As Nebraska scored its final TD of the 1998 Orange Bowl to take a 42-9 lead over #3 Tennessee, the Nebraska faithful had to wonder, would it ever get any better than this? 3 National Titles in a 4 season span was a new high for this Nebraska program, devoid of national championships for over 20 seasons from 1972 to 1993. In 4 short seasons, Tom Osborne had gone from the guy who could not pull off the big win to a three-time national championship coach. The future for Nebraska looked extremely bright.
Let's move ahead four seasons to the 2002 Rose Bowl. Tom Osborne is now retired, and Frank Solich is the head Husker. As a result, Nebraska finds itself at a national title cross-road; in a BCS Rose Bowl title game, controversially, I might add. Many felt that Nebraska should not have even been there. None of this matters; if they win the game, they are the BCS national champions. Not to be, the '01 Canes dominated from start to finish, leaving no doubt that Nebraska was not good enough to be there.
Go B1G Or Don't Go At All
Maybe the '01 season skewed us away from the reality of things. Nebraska was not national title caliber in '01, but they somehow benefited from the doubt. Nebraska struggled to return to the elite's stable for the next nine seasons. Nevertheless, Solich, Callahan, and Pelini would carry Nebraska to the gates of the B1G Ten, 73 wins and 43 losses later, yet the promised land awaited. How could this move possibly go wrong?
Pelini led Nebraska through their first B1G season with a 9-4 record, 3rd in the 'legends' division. Not a terrible start. But in 2012, Nebraska had their first division title and an appearance in the B1GCG, a great start by any measure. A 70-21 loss at the hands of Wisconsin took the shine off of that sophomore B1G effort instantaneously. A couple more 9 wins seasons, and Nebraska had had enough of Pelini.
Mike Riley came in in 2015 with high credentials, averaging nearly eight wins a season the previous 12 at Oregon State. Instead, they pulled the plug on Riley three seasons after a 19-19 overall record. Nothing seemed to work for Nebraska on its mission to get back to championship football. For 16 seasons, they had tried and failed to return to the land of relevancy. Surely a former Nebraska standout QB with a 1997 national championship ring would be able to find the path.
A Premature Frost Warning
Scott Frost entered the 2018 season with a ton of UCF hype from their previous 2017 undefeated season. It seemed like a situation that could not miss; it did. A lousy record with noticeable improvement appeared to have the Nebraska faithful in good spirits after just a couple of Frost-led seasons. Surely his 3rd season would be the charm they wanted, but a Covid-dominated environment and a step in the wrong direction left Nebraska fans irritated with Frost's 3-5 '20 campaign. Three seasons in, 12 total wins was probably not what they had in mind.
The '21 Huskers showed promise like none of Frost's teams had demonstrated before in preparation for the season. And when the season was underway, it was obvious that improvements were made. The only problem was that they still ended up at 3-9. It was a different caliber of 3-9, though. They lost six games to six ranked teams by a combined 36 points. I've never seen a team come close so many times in a season and end up with nine losses. It was mind-boggling. Frost is now 15-29, the worst four-year period at Nebraska since Bill Jennings in the late 1950s.
Like Frost, Jennings also got a fifth year but not the sixth one.
For Nebraska; B1GGER has not been better
I think it's about time we start looking for why Nebraska cannot find its groove these days. We should look no further than its 2011 move from the Xll to the B1G. Nebraska has had so much success throughout its history. Going back to the 1940s and the Big Six, up to the 1990s, Nebraska collected five national titles on its path. But they didn't do this without recruiting the state of Texas with their notorious "Texas Pipeline."
As it turns out, Texas recruits have little interest in B1G Ten football and Nebraska's new rivalries. As a result, their move to the B1G damaged their national brand and recruiting base; fixing it while remaining in the B1G Ten is impossible. The only cure may be to rejoin their rivals, Oklahoma and Texas, in the SEC. I'm not predicting this will happen; I'm just saying that it's the only card Nebraska has left in their quest to find themselves.