Frost's offensive track record speaks for itself but it's a drastically different approach from the Huskers' glory days
If you choose to only look at Scott Frost's first-year record as Nebraska head coach, you might think that he's in over his head. Maybe he wasn't ready for the leap from a Group of 5 program to the big leagues after all. However, Frost accomplished more than what you'll read on any stat sheet. This spring, you see an even more confident Cornhuskers team than the one that dug down and produced a 4-2 record following a historically bad 0-6 start in 2018. The tempo has picked up, younger players have matured and national pundits still see Frost's coaching career continuing its upward trend from his days at UCF.
Let's talk about something far more tangible than the potential for Frost to win twice as many games as he did last season, though. Let's talk championships. No, Nebraska hasn't claimed a national title since Frost himself was under center in 1997. Perhaps even more impressive — and not in a good way — is that the Big Red doesn't have a conference championship to tout since the turn of the new millennium.
However, Frost is poised to compete for a Big Ten West crown soon enough. Should he put in the hours and effort he has thus far in Lincoln, we could potentially be talking about the Huskers as an outright Big Ten champion in the not-too-distant future. Despite any conference titles he may win — or heck, let's think big here — should he lead Nebraska through the College Football Playoff to defeat the Oklahomas, Clemsons, and Alabamas that lie in wait, there will still be a small asterisk next to it all. The people who'd place it there aren't the first ones who come to mind.
Of course, there will always be minor complaints among Nebraska's own fan base. This particular critique exists beyond the usual one or two Big Red backers who constantly find something to gripe about. This one will live alongside the praise, nestled in the grass so it doesn't stick out too much. The sneakiest of contradictions.
These people will also rave about what Frost's quarterbacks can do with their feet and arm. They, too, will marvel at how fast his wide receivers are and that 1,000-yard seasons are the norm. They'll pound their fists on the table like Vikings celebrating victory in Valhalla over the return of physical, brutish offensive linemen. Then comes the "Yeah, but..."
When Frost arrived in Lincoln, he had a piece of news that was welcomed with what seemed like understanding at first, but some still found it unsettling. Even after a year-plus into the new era, some fans are still uncomfortable and a fringe even salty. In this offense, there is no fullback. Not anymore. This alteration is not — nor should be — an indictment of Frost as his high-octane offense is a sight to behold. The yardage and points it generates are all the proof you need. A newer role that fans are sure to love for years to come is the DUCK-R spot, a hybrid running back and wide receiver spot.
The fullback, though, has been a part of Nebraska football's identity for decades. The stubborn Big Red fan sees Andy Janovich, a bruiser from the Bo Pelini and Mike Riley eras, destroying NFL defenders as a fullback for the Denver Broncos and his work causes internal conflict. Names that have been synonymous with Nebraska's traditional offensive mindset are Tom Rathman, Cory Schlesinger, the Makovicka brothers, George Sauer, and even eventual head coach Frank Solich, all viewed as rough and rugged ironmen who got the toughest of yardage.
The fullback trap is a play secured fondly in the heart of Husker football lore. The position is celebrated much like when Nebraska occasionally busts out the style of option that was used liberally during the program's heyday. However, that role doesn't fit in what Frost wants to do and, truthfully, the traditional fullback is a dying breed overall. He desires speed — as much of it as he can get, and he employs option work, just not the kind millions of Nebraska fans grew up with. If his run-pass option style gets similar results, the modification will continue to be embraced. There will still be Big Ten-level physicality in the offensive linemen. Wide receivers must continue to forcefully escort defenders away from the run. But even Janovich, as one example, had 112 receiving yards and a touchdown catch compared to two carries for yards this past season for the Broncos. He remains an effective blocker for his fellow ball carriers, but his versatility has resulted in his role expanding. Simply put, the fullback position as it existed during Nebraska's glory days is a unicorn in a world of Tennessee Walkers and Clydesdales.
Don't think Frost doesn't understand the Cornhusker State's love of the fullback. He has an affinity all his own. During his senior season, Joel Makovicka, a player at that very position, was third on the team in rushing with 685 yards and nine touchdowns. However, Frost also understands the big picture of modern-day college football. So do the vast majority of Husker fans who have embraced not only the home-state kid but also his high-flying offense. In the Big Ten, a league synonymous with black-and-blue bodies the day after a game, Frost unabashedly dares to be different (and he's not alone). Who he is, how he conducts himself and his determination to win helps him rise above most but the most ardent critics.
If he wins championships — whether conference titles or the biggest prize in the game — he will be lauded across the nation just like his mentor. Throughout the smiles and singing, the cheering and ticker tape, many will think back on how the arduous decades-long journey made it all worth the wait. But for these fickle few, it won’t be the perfect end of a fairy tale return of the prodigal son and that's the problem.
Frost could win it all and have a statue built near Memorial Stadium. He could return Nebraska to the national stage. He could be a multi-time Coach of the Year. As grandiose as all of this sounds, it could, indeed, be his future with a lucky bounce or two. And if it is, a hushed judgment or two would still remain. The only explanation is that some people just can't be content. The good news is, should this all come to pass, there’ll be some extra room at the intersection of Omaha’s 72nd and Dodge streets for the clear majority who can properly appreciate the football team's success.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), on Facebook, and enjoy the Eight Laces podcast. To contact him, click here.