Nebraska head coach Scott Frost's goal to see Big Ten football take place this fall has been realized. But his program's efforts to force the league's hand had a price tag. When it came time to slash a pair of games from their schedule, the two most likely wins on it — Rutgers and Michigan State — got the ax. Taking the season one game at a time is officially mandatory for Nebraska, not a throwaway press conference line.
Five of the eight teams the Cornhuskers are set to face finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the 2019 season. That matches the number represented in this season's preseason AP poll. Athletic director Bill Moos is anything but thrilled with the development. "For obvious reasons, I was hoping we could disassemble the schedule because of unique circumstances and rebuild it to be fair for each school in the conference," he told the Omaha World-Herald.
Nebraska starts off against powerhouse Ohio State straight away before clashing with usual division rivals and the Big Ten East's second-best draw in Penn State. It's a daunting task, but lost on many is this was all happening in back-to-back weeks prior to COVID-19 becoming part of our daily lives. The seating chart has been switched up but the cast of characters is the same. Wisconsin even gets to be the series' road team for the second straight year now.
The Big Ten could have thrown Nebraska a bone by penciling in a matchup against Maryland or Rutgers. There's no reason for them to, though. It's hard to argue that the league doesn't want to penalize the Big Red's organization from top to bottom for hot mics and repeatedly making them look the fool. Also, business is business and the Huskers' brand draws eyeballs. This was part of the reason they were brought from the Big 12 in the first place, after all.
Though Husker Nation is understandably frustrated, there's a factor that can’t be easily dismissed. While any Sea of Red in Lincoln's Memorial Stadium probably resembles a smattering of scarlet due to health concerns, there's a good chance this is the case for everyone else. Limited attendance effectively silences any intimidating 12th-man factor.
There will be no throng of Buckeye faithful cheered on by Brutus. Hawkeyes won't be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder while screaming to interrupt a quarterback's cadence. More than anything, this season comes down to talent, development, and coaching. The absence of fans is replaced by an even bigger spotlight on how programs are operating.
Nebraska's slate looms large, but it'd be doing Frost a disservice to forget his mantra of taking steps back towards the promised land 24 hours at a time: Day by day, we get better and better. Iowa and Wisconsin have both had pandemic-driven interruptions to offseason workouts with the Badgers resuming next Thursday at the earliest. Both teams are defined in no small part by how they build their superstars from the ground up with no tolerance for hiccups. Meanwhile, the Huskers haven't missed a day at the office.
"The schedule's in place, it is what it is, [The Big Ten] won't hear any more out of me. We're going to strap the chin strap on and go out and win games," Moos continued.
And that's where faith should be for those with a vested interest in the continued rebuild of Nebraska football. In Frost and the belief in his abilities to eventually present a frequently winning product. His hiring was largely framed as him being the perfect candidate to do that.
It's hard to think he didn't see this response from the Big Ten coming if they decided to backtrack on postponement. Not considering how fiercely he, his players, and those associated expressed their desires not to mention how they kept them in the public eye. Social media blitzes, lawsuits, and the constant reminders that if the nation didn't see the conference play along with the SEC, Big 12, and ACC, it wouldn't be because they didn't give maximum effort.
Nebraska demanded fall football, they got it, and egos at the top of the conference food chain weren't amused. But, the Huskers need live snaps in addition to the chance for players to grow and evolve regardless of who they play. They require evidence for recruits of what opportunities await.
Cliche though it is, the best revenge for the Huskers is to embrace the challenges handed down and succeed in spite of them. The Big Red has a shot to prove that even a pitfall-littered road with no rest stops during a year when everything is turned on its head isn't going to dent morale.
Doing so not only notches wins and sends Nebraska bowling. It may give Moos the last laugh. Of all the trophies it's known for, that's one the Big Ten absolutely doesn't want to be attached to after the past several weeks.