Hey, remember last week’s thoughtful, sober examination of Scott Frost’s Nebraska? It was a rational attempt to separate the extremes of “Nebraska’s a few plays away from a huge season in 2021!” and “This program is dead and must rot.”
Yeah, well… never mind. Frost’s 2022 Week 0 was simply a remixed version of his ‘21: The Huskers lost to an inferior opponent from the state of Illinois, this time varying the sequence of defensive gaffes, questionable play calls, and a seeming unawareness of special teams existing at all.
So: Is Frost already fired? No. There’s a somewhat not-insane path to six wins and a bowl bid for Nebraska, which would be the minimum for Frost to see 2023 with his alma mater. But swapping a loss to Northwestern for taking two out of three against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota feels nearly impossible given what the former Blackshirts allowed on defense Saturday in Ireland.
If this is Frost’s last season in Lincoln, it’s worth noting that there’s some optimism for the next hire. Trev Alberts was a punchline as a media personality, but he knows the program, knows the state, and can rally deep pockets. The program will have money to spend and Alberts has started the kind of boring work not noticed nationally to overhaul the athletic department.
This means Nebraska won’t be carrying the weight of the last 20 years on their shoulders if (when?) they start shopping for a head coach. And if there are assurances in place to modernize, organize and manage the – let’s go with “eagerness” – that interfered with Bo Pelini or thought Bill Callahan was a good idea, this job is more attractive than we might think.
The Tar Heels finished off Florida A&M 56-24 on Saturday, a finish and an opponent that likely hid the fact UNC only led 35-24 late in the third against an FCS school whose players are openly questioning if their university wants to support football.
The Mack Brown encore hasn’t returned the Heels to national prominence, and frankly, if that was going to happen at all, it was supposed to be last season. Sam Howell is gone, and Brown turned 71 Saturday night. It’s more than fair to ask what the plan is at Chapel Hill, both in the short and long term. Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is the new defensive coordinator (he’s listed as Assistant Head Coach for Defense and two other assistants are titled as co-DCs, but whatever…) – is he someone Brown would hand the program off to? Would he want it? Offensive coordinator Phil Longo doesn’t seem like a candidate. What about a veteran like Tommy Thigpen?
The Heels travel to a very good Appalachian State this weekend and see Notre Dame in two weeks. There’s a strong chance they’ll be floating at or below .500 this season, so expect this conversation to heat up.
For everything Brown has done right at UNC – recruiting, namely – the Heels’ inconsistency on the field has marred what most initially thought would be a short-term fix and a hero’s retirement to an honorary title in the building for Brown. He’s loved at UNC, but the plan hasn’t unfolded like he thought.
In some capacity, now-former Auburn athletic director Allen Greene was out the door as soon as he dared to rebuke the various factions of Tiger boosters who wanted to control the hire to replace Gus Malzahn. Greene wrested control of the football hire back from the boosters, tabbed Bryan Harsin from Boise State, and has drawn the ire of monied Auburn folks ever since (and he wasn’t loved in the first place).
Greene’s “departure,” which would be most accurately described as a resignation under extreme pressure, leaves zero cover for Harsin heading into his second year on The Plains. On “Split Zone Duo” I’ve routinely described my likely Harsin firing scenario on the ‘22 calendar – the Tigers dropping a physical, two-score game to Penn State only to be upset the following week by Missouri – but the wilder game to play might be trying to keep Hars in Auburn. Is it even possible?
No one in the industry seems to think so, save for some kind of moonshot record involving an upset of Alabama or Georgia, or even both. The reality is that Harsin is doubling down on his way of doing things while he still has time. He’s swapped out SEC veterans Derek Mason and Mike Bobo at the coordinator positions with “his guys,” former Boise assistants Jeff Schmedding and Eric Kiesau.
Auburn is going to be extremely watchable this year, albeit for all the wrong reasons. If Harsin succeeds against all odds – and let me double down by overstating how impossible this feels – he will have absolutely done it his way.