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How does Nebraska get back to being ‘Nebraska’?

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History says the Nebraska Cornhuskers are part of college football royalty. Current circumstances suggest this is a program in a serious need of a shot in the arm, reeling after some bad losses this season and with a future that few are seeing a clear path back to the top of the college football mountain.

If these were going to be the results, why was the change even made? Or so some of the Husker-based narrative goes.

Mike Riley was brought in to overhaul, change and ultimately get Nebraska back to the top of the mountain. However, he’s hit a major roadblock in starting that process, with a team sitting with five losses and just one win in Big Ten play.

Given the early returns, fans have rightfully grumbled (and some have downright never gotten on the Riley bandwagon). But, the biggest question at hand is just how does the Huskers program get back to the top so many in the fanbase seek out every season?

We’ve got a few suggestions for the administration, fans and everything in between. Here is our blueprint to getting back to the top. Consider this our blueprint to Nebraska getting back to the top.

 

Fans need to get on board with Mike Riley’s plan

Mike Riley’s hire last December was certainly a shock move, as he was seen as a potential lifer at Oregon State. Instead, it set in place a series of moves that affected two Big Ten West division teams and set the Huskers fanbase on fire.

Some got on board, looking forward to a culture change that Riley would bring. Others were never convinced that a guy who wasn’t a Husker could get the job done and there have been no shortage of 140-word critics on a daily or weekly basis.

https://twitter.com/Trevor_Morris/status/658010599016804353

After all, if nine wins weren’t good enough for Bo Pelini to keep his job, how is a potential losing season worth support?

It’s a fair question, but it’s also a false premise. Again, it has a lot to do with the fans realizing what this program is in the 21st century, but there are other factors at play.

Riley or Pelini, no way this team was a nine-game winner going in to the season. Was there a star running back in waiting? Nope. Was there a star-studded front seven in place on defense? Nope. Was there a passing quarterback with experience on the roster? Nope.

Instead, Riley came in and did what any good coach needs to do in building a foundation — he cleaned the program of all the dead weight. That’s to say, the bad actors and the malcontents found themselves out of a Huskers uniform. Some of those players could’ve been big contributors, but were not conducive to the culture Riley is building.

Think of it as short-term pain for the long-term gain. In a society that is all about instant gratification, there’s no substitute to doing things the right way and that brings us to the next point…

 

It’s time to start living in the reality of where this program is

Pipeline31999 seems like a lifetime ago…and for the youngest students and players at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1999 was indeed a lifetime ago — as in they have no real memory of that year or what the Huskers accomplished.

That’s a reality check for you.

It also should serve as a wake up call to the fanbase to stop living in the past. There’s a difference between revering the glory days and being stuck in those days. Looking back to how the Huskers did it as they won national championships is fine, but comparing teams from the 50’s, 70’s or even the 90’s to today is an exercise in futility. The reality is that today’s college football landscape is 1000-times different from any of those eras.

Don’t get me wrong, expectations are great, and expecting winning football is important — I’m not suggesting to let go of all expectations of excellence.

However, for a big segment of the Huskers fanbase, they are living in the past and not the reality of today’s Huskers program. They also aren’t recognizing just how beaten down this program was under Bo Pelini, especially heading in to this season.

What exactly did Mike Riley inherit in the Huskers football program? He inherited a quarterback who is better as a leader than a passer, no star at running back, not much outside of two good wide receivers and a defense that has not lived up to the “Blackshirts” nickname for the better part of a decade (and I’m being kind).

Would Nick Saban, Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer have been able to take this program and make it an instant Big Ten or national championship contender? Highly unlikely at best.

That’s not to disparage the guys on this team in the least. No one is questioning the effort, but there’s a difference between all-out effort and having the collection of talent it takes to get to the top of the mountain.

There is talent on this team, with names like Jordan Westerkamp and De’Mornay Pierson-El at wide receiver and some nice parts along the defensive line. However, we’ve seen the lack of depth at an alarming rate so far this season. An injury to Pierson-El showcased a severe lack of depth at wide receiver and a ton of offseason dismissals due to academics, arrests and a lack of fit with Riley didn’t help.

