Comparing the state of Nebraska football prior to Scott Frost’s arrival versus where it stands today, we have already seen significant changes. The Huskers’ historically poor beginning to 2018 in contrast to their impressive rebound along with unprecedented offensive success showed that the program is on an upward trend. However, looking even deeper will help you appreciate just how much work Frost has done since his arrival.
During Mike Riley’s tenure, the administration was littered with red tape, and not the kind Husker fans want to see at a national championship parade. Former Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst was extremely keen on underscoring the academic success of Nebraska’s football program. As a result, the recruitment of junior college transfers was essentially forbidden. Riley never signed a single one.
A February 2018 article by the Omaha World-Herald’s Sam McKewon put it succinctly saying, "At least some of the internal issues during Eichorst’s tenure tied to what he thought needed to be done to be Big Ten compliant and friendly..." Riley, being the extremely agreeable sort and enjoying what Nebraska offered, unfortunately saw his program overrun with checks and balances that often stood in his way. Frost, on the other hand, has complete control. What he says goes.
To make matters worse for Riley, the Big Red often found themselves with unfilled scholarships come National Signing Day. That almost seems like a punishment the NCAA would hand down for infractions, not something a program would willingly engage in. As a result, 14 walk-ons would be awarded scholarships during Riley’s tenure, an average of almost five per year. That is similar to the number of available scholarships at the end of Riley’s recruiting cycles. This isn’t to say walk-ons earning scholarships is a bad thing, quite the opposite. It’s one of the most heartwarming tales in collegiate athletics. However, they should help round out a roster, as seen with the three that earned their spot in Frost's eyes this past season.
During the 2015 season, Nebraska had the most walk-ons dotting their depth chart out of Football Outsiders’ top 40 S&P teams. Ten of the Big Red’s 45 most frequently used players fit that billing, or 22 percent. Iowa was next at eight out of 42 (19 percent) with Wisconsin the next Power 5 program in this respect at 15 percent (6 out of 41). The Hawkeyes and Badgers have a system for development while Nebraska has been in a state of flux for quite some time, so this practice was far less forgiving.
Another member of the administration worth noting is Billy Devaney, Nebraska’s then-executive director of player personnel from 2016-17. What Devaney actually did or how much influence he had in an official capacity isn’t totally clear. However, he was brought on in no small part thanks to the knowledge gained during his time as the St. Louis Rams’ general manager from 2008-11. One has to think that his resume provided him with enough cache to allow him to offer his input directly to Riley. Whether that helped when it came to making decisions or just muddied the process is up for debate.
Now, we look at Frost. A head coach who, as previously mentioned, has no one dismissing his wishes. Nebraska signed seven junior college transfers alone in his transition class. More to the point, Frost has been proactive in filling scholarships by recruiting immediate impact and developmental high school talent along with those JUCOs. In addition, Nebraska has now become no stranger to the graduate transfer market. Starting safety Tre Neal was brought in from UCF while defensive lineman Vaha Vainuku came over from Utah. Darrion Daniels, older brother of current Nebraska nose tackle Damion, transferred from Oklahoma State to likely take over the same role in 2019.
Also note that even as Frost’s fills all available scholarships and looks to expand the roster to a size not seen since his playing days (about 150 players), he also properly utilizes what is often a very difficult, yet necessary part of the sport: attrition. If players aren’t contributing much and aren’t a good fit for the culture, they are encouraged to and offered assistance in seeking an opportunity at another school. See Tristan Gebbia, Tyjon Lindsey, Justin McGriff, Avery Roberts and most recently, former starting running back Greg Bell, as a few examples. Initially touted as the potential answer in the backfield, Bell played in just four games, ended up getting passed on the depth chart by Devine Ozigbo, and decided to transfer.
Frost has brought back a football culture that had been extremely foreign to Lincoln for a long while. One that college football fans were, quite frankly, surprised had ever left. For one reason or another, no head coach since Tom Osborne was willing to institute such policies. His last starting quarterback is as well. This is yet another somewhat overlooked piece of what could eventually be the formula that breaks the Big Red out of its championship drought.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.