Imagine being told when Scott Frost began his head coaching gig at Nebraska that neither of his first two teams would reach a bowl game. You might assume he'd quickly be on the hot seat. However, while his tenure back in the heartland hasn't born the fruit seen at UCF, it's hard to argue with his improving results on the recruiting trail.
After turning in the nation's 23rd- and 17th-ranked recruiting classes over the past two cycles according to the 247Sports Composite, it's clear that players buy what Frost is selling. Athletic director Bill Moos is obviously all in considering he extended his head coach's contract by two years, essentially giving Frost a mulligan for his 9-15 record thus far.
However, for the Cornhuskers to take that next step, they need to show some manner of measurable improvement. Moos said last year that a bowl game would be a good goal for the Big Red to meet. It's hard to argue that the same can't be said for 2020.
Getting there looks to be an even more difficult challenge than it was headed into 2019, though.
Bye: Week 7
Week 1 — Sept. 5 vs. Purdue (Lincoln, Neb.)
Last year, these two teams were stumbling down near the regular season's finish line as Purdue upended the Big Red 31-27 in West Lafayette. Nebraska looks for retribution as former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco returns in the same capacity for the Boilermakers.
The first game of this season presents one of the biggest storylines all year. If the Huskers win, they gain both momentum and an early conference victory. Lose and they're already behind the eight ball in terms of potential bowl eligibility.
Week 2 — Sept. 12 vs. Central Michigan (Lincoln, Neb.)
Jim McElwain couldn't find success at Florida but looks to regain his mojo in Mount Pleasant. After taking the Chippewas to the MAC title game and their first bowl game since 2017, last season's MAC Coach of the Year leads Central Michigan in these schools' first-ever meeting.
CMU's leading wide receivers return in Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan setting up an enticing clash with the Blackshirts' defensive backs.
Week 3 — Sept. 19 vs. South Dakota State (Lincoln, Neb.)
Despite John Stiegelmeier's 0-2 record versus Nebraska, Cornhusker fans know better than to take the Jackrabbits lightly. SDSU fell to Northern Iowa in the first round of last year's FCS playoffs. Prior to that, the Jackrabbits popped Minnesota square in the nose before eventually losing 28-21 in their season opener.
Depending on how well the Huskers' defensive front seven has been shored up three games in, we could see a similar score here.
Week 4 — Sept. 26 vs. Cincinnati (Lincoln, Neb.)
The non-conference finale gives Frost an excellent opportunity to see if his team has what it takes to best expectations. The Bearcats finished 2019 ranked No. 21 after obliterating Boston College in the Birmingham Bowl. This is also a team that finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense.
After back-to-back 11-win seasons for Cincinnati, a victory for Nebraska (yes, even at home) would show definite growth, especially if the Huskers come into this game with an undefeated record.
Week 5 — Oct. 5 at Northwestern (Evanston, Ill.)
Pat Fitzgerald's teams have always been a thorn in the Big Red's side. Lane McCallum's 24-yard field goal that carried Nebraska to a 13-10 win last season will forever be etched in Cornhusker lore. But the Big Red can't afford let their guard down despite Northwestern's 3-9 showing in 2019.
This game becomes especially critical if Nebraska loses to Cincinnati as the Big Red will have all of two games to reset before the schedule reaches its zenith.
Week 6 — Oct. 10 vs. Illinois (Lincoln, Neb.)
Despite how the season may eventually go, thus far Nebraska can't seem to help but get right versus the Illini under Frost. After trailing by two scores late in the third quarter last season, the Huskers roared back to win their 900th game in school history, 42-38.
Better yet for the Big Red, they no longer have to face either Reggie Corbin or Dre Brown out of the Illinois backfield. This could quite possibly be one of the Huskers' most impressive wins of the season.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Rutgers (Piscataway, N.J.)
There's perhaps no better foe for Nebraska to go up against following their 2020 bye week than the Scarlet Knights. The Huskers' wins officially start coming at a premium following this week. There'll be a fine line to walk for Frost while working to get both his starters and reserves an adequate number of snaps.
Week 9 — Oct. 24 at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
In Frost's first season, Nebraska was able to come into The Horseshoe and give Urban Meyer everything he could handle before falling 36-31. Last season was a less than inspiring 48-7 effort that saw the Big Red fall behind quicker than a hiccup.
Despite Ohio State's personnel losses, say what you will about moral victories but annoying Ryan Day and his Buckeyes for 60 minutes of football would be an accomplishment.
Week 10 — Nov. 7 vs. Penn State (Lincoln, Neb.)
These two teams haven't clashed since a somewhat surprisingly competitive 56-44 affair in 2017, otherwise known as the Mike Riley era. Suffice it to say that by early November, the Nittany Lions will probably be humming along.
At this point, if the Blackshirts are able to play well as a unit and slow down running back Journey Brown, they may have a shot at what would be a signature win for Frost over James Franklin.
Week 11 — Nov. 14 at Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)
Like it or not — and plenty don't — Nebraska's annual I-80 slugfest comes two weeks earlier this year. No doubt the Hawkeyes will delight in getting their rival following a pair of games versus the Big Ten's best.
Taking a win away from Kirk Ferentz would be especially sweet for Cornhusker fans this year. Not only would it snap a six-game skid spanning multiple Husker head coaching eras, but getting a step closer to bowl eligibility along with yearly bragging rights would be the cherry on top.
Week 12 — Nov. 21 at Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.)
The good news for Nebraska — and really, Big Ten defenses in general — is that Jonathan Taylor is gone. The bad news is that regardless of who the Badgers run out of the backfield, they usually have field days against Husker defenses.
Should the Big Red offense come together and be relatively healthy at this point, we could see a tight game. However, the Huskers have yet to win in Madison since moving to the conference.
Week 13 — Nov. 27 vs. Minnesota (Lincoln, Neb.)
While the Golden Gophers aren't Iowa, this year's tilt against P.J. Fleck could easily mean the world to Nebraska football. Last year's 34-7 victory over the Huskers made an emphatic statement that Minnesota was ready to give their best shot against anyone.
This year, a victory over Fleck's Gophers in Lincoln may be what punches Nebraska's ticket to the postseason. Considering the rather epic row they have to hoe on the back end of 2020's slate, playing in any bowl should be considered a success.