So, it may be time for some inside the Husker Nation to take a hard look through the Red-and-White colored glasses and admit that this is a shadow of the teams that competed for even conference championships.

 

Make Nebraska “Cool” again…or for once?

Here’s a reality that everyone should be able to agree upon — Lincoln, Neb. was never and will never be a cool place. So, how did the Huskers build a nationally relevant program for multiple generations? It did so in the past by being timeless. It did so by being classic and it did so by also finding a way to fit in with the times that were in college football.

Right now? This program is not the “cool” program, let alone competing for the “sexy” title that Oregon currently holds and Maryland could with the help of Under Armour’s money. Heck, its ties to the past aren’t working and that’s what happens when

However, there’s a way to put lipstick on the pig that is Nebraska’s classic look and lack of interesting things to sell around Lincoln. Every school lacks something, whether its winning tradition, football facilities of the 21st century or alumni that care about being part of the program.

Nebraska has all of that to sell and much more. There’s a difference between selling all of those things and doing it in a way that makes it cool to want to play for the Huskers again.

One way is to do it is by finding a way to make marquee NFL talent a vocal marketing tool on a weekly basis. Not only does saying the words “Nebraska” or “Huskers” as lineups are called help, but having some of the big-named NFL talent out of your school out there selling the program in interviews and clothing and such really help.

Look to the East and what the folks in Madison have been able to do by wrapping their arms around some of the most marketable names in the NFL — J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson. The former hypes the Badgers at every chance and the latter, well, you wouldn’t know he played anywhere else in college by listening to Wilson speak on his college experience.

Of course, that also requires sellable talent in the NFL and Nebraska doesn’t exactly have that today. It could if Ameer Abdullah emerges, but Ndamukong Suh isn’t exactly the poster child for what you want to sell to recruits and parents of recruits these days.

But, alumni making it big at the next level is but one part of the equation.

There are two other parts to it all…one is to share Riley’s vision and start winning football games with that vision. It make take time for this part to come together, but if the Huskers are winning championships or competing for them on a year-to-year basis that is free marketing to recruits to say the least.

Lastly, it is time to sit the folks at adidas down and have a frank discussion. Seriously, what is that uniform supplier doing to the Huskers? I get trying to get in the fray with all the alternate jersey looks, but the all-black look is super played out and what was put out there last weekend was A-W-F-U-L. It wasn’t the first time adidas swung and missed, doing so back in 2012 with these terrible uniforms for the “unrivaled” game with Wisconsin:

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Adidas has a major opportunity with Nebraska, it can thread the needle between the classic look and finding something that works in today’s flashier world. If adidas can’t step its game up, then it is time for it to go.

It may bother some fans, but the reality is jerseys and cool-looking things mean a lot to this younger generation. Having some look or mark that works in the 21st century is a huge help to opening doors to players that may never consider Nebraska.

This is where the administration comes in, and it has failed over the past three years. Time for everyone in the AD’s office and those at adidas to put there collective heads together and make the Huskers a “cool” place for the Midwest, because no such place currently exists.

 

Have a plan in place to replace Riley

For all that are calling for Riley to go today or yesterday, this must be music to your ears. However, I’m not talking about today, yesterday or even tomorrow. Instead, I’m saying that AD Shawn Eichorst, who’s stamp is all over this hire, needs to have a plan in place for the long-term replacement of Riley.

The cold,hard fact is that Riley is 65 years old and this is going to be his last head coaching job for better or worse. Just how long in to the future will that retirement D-Day be? No one but Riley knows it, but there’s hardly a question that he is close to that day right now.

Nebraska’s hope has to be that Riley gets this program back to the top of the mountain and can hand it off to a successor that keeps the ball rolling like it did all those times before in Lincoln.

Of course, if things go bad with the Riley era, Eichorst may be out of a job before Riley is gone and all of this will be a moot point. Yet, preparing for failure shouldn’t be in Eichorst’s vocabulary.

Instead, he needs to be preparing to find the right person to groom and or know from outside of the program that will be ready to take this righted ship and not screw it up going forward.

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These ideas and suggestions are hard to swallow for some, and others may downright hate them — but they are the truth.

