 8+ games every year and keep Nebraska relevant in college football. Can Bo Pelini take Nebraska back to competing for National Championships and winning 12+ games a la the Osborne era? Given the fact that Nebraska is today in a far more competitive conference than years past, we would bet no. However, like with most things in life, let's wait and see how things play out on the field.