A lot has changed in the past year for Husker sports.
At this time in 2021, Bill Moos was a few weeks away from retiring as Nebraska’s athletic director. The baseball team just had its breakout season ended by Arkansas, the top seed in the tournament, in the regional round.
Football, basketball and volleyball all had seasons heavily changed by COVID-19. With the exception of volleyball, those seasons were all fairly underwhelming. Nebraska softball also improved on its last couple of years, but still ended at just .500.
Along with all that, student-athletes weren’t yet able to profit off of their own name, image and likeness.
The changes through the last 12 months range in how unexpected they were. Moos’ step down was fairly out of the blue, and Trev Alberts has led the athletic department since July. His most notable decisions have been the times he didn’t make huge changes, in retaining football head coach Scott Frost and men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg.
All in all, I’d say Alberts had a strong first year. What stands out most to me is probably how the department navigated traditions and the changing of them.
With the football team’s lack of success, the sellout streak was in danger from early on in the year. The solution to this, created by Executive Associate AD Lawrence Chatters, was the Red Carpet Experience, which provided complimentary tickets to games for underserved youth. I wrote about this effort when it first started, and I’m all for it. The Red Carpet Experience has since been expanded to other sports, which is cool.
Another addition was the introduction of a light show between the third and fourth quarters. The Huskers severely lacked a memorable tradition between those quarters, and this has the chance to be a great long-standing one. The final big change was a more recent one, as the athletic department suspended the balloon release due to the helium shortage and environmental effects. I’m looking forward to seeing what the replacement is there.
Despite the administrative successes, that wasn’t replicated in the football team’s record. The Huskers went an astonishing 3-9, which was worse than what even some of the most pessimistic viewers could predict. Eight of those losses being by one score only makes it feel a little better. Frost was not fired, however, being given another chance to succeed next year with a lighter schedule and completely new offensive coaching staff. The major buyout if Frost were to be fired also probably played a part.
The other coach facing hot seat questions also turned in another unsuccessful season. Fred Hoiberg’s team went 10-22, and the Huskers once again made assistant coaching changes. Another bittersweet silver lining for both the football and men’s basketball team is that they were able to produce players that will be playing at the professional level next year. That’s a sign that the talent and development is there, it’s mostly the bigger picture things that need work.
Aside from that, women’s sports at Nebraska had a great year. The fall and the volleyball team making the national championship seems so long ago, but they truly did put up an incredible year which included postseason revenge over Texas, the team which knocked the Huskers out in the 2020-21 tournament.
Women’s basketball and softball were equally fun teams to watch. Both had their most successful season in years. The basketball team recorded three top-10 wins over the course of the year, while softball was the conference champion. Both exited from the NCAA brackets unceremoniously, but the foundation was laid for the future.
This summer isn’t as chaotic for Nebraska, given it won’t be going through an overhaul of athletic department leadership. But the situation now is more of a calm tension. About all the pieces are in place, the question is only whether they’ll be able to achieve their respective goals.
For the football team specifically, things will look more notably different, between the new coaches, new starting quarterback, new turf and new traditions. Much of that is an effort to return to the success of the past.
There’s a variety of challenges each Husker team faces going into this next year. For football and men’s basketball, it’s coaches fighting to remain in their positions. For women’s basketball and softball, it’s making a norm out of seasons that came as a surprise. For baseball, it’s trying to recapture the magic after failing to follow up on a successful year. Wrestling, which finished fifth at the NCAA Championships, and volleyball remain near the top of their sport, but look to go even higher.
There are sure to be more surprising developments, no matter what happens. Where they will take place, and whether they’ll be positive or negative, is a larger curiosity that won’t be answered for a few months.