In fact, there are likely more ideas needed and I’m sure thought of inside the Huskers athletic department. Ultimately though, it is all going to take time and patience for Riley and the athletic department to get this ship righted.

Nebraska has hit rock bottom, and Riley was hired to be the man to pick them back up off the floor. Doing that is a rung-by-rung approach, so let’s see if the Huskers do as we suggest and Riley gets the job done in the long-run.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Huskers Football

Keyshawn Johnson Jr. unsurprisingly transferring from Huskers

Following a summer pot citation and his dad pulling him from school, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. announces his transfer.

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Did you know that Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was a member of the Nebraska Cornhuskers program? Chances are, if you blinked you missed his time on campus.

That’s what happens when you get busted for pot possession and your dad brings you home to teach you a lesson or two.

The elder Johnson made sure to make a statement when pulling his kid out of school just days in to his time there. He made it clear that there were higher (no pun intended) expectations of his son.

“One thing you will not do as my son is you will not embarrass Nebraska, you will not embarrass Mike Riley and you will not embarrass this family,” Johnson Sr. told the Omaha World-Herald. “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the former 4-star recruit with the famous name isn’t going to continue his career at Nebraska.

On Friday, the younger Johnson announced his decision to not return to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The combination of his citation for marijuana possession and the coaching change likely sealed the deal for this move.

Johnson Jr. enrolled early, coming to Lincoln in January, but suffered an illness that he couldn’t shake for parts of spring practice. He appeared in the spring game, but caught just one pass for 7 yards.

Nebraska could use the depth at wide receiver, but with a new regime in place and his father having no relationship with the new staff this move is not surprising.

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Frost turning to Florida to bring speed to Huskers program

Frost is leaning on his Florida ties in hoping to shape his roster in his image quicker than expected.

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Scott Frost has technically only been on the job for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for less than a week, but he clearly has had a gameplan in place for a while now.

That much is evident not only by how quickly he’s gotten a staff together, but by the details on the recruiting trail.

Normally it takes time to evaluate what is on a roster in front of you and figure out what is needed. That process didn’t take long (or likely took place last week as he waited to take the job formally), because Frost has attacked the recruiting trail hard in his first week on the job.

So, what is his evaluation of the Huskers program? It is in need of speed, speed and more speed.

Frost has decided that in order to get his team up to speed he needs to do so buy finding that speed right in his old back yard.

It’s a move that makes sense, as Frost has built good relationships in Florida and that is where some of the best high school talent in the country exists today.

Nebraska’s 247Sports site, Huskers Illustrated, had a really good talk on the inner workings of what Frost has done already on the recruiting trail on this week’s Notorious B1G Podcast (because who doesn’t love an all-Big Ten recruiting podcast?)

Mike Riley and Co. spent less time on Florida and more time on the West Coast, which should’ve been expected given Riley’s ties in that direction. But, the crop of pure athletes out West is nothing compared to the depth of speed and athleticism that exists in Florida.

Ironically, Frost’s first offer came from out West as the No. 8-ranked dual-threat quarterback, Adrian Martinez, was offered within hours of Frost getting the job.

That move and all the ones made since his hire show Frost has come in with a clear knowledge of his system, who fits it on the recruiting trail and who fits it currently on the roster. Having that kind of confidence and work-rate are a welcome sight in Lincoln.

But, Frost isn’t just hitting the ground running on the recruiting trail either.

He’s also been taking time to speak to the national media and spread the gospel of what he wants to build at Nebraska. Frost spoke on the Jim Rome Show on Thursday and didn’t buy the notion that recruiting to Lincoln, Neb. is a difficult task.

“There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get kids to Lincoln, Nebraska,” Frost said, via Land of 10. “Kids leave places right now and go everywhere around the country. There’s no reason kids won’t go to Lincoln if they’re going to Columbus, Ann Arbor, and Eugene, Oregon.

“And I think we’re going to create an environment, a football environment in Lincoln that people are going to want to be a part of.”

Success in turning a program around often hinges on the first recruiting class to come in. That’s not to say this class should be put at the feet of Frost and his staff entirely, but if they can put a stamp on an already nice class it could be the one that breaks a mediocre mold for the Huskers program.

