It has been a tough start for the Huskers, but this year's growing pains could pay off down the road
See if this sounds familiar: a Nebraska football alum takes over a football program that’s been subpar and aching to improve. In his first year, the team tanks. Several players leave, they lose to nearly every team they play including several Top 25 squads from the Big Ten. At one point, they’re on an amazingly impressive losing streak and eventually are bottom dwellers in the league.
That team was the 1990 Wisconsin Badgers led by head coach Barry Alvarez, a former Cornhusker linebacker under Bob Devaney. Today, Wisconsin is often seen as the Big Ten West favorite and seems just a few pieces away from competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff under Paul Chryst, an Alvarez disciple who is 38-8 as the Badgers’ head coach.
Take a glance at Lincoln these days and you see an eerily similar situation. Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost is in his first year leading a program yearning to return to national relevance. His culture is being installed and you get the idea that it’s happening whether players like it or not as many are leaving left and right. It wouldn’t be a shock if this trend continues throughout the season and beyond.
If Nebraska loses to Northwestern this Saturday, it’ll mark the first time in history the Huskers have started 0-6. More than likely, they’re going to take that same spot at the bottom of the Big Ten barrel where Alvarez’s Badgers once resided.
How could any positives come from this? While the Big Ten is enjoying pummeling the Big Red and fans who hate Nebraska are keen on watching them suffer loss after loss, in a way, the league is doing Frost a service.
We’re seeing players such as linebacker Mohamed Barry — who acts and plays like a captain without the official title — proudly touting Frost and what he’s looking to accomplish. Defensive back Dicaprio Bootle summarized some locker room feelings when he said, “If you don’t want to fight no more, that’s okay. You can get gone. If you’re gonna fight, then let’s ride.” The depth chart has seen significant changes, seemingly rewarding those with the same mentality.
Nebraska may have just lost 41-24 to Wisconsin. However, while the Husker defense was gashed by Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook did just enough to pick Nebraska’s back seven apart to keep them honest, the Big Red’s offense executed to a degree that should produce wins.
Adrian Martinez went 24-of-42 passing for a career-high 384 yards (a freshman record) and two touchdowns. JD Spielman broke his own record for receiving yards with 209 and his performance marked the second time in school history a Nebraska player had 130 or more receiving yards in consecutive games. The Huskers accumulated 518 yards of total offense and didn’t lose the turnover battle (both teams had one) for the first time this year.
There will be more losses, but it appears that this team is starting to trend upwards. The offense may need to bail the team out for the remainder of the year, but maybe — just maybe — it can best 1990 Wisconsin’s 1-10 record. Obviously, we don’t know how this story will shake out. Frost could be the next Alvarez or, heck, even better. On the other hand, he could execute his vision so poorly that the Huskers never recover and become the perennial tune-up game that the program he leads once feasted upon.
It’s not a treat for Nebraska fans to go into a game expecting sloppy play and for every positive to be negated by a penalty. This team has no doubt given Frost migraines with how outright undisciplined it’s been and how often it’s shot itself in the foot. However, he seemed a bit more positive in his most recent postgame press conference. He’s been saying that he knows where this program is headed and has been urging those not interested in sticking around to get while the getting is good. Perhaps the head Husker is finally starting to see glimpses of what he’s been looking for all along thanks to the rest of the Big Ten providing ample adversity.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) plus keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts and stat-filled features on his Patreon page.