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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

Huskers defense drives win over MSU

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All the talk about Nebraska has been how Scott Frost would transform the Huskers offense. On Saturday, the defense made everyone stand up and take notice in a 9-6 win over Michigan State. 

Nebraska managed to kick three field goals in the final quarter to win a game that didn’t see either side score a single touchdown. 

“Good teams figure out how to win any kind of game, and that’s a different kind of game that I have been apart of as a coach, winning a game with no touchdowns,” said Nebraska head coach Scott Frost after the game.

“I am so happy for the seniors, so happy for the Blackshirts. Some of these games we’ve won, we’ve been winning on offense, and it was great to see the defense step up today.”

With the Huskers usually high-powered offense bottled up by Michigan State’s quality defense and really bad weather the defensive performance was badly needed.

It was also badly needed after last week’s performance in a shootout win over Illinois

Nebraska’s defense was hit for 35 points and needed to put up 54 points on offense to win. The Huskers defense came in to the game this week having never given up fewer than 34 points to any team in the Big Ten so far this season. 

The Huskers defense also stood 12th in the conference, giving up an average of 33.8 points per game through 10 games. 

Certainly this group was challenged following that performance against Illinois. 

“Every week I’ve been coaching them there’s a little more fight. Today’s the most I’ve seen,” said Frost. “That’s a hard game to win. Even harder to lose. Our guys had to keep grinding, and the defense had to keep coming up with stops.”

Nebraska’s defense didn’t disappoint, holding MSU running back Craig Haward under 90 yards and quarterback Rocky Lombardi to just 145 yards on 15 of 41 passing. 

No doubt the fact that MSU came in struggling on offense helped, but this was a huge step forward for the Huskers defense after its struggles earlier this season. 

After starting the season 0-6, the Huskers have ripped off wins in 4 of the last 5 games. 

In a season of transition, the fact that Nebraska’s defense was able to hold anyone without a touchdown is a massive step in the right direction. That fact wasn’t lost on the coaches or players following the crazy win. 

For Chinander and Frost, it’s also a sign that this team is still listening and learning as what seems like a lost season to the outside world is far from it internally. 

“I told the guys in the locker room if from a coaching standpoint, or pretty much on everything, I guess, the team could’ve started the season where it is right now, that would’ve been a funny act,” Frost said. “Some of the growing things we had to go through were necessary, and I’m crushed for the seniors we couldn’t get that done quicker.

“This team has been through so much and to be where it is right now and have the second half of the season it’s been having, it makes it really special. And I think the seniors will probably look back on this and think it was a pretty special season after all.”

Nebraska will have an interesting challenge ahead of it next week, as they will face the rival Iowa Hawkeyes after they just went off for a 63-0 victory over the Illinois team that just put up 54 points on Nebraska. 

A win in the Heroes Game would be a great way to cap off what many believed was a lost season early on. Doing so with the Huskers defense getting some of its luster back would just be icing on the cake. 

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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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Huskers Football

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 Football

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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