No matter what, Frost and his staff aren’t afraid to be aggressive and go after the type of player they need. That alone has to be a refreshing sign of change for the Husker faithful.

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Huskers hope Scott Frost hire brings back glory days

Native son returns home to lead program he once was the star quarterback of. Can the glory days return with the Huskers dipping in to their past?

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What had become the worst-kept secret in college football’s coaching carousel became official on Saturday afternoon. Just hours after leading his UCF Knights to a crazy 62-55 double overtime win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game, Frost bolted for a gig back home.

UCF’s 247sports site announced the news, noting that Forst will not coach the team in the upcoming bowl game. However, after the AAC championship game, UCF’s AD noted that Frost and the entire coaching staff would coach through the Peach Bowl.

Nebraska athletics director Bill Moos named Frost the new Huskers head coach, ending a search many thought would start and end with Frost first.

“It is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to return to Nebraska and to lead the Husker football program,” Frost said in a statement released by the school. “I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second to none. I am truly humbled to be hereee. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.

“I am appreciative of the confidence Bill Moos and our University leadership have in me to lead this program. I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career. Specifically, I would like to thank Coach Osborne who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field. Go Big Red!”

In bringing a native son and former Huskers quarterback in to the fold to lead the program, Nebraska is clearly hoping the magic of the mid 1990’s can rub off on the program once again.

Frost was integral in the Huskers success in the 90’s, where he was a star quarterback for two years after transferring home from Stanford. He led the program to a 24-2 record as the starter and became just the 10th player in major college football history to pass for 1,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

He had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but was moved from quarterback to safety and just couldn’t find his way in the league.

While thoughts of Frost leading the Huskers offense are likely to bring smiles back to the Husker faithful, the reality of today’s program won’t.

It’s been a rough go since the calendar turned over to the year 2000, as the Huskers haven’t won a single conference championship since 1999.

Frost faces a big challenge, as the Huskers vaunted defense has fallen on hard times and the program just got done with a 4-8 season under Mike Riley. Luckily for the Husker faithful, Frost isn’t going to be caught off-guard by the challenges of a turnaround.

He took over a UCF program that went winless the year before he came to campus and had them 6-7 and going bowling in his first season. This year his team went undefeated in the regular season, joining the Wisconsin Badgers as the only two undefeated teams in the country after the regular season finished up.

Frost also led the Knights to the AAC championship despite a ton of off-field distraction surrounding his job status and rumors about Florida, Nebraska and Oregon interest in his services.

Now the pressure will be on to get the Huskers back to championship football, and soon.

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3 names Nebraska Cornhuskers should consider in replacing Mike Riley

Does the Huskers coaching search really begin and end with Scott Frost?

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Most of the time, head coaching searches and the media equal a whole lot of names and not a lot of facts to back them up. Thankfully, with Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos being so candid in his press conference yesterday, we know exactly what Moos is looking for and don’t have to speculate.

What you won’t see here is a list of hot assistant coaches or lower-level names looking to make a big jump into FBS football. Moos let us all know it’s a pool of six names and that he’s looking for someone with previous head coaching experience.

Knowing there are six names in the top drawer of Moos’ desk, we’re here to let you know the three names we hope will be on the list and the names we’d be considering if we were in his shoes.

Of course, this list isn’t to say others aren’t on it, but again this is our opinion on who should be there for the Huskers.

 

Scott Frost, UCF Head Coach

This is the obvious name that will be on every list, and he should be. He’s got the Nebraska pedigree, he’s got the high-powered offense everyone wants to see and he’s got the UCF Knights in a position to pull off an undefeated season. All that stands in the way of that is the AAC title game and a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Should Frost’s team win the title game next weekend, it begs the question of timing. Would Frost really bolt with a perfect season and a New Year’s Six bowl game on the line? Would Nebraska be willing to wait it out and hope the recruiting class can stay intact until Frost can get to Lincoln in January?

All of those questions are valid, but about the biggest question to be answered is if Frost wants to leave UCF after just two seasons or not. While the money and temptation of “going home” is certainly a big pull, so is building something special at a program like UCF. Is jumping ship so quickly what Frost really wants? Or does he want to build something and wait for the job he really wants?

