Throughout the offseason, tales of the new culture Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost was bringing with him from UCF ran rampant. Players allegedly put in far more work in bettering themselves physically and acclimated to schedules more conducive to better play and academic success.
Three games into Nebraska’s season, we see a program that hasn’t won in nearly a year’s time and may go 0-for-September. The story isn’t necessarily that the Huskers are winless through three games for the first time since the 1940s, but rather how they’ve reached that milestone.
Against Colorado, they played well enough to win, but self-inflicted wounds ensured the visitors would walk away triumphant. Against Troy, there were repeated mistakes yet again, but we started to see chinks in the Huskers’ mental makeup. The Trojans came to play football for 60 minutes, but whether or not the Big Red did was in doubt.
This past Saturday in Ann Arbor, following a tipped Adrian Martinez pass that resulted in an interception — and eventually points for Michigan — we saw a team comfortable in that near-years' worth of futility. Think of the mentality held by the Chicago Cubs for decades or by the Cleveland Browns who recently picked up their first win in 635 days.
Frost brought in an impressive haul of fresh faces before game one. However, despite loading the roster with new players that supposedly buy what he’s selling, he must still contend with the mindsets of upperclassmen that have been through coach after coach and scheme after scheme only to fall short time and time again. This isn’t to say any player who isn’t an underclassman is cursed to feel total failure during their college football career in Lincoln. However, it most definitely is time for Frost to address the problem of those who aren’t willing to give every ounce of effort when toe meets leather on Saturdays.
During this past Monday’s weekly press conference, Frost addressed recruiting necessary to field the type of team he wants, let alone battle against squads the caliber of 2018 Michigan. "I want a whole team full of guys that are tough and love football," he said. "If you love football you’re going to come to work and do the best you can because you love the game and you want to be great at it.”
Something very telling popped up during a follow-up question in which he was asked if there were players on the team he felt “loved football.” He tossed three names out: wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr.'s along with linebackers Mohamed Barry and Luke Gifford’s. Two of those players are captains. Missing are offensive guard Jerald Foster and nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg.
Are these omissions a coincidence? Perhaps, but it’s curious that Frost wouldn’t bunch all of the captains in a single group as players that “love football.” As the dismissal of Nebraska by Michigan continued, it’s hard to argue that any of the players Frost mentioned by name gave up. However, if you go back and pick almost any offensive play following the Wolverines’ initial score, Foster was an excellent example of a player who appeared to be going through the motions — and in some cases, not all of them.
The good news is that Nebraska’s season is only one quarter over. They won’t be representing the Big Ten West in Indianapolis nor will they make a bowl game if current effort is any indication. Heck, as of this writing, the Cornhuskers are a three-point underdog to a 1-3 Purdue team that is visiting Lincoln.
Martinez followed Frost’s comments by saying, “We’re hitting the reset button.” This needs to include promoting players regardless of age or status who truly do love football as Frost so appropriately put it. If that means a massive youth movement or senior captains such as Foster and Stoltenberg sitting while underclassmen Boe Wilson and Damion Daniels take their place, so be it.
The first three games of the Frost era have been — in a word — disappointing. And in some instances to a vast degree. Following the loss to Michigan, he claimed that the program had hit “rock bottom,” but has it, really?
We learned this week that Nebraska will be facing Wisconsin under the lights in Madison and still has visits to Ohio State and Iowa coming up. None of those contests appear to have very appealing results in store for those who wear or tout the Scarlet and Cream. No other game besides the makeup against FCS member Bethune-Cookman appears to be a gimme and it would be foolish to say that about any contest right now. Nebraska hasn’t earned that right.
What Frost has under his control is the ability to put players who believe in him and love his brand of football on the field. Will this result in a bowl game appearance? It’s extraordinarily unlikely at this rate, but a few wins can be in the cards along with steps towards a winning mentality.
Yes, Nebraska needs more talent across the board, but the program also needs the hearts and minds of the current roster on the same page. As of now, that’s clearly lacking.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), and keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts on his Patreon page.