When you are used to winning, and winning a lot for a very long time, letting go can be hard to do. But, with a 55-45 loss to the lowly Purdue Boilermakers it is time for Nebraska Cornhuskers fans to admit one thing — this team is in full-on rebuilding mode and may never be the same again.
Few want to admit the Huskers aren’t going to get to their glory days any time soon, even fewer want to face the reality that it takes a near tear down of the old to build the new as well.
The common theme amongst many in the Husker nation seems to be that magic number of nine — as in why was Bo Pelini fired for only getting to nine wins and Riley brought in to lose this many games.
@Talking_10 this was a 9 win team with 17 returning starters. It shouldn't be this bad.
— Larry The Cable Guy (@GitRDoneLarry) October 31, 2015
It’s a fair point, but it fails to address the reality of the Huskers’ situation as it stands today. Pelini or Riley, this team was going to be in some serious trouble in 2015. It also could be that this team doesn’t get back to competing for the Big Ten championship until year three in the Riley era.
There was going to be no Ameer Abdullah waiting in the wings, and that meant Tommy Armstrong was going to be leaned upon to be a much better passer than he’s ever shown to be.
Outside of a defensive line with some good talent there, even the Huskers defense wasn’t going to be very good. Heck, when was the last time that group ever really stepped up to be a shutdown unit.
It certainly didn’t happen often under Pelini, so why would things immediately turn around with exactly the same personnel under the new coaching staff.
But, will the fanbase wake up to those realities and give Riley the time to get his kids in the program and mold them in his image? A quick scan of any social media will show you a fan base that is already done and some that were done with Riley before he ever coached a game for the Huskers.
Let’s also address the elephant in the room — close losses.
Four of the six losses the Huskers have suffered have been wholly unlucky. Change those around and suddenly this is a 7-2 football team staring a huge Black Friday contest with Iowa right in the face.
Instead, the ball bounced the other way and it’s a 3-6 football team staring everyone in Lincoln, Neb. in the face.
If an unlucky streak and some questionable play in a transition year is rock bottom, then Nebraska fans should consider themselves lucky.
Just how low have things gotten for the Huskers? Try this on for size:
Darrell Hazell's biggest win at Purdue gives Nebraska 6 losses before November for the first time ever.
— Greg Tocco (@toccs92) October 31, 2015
If that doesn’t scream rebuilding, its hard to know what does.
Nebraska fans also need to consider this note from Saturday’s loss — with Ryker Fyfe making his first career start, the Huskers have started exactly 20 different players on both offense and defense respectively this season.
Injuries, ineffective play and schematic fits are all to blame for that number, but it’s also a very big clue that the Huskers have a lot of work to do to get back to the top of the mountain.
Fyfe also was a microcosm of exactly what is happening in Lincoln, Neb. this year. He managed to throw for four touchdowns and over 400 yards in his debut. Yet, it was all for naught as he also threw four interceptions that all turned in to points for the Boilermakers.
Even a good statistical debut had its way to be ruined. But, what else is new for the Huskers in 2015? All of those are excuses, but good teams find ways to overcome bad moments.
Nebraska simply doesn’t have a stacked enough roster to make that happen. Take a look around the rest of the Big Ten and you’ll see the big difference between why the Huskers are where they are and where the contenders are — next man up isn’t just a set of words, it’s a reality.
Schools like Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan have all dealt with major blows and injuries to its starting lineups, yet the next man up is more than capable. In fact, the next man up has often become the starter thanks to his play while others were injured.
That’s not happening at Nebraska to say the least. It also brings up another reality that Huskers fans have to address — this program plateaued in 2012 and has been on a decline for a while.
Perhaps, Pelini was getting the most out of the talent he had in place and his collection of talent was never going to be better than a nine-win team. That is all about recruiting, and it is very clear it has been a slow creep downward for a long time.
Some Huskers fans see that as the biggest reason things are happening the way they are.
— art…. (@querido4975) October 31, 2015
Perhaps then, the real question is just how quickly will Riley turn around the recruiting base of this team and stock this roster with the talent to be able to fill in that “next man up” mantra.
Consider the Huskers last five recruiting classes prior to Riley’s arrival according to 247Sports composite rankings. In 2011, the Huskers had the No. 16-ranked class in the country, but since then not so great. The very next year it was down to No. 30 and the Huskers have never sniffed the top 20 since that 2011 recruiting class.
Or, perhaps the question is if the Huskers can ever turn the recruiting around enough to be great for a long stretch ever again. The good news is Nebraska can look to what is happening in East Lansing as a great example of how to take a “non-sexy” program and make something out of nothing.
True, Lincoln isn’t a sexy college town like a Madison or Columbus or even a Penn State. However, it isn’t devoid of good things for those who want to play football. Finding players that want to be what Riley envisions for his Huskers teams is what is going to matter.
Riley will sink or swim based on his ability to recruit guys that get his vision and buy in. But, in today’s world of instant gratification will he even get that chance? It seems highly unlikely with a majority of the fanbase unable to let go of the past and deal with the present reality of the program.
No matter how you slice it, the reality of Nebraska in 2015 is that the glory days are long gone. Patience and a long-term vision, not short-term band-aids are what will solve this problem.
Will the Husker faithful be able to accept the reality that their beloved Huskers just aren’t an elite program anymore? If 2015 won’t convince said Husker fan, then nothing will.