Money certainly doesn’t seem to be too big an obstacle and with Florida apparently set to hire Dan Mullen, the door seems wide open for Frost if he so chooses.

Craig Bohl, Wyoming Head Coach

This is a name I thought the Huskers should’ve looked at the last time they made a move for a head coach. Hindsight is always 20-20, but the good news is that Bohl has only gone on to do himself a lot of favors in his time as the head coach at Wyoming. The Cowboys have gone from a doormat to a very good Mountain West team in his short time in Laramie.

Oh, and if you need roots in Nebraska, Bohl has them. I mean, he was the linebackers coach while the Huskers were winning national championships in the 1990’s and left after three years as the defensive coordinator (2000-2002) to take over the NDSU program. If you want to bring the blackshirts back, Bohl knows what that is all about.

But, what about recruiting with a “non-sexy” hire like Bohl?

If ever there’s proof that a good coach can recruit to difficult situations and develop talent, it is Bohl at Wyoming. He’s turned a program that is sub .500 in its history in to a program that went 8-6 and 7-5 over the last two seasons. Additionally, the program has finished first or second in the Mountain division each of the past two years.

Then there’s the fact that he turned North Dakota State in to the ultimate power team in the FCS division as well.

Let’s just say, for Midwest coaches it is hard to find a more impressive resume than what Bohl has already put together. His ability to reach recruits and run a fun offense to watch along with quality defense should fit the mold well for the Huskers. The question some may ask if this hire moves the needle enough for the outside world to get on board.

Having been around the game long enough, internally, few coaches are more respected than Bohl, and that can make a lot of difference when you are trying to get everyone pushing in the same direction — from the administration to the boosters and regular fans. Bohl has a lot of what Moos would like to see in a head coach.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State Head Coach

We know this is a name that Moos has high interest in to say the least. Campbell was a big winner at Toledo and he’s gotten the Iowa State Cyclones back to winning football in just two seasons. Wins over both Oklahoma (on the road) and TCU (at home) showcased just what kind of coaching job Campbell is capable of.

But, like Frost, he’s in the middle of rebuilding and building something special right where he is at. Campbell also has one hefty buyout in his contract. While, money again doesn’t seem to be an object, Campbell’s reported $9 million buyout is certainly a hefty price to pay.

Personally, I love what Campbell has been able to do for the Iowa State program and what we’ve seen on the field from the Cyclones would be a great fit for the Huskers too. Campbell’s team played easily the best defense of anyone in the defense-absent Big 12 conference and his offenses showcased speed and power at the same time.

That’s the combination that can win games in Lincoln. But, again there is one big question that only one person can answer and that person is Matt Campbell.

Does Campbell see Nebraska as a step up or a lateral move? We could argue the merits of that all day, but in the end it really depends on if Campbell believes Ames is a place where winning football can become the norm instead of the special season. If he believes in what he’s building there, prying him away from the Cyclones may be hard. As hard as apparently winning conference championships has been for the Huskers.

 

Analysis of What Will Actually Happen:

In the end, this search begins and ends with Scott Frost. With Florida being reportedly rebuffed by Frost and hiring Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State it seems as if the writing is on the wall.

That said, I also subscribe to the “sometimes the simplest answer is the right answer” philosophy. When it comes to Nebraska’s coaching search that simple answer is Frost.

But, should something crazy happen and the Nebraska alum not want to take the job, it wouldn’t hurt to have Craig Bohl as your backup plan. All the dude does is win football games and win a lot of them. His championship pedigree with Nebraska and North Dakota State should be all that Moos would need to go in his direction should Frost say no.

I’m fully expecting Moos to be able to get his man though. The stars are just aligning too well for it not to happen. Let’s see if the Huskers can get the man they probably should’ve hired the last time, this time around.

As for the timing, I fully expect this deal to be done this time tomorrow (Monday). It also will come with the stipulation that Frost coaches out the season for UCF should they move on to the New Years Six bowl game many expect to happen. That part will be the tricky part of the negotiations if you ask me, especially because of the early signing period that is in place for the first time.

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