In a perfect and probably impossible world (for Husker fans at least), Scott Frost's first team at Nebraska would be undefeated right now and defending a top-four spot in the playoff rankings. In a more realistic world, maybe the Huskers could be about where Michigan State's at right now, 6-4, and playing for the best bowl game that would have them.
Instead, for reasons that don't need to be recounted for the 100th time this fall, Nebraska sits at 3-7, riding some momentum thanks to an offense that's posted 450-plus yards in seven straight games, but still 3-7. It wasn't the season many foresaw for the Huskers, neither ideal nor disappointing, just how it went.
But it did perhaps boost Frost's appreciation for his first senior class in Lincoln. He was always going to appreciate that first group, but it wasn't a given after an 0-6 start that Nebraska would make the gains it has made over the back half of the schedule.
"These guys are going to mean a lot to me as long as I'm coaching here because this is going to be the group that had to go through the growing pains of changing everything," Frost said following Nebraska's practice on Thursday. "Without really good leaders and really good seniors that wouldn't have happened.
"I've said it a bunch this team could've gone a hundred different directions when we were struggling early on, when we were struggling and getting bad breaks and losing games. It couldn't have started any worse and this team held together and got better through that."
The result of that turnaround has started to be noticed throughout the college football ranks. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer called the Huskers the two-win team no team wanted to face after the Buckeyes hung on for a 36-31 win. The power rankings have the Huskers ranked as highly as you'll find a three-win team in any given year.
But Frost put it best on Thursday.
"Now we're dangerous," he said. "We're a team that can beat just about anybody in this league. We've got to play well to have a chance, but we're a dangerous team and the culture is better. Everybody's having more fun. It's starting to get right, and without this group of guys leaving the program that never could've happened."
That, as much as the result of the game, will be what Nebraska's senior day is all about.
On to some other news and notes from Thursday's session:
>>Another week, and another positive appraisal of the work accomplished during the week.
"It's been a good week again. This time of year we've got some guys that are a little banged up, we've got some guys that are run down a little bit," Frost said. "That's typical this time of year. Guys have got to be able to step up. There's eight days left in the season and even if their gas tanks are a little low they've got to find what they can and finish it. But it's been a great week. We need some warriors on Saturday."
Sophomore wide receiver JD Spielman is on the "banged up" list after leaving last week's game early. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Spielman was "day-to-day" on Wednesday, and Frost wasn't willing to go beyond that but did say that Spielman's experience allows him to be ready to go without much preparation time.
"JD knows what he's doing so he doesn't need as many reps," Frost said. "Obviously you're never as good if you don't get reps. He's a guy that knows it well enough to play even with limited reps."
>>Michigan State is a familiar foe for Frost. His first start at Nebraska was against the Spartans, a 55-14 win over Nick Saban's team in Lincoln.
"Little different Michigan State team," Frost said. "We handled 'em pretty good."
More relevant to Saturday, however, are Frost's two games against the Spartans as an assistant at Oregon. The Ducks beat a top-five Michigan State team 46-27 in East Lansing in 2014, but the Spartans won 31-28 in Eugene the following season.
Having faced Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio twice already, the Spartans are somewhat unique for Frost as he finishes off his first trip through the Big Ten.
"I've got a lot of respect for them," he said. "They know what they're doing and their teams play hard. I'm as familiar with them as I am any team in this league."
>>Frost was asked which statistics he pays the most attention to during a season.
"The biggest stats we look at are turnovers and probably starting field position," he said. "We were terrible at those at the beginning of the year and then we consistently got better as the year went on."
At the end of September Nebraska ranked 128th in turnover margin (-6). Over the last six games, however, the Huskers were plus-five in the turnover category, climbing to 75th. Field position is more difficult to flip quickly. Per BCftoys.com, Nebraska still ranks 120th in field position but that's down about a yard from where it was when the Huskers were 0-6.
Frost also mentioned penalties as one of those categories where the Huskers could use some improvement.
"I don't think it's any coincidence that Northwestern's first in the country in penalties and they're going to win our half [of the division]," he said. "We've been on the flip side of that for most of the year. Those are things that we always need to get better that are going to lead to wins."
>>The Huskers had their best special teams day of the season in last week's win over Illinois. Frost knows that not all of that will be portable to this week, but he's been encouraged by the gains made in recent weeks.
"You're not going to block a punt every week, but I loved our effort covering kicks. Guys were getting down there and making plays. If you have a 10-yard difference in starting field position over the course of a game that's going to be a 100-yard difference in hidden yardage and that leads to points. Special teams is vital."
>>And, finally, can't finish off this week without one more discussion of the weather. The forecast for Saturday includes the possibility of snow and up to 30 mile per hour winds.
"Having played quarterback the only two things that change what you're thinking are if it's really wet or really windy," Frost said. "Cold shouldn't affect us. Our guys responded well to that last week. Just anything that would keep us from throwing as much as we want is the only thing that would change how we're going to approach the game."
Frost said he was "absolutely" encouraged by how the Huskers handled last week's conditions. Having Adrian Martinez throwing those passes, when Nebraska decides to throw them, helps as well.
"Adrian throws a tight ball so wind doesn't affect his ball as it would've mine," Frost said. "The cold, I was really pleased with how the guys responded to that from warmups right up through the game."