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Nebraska Football: Take it Easy on Mike Riley

It happened again. Nebraska played hard and showed resiliency, but again played to the level of its competition and lost another close game in the fourth quarter to a Northwestern team showing some inconsistency of its own 30-28. Unbelievably now, the ‘Huskers have lost five games by a combined 13 points. Snake-bitten doesn’t even describe what’s going on in Lincoln.

Sometimes you just can’t put your finger on these types of things. While some teams qualify as a team of destiny, seemingly rescuing every close game out of the depths of defeat, others just can’t seem to find a way to finish.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck …

Often a team that can’t finish is seen as one that isn’t tough enough mentally, or simply doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to close out games. Whether it be conditioning or a culture, it all seems to go back to the head coach. In this case, the weight of failed expectations seems to be pressing down on the guy wearing the headset in Lincoln as well, in one Mr. Mike Riley.

But how much of this is Riley’s fault? Sure, he was brought into what seemed to be a fairly good situation. The ‘Huskers had been consistent under Bo Pelini, winning nine games a year. And while that won’t cut it at programs like Nebraska, it still seemed like the cupboard wasn’t that bare, especially with a returning quarterback who has some physical tools like Tommy Armstrong possesses.

In addition to that, it’s freakin’ Nebraska, one of the winningnest programs of all time. Riley had shown that he can get more out of less at Oregon State, and that’s better than the perception of the former alternative Pelini wore around his neck of not getting his teams to play up to potential.

But we have to ask the question: Is there really that much talent in Lincoln anymore, and shouldn’t we give Riley a chance to get the materials to build the house?

It used to be a given that Big Red had a dynamic quarterback, great offensive line, and defenses that had even Freddy Kruger and Jason shaking in their boots. That’s not happening any longer. It’d be easy to blame scheme, but if you’ve been around this game long enough, you know that x’s and o’s are only a portion of the story. At the end of the day, if you nab some of the best players you can and plug them into a game-plan that’s organized with everyone doing their job, you can do it out on the parking lot and see the difference.

And that’s just it. Nebraska hasn’t been the Nebraska we all think of in history’s lore. There are no longer any Tommy Fraziers or Eric Crouchs at quarterback. The roster lacks playmakers like Mike Rozier and Lawrence Phillips at running back, and Aaron Taylor or Zach Weigert on the offensive line.

And the defense? What’ happened to players like Trev Alberts, Travis Hill and Gant Wistrom? Sure there’s a stud defensive linemen that comes into the fold every once and awhile, but the point is these types of players aren’t coming to campus in eastern Nebraska like they used to.

Nebraska fans won’t like it, but don’t blame it all on Mike Riley. He took over a program that is a shadow of its former self. It’s the aged supermodel, looking to still get all the endorsements and credit for what she used to be before things broke down. And in Lincoln, those things began to break down when Tom Osborne left to enjoy other aspects of life.

This won’t go down in history as a bright spot for the Cornhuskers — at least not from a wins and losses standpoint. In fact, it’s going to be like flying into a headwind to even make a bowl at this point, but the reality is that this program looks a lot like the Northwestern program it just played rather than a Michigan State or Ohio State, or a Wisconsin or even Iowa.

But it might be a bright spot when looking back at a transition year in which Mike Riley slowly began to turn the program back towards the utmost respect it once had. He’ll start to get his players to fit his system in the coming years. He’ll take those players, build a culture and then turn the this outfit into a winner again.

Riley has a bushel of respect in the coaching profession for what he did at Oregon State, and if he can do it in the abyss of the Pacific Northwest, you have to like his chances of getting it done at a place like Lincoln, Nebraska that’s on any real college football fan’s bucket list.

Take a breath and give it time Nebraska …


Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to He is also a the founder of and featured contributor to and occasionally You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.


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