Hot Reads: Stretches of Much Sadness
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Stretches of Much Sadness

April 12, 2018

Spring is barnstorming time for college football writers. Pack up your notebooks, grab plenty of AAA batteries and maybe a backup recorder, choose which lanyard you want from your motorized lanyard rack and hit the road to see as many coaches and programs as possible.

With a new coach in place, Nebraska would've been a popular stop on the football scribe trade routes in 2018 no matter what. But this isn't just any coach it's THE new coach. So the national outlets are making their way to Lincoln, and they'll continue to come. (Particularly if the trend of spring-game cancellations continues. Those writers might not have anywhere else to go next weekend.)

Sports Illustrated's Bruce Feldman was one of those who dropped in on the Big Red revival this week. No story from his time in Lincoln yet, but he told listeners of his podcast, co-hosted by The Athletic's Stewart Mandel, a lot about what's coming.

Feldman raised a couple of interesting points about the Huskers, noting that he thinks Frost has more talent at his disposal right now than his mentor, Chip Kelly, does at UCLA (a place Feldman also visited this spring). That leads to a discussion of the talent he saw in Lincoln, which leads to an entertaining discussion of Bob Diaco, which eventually gets us to a quick recap of Nebraska's ceiling. (Popular topic for Mandel this week.)

 

BF: Adrian Martinez is a guy I’ve heard a ton of good things about, not just from Nebraska’s staff but other guys that were recruiting him. Early-enrollee kid from Fresno, and I’m not saying he’s definitely going to win the job, but he’s definitely going to be a guy that will play a big role in the future. So we’ll see which direction he goes. As Frost will tell you, in the last four seasons he has produced the No. 1 quarterback efficiency guy in Marcus Mariota, then the next year the next No. 1 guy in Vernon Adams, then two years ago there wasn’t a guy, then last year the No. 2 guy in McKenzie Milton, who trailed only Baker Mayfield. That’s pretty good.

SM: I mean, he’s going to win games there. The idea that they can just wash away the last 20 years and just go right back to being Nebraska when he was a player there, not sure about that.

BF: That’s not going to happen. [Frost] said that is going to take time. That is a lot of development.

SM: But I don’t even know if that can even happen. I don’t know that Nebraska can be the kind of program that wins national titles, much less three in four years. I think they can win a lot of games, win the Big Ten, go to the Playoff occasionally. I don’t know, do you think I’m underselling Scott Frost?

BF: I think he can do everything that Wisconsin is doing right now.

SM: That should be, that’s a given to me. Let me rephrase that, not a given that it will happen, but there’s no reason for any coach there that that wouldn’t be a goal.

 

That transcript may not fully capture what The Audible audio does––listen to it, it's a great podcast––but my read on that exchange is that Feldman came away somewhat optimistic on what's happening in Lincoln, while Mandel remains somewhat skeptical of Nebraska's real chances to return to what it once was. And if 1994-97 is the stretch he's picturing, any program is going to have a hard time doing that.

But the question I always have with discussions like these is what does Nebraska's 2004-17 stretch prove about its future? I risk banging the drum too loudly on this point, so instead of laying out why this still feels more illogical than it ever sounds, I'll just present this table.

SCHOOL STRETCH OF MUCH SADNESS WIN% (RK) CONF. TITLES COACHING CHANGES
Nebraska 2004-17 .619 (32) 0 3
Michigan 2004-17 .621 (29) 1 3
Notre Dame 1997-2010 .576 (37) NA 3
Alabama 1993-2006 .561 (41) 1 4
Texas 1984-97 .573 4 3

Are those cherry-picked 14-year stretches? Absolutely. That's the point (and I could've kept going for a long time). If you took the temperature of those programs, all top-10 all-time in winning percentage, recency bias wouldn't be your friend.

That's Nebraska's spot right now. The previous 14 years were bad. A referendum on the program's place in the future of college football?

No. I still refuse to believe that. Programs that we expect to be good (based on history) don't just go through but come through rough stretches (based on history). 

That has nothing to do with Scott Frost, which seems to be Mandel's line of thought, but it sure helps that he's running the show, which seems to be Feldman's line of thought.

"I spent a couple of days there, a bunch of time around him and his staff," Feldman says on The Audible. "There is absolutely no doubt in that building that that is going to get turned around and pretty quickly."

Mark me down on Feldman's side here.

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