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Hot Reads: What is the Ceiling for the Nebraska Job?
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: What is the Ceiling for the Nebraska Job?

June 14, 2017

There’s a new set of rankings involving Nebraska for you to agree or disagree with today. It feels like baseball in that way; in the summer, it’s just always happening.

Tom Fornelli of ranked the coaching jobs in the Big Ten, part of what I assume is a series that will include all of the Power 5 conferences. The Nebraska job ranked fifth behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin.

I thought about ranking Nebraska ahead of Wisconsin as there’s certainly an argument to be made for it, but I believe it falls just behind the Badgers because of the fact there isn’t much history for Nebraska within the Big Ten yet. That said, Nebraska has one of the best fan bases in a conference full of great ones, and it has excellent facilities. Of course, it needs those facilities to convince recruits to come to Nebraska, as the school isn’t located in the middle of a fertile recruiting area.

Fair? It feels pretty fair to me, but I’m probably more interested in what the ceiling for any such ranking for the Huskers could be. What’s the highest the Nebraska job could rank in the Big Ten?

Before you say “three,” this is actually a more difficult question than you might think. The answer probably depends upon if you think the heights of the Tom Osborne era are achievable again in Lincoln. That idea, judging from earlier entries this summer, is very much up for debate. No matter where you come down on that, Ohio State is the number one job in the Big Ten. Over the last 50 years, it’s probably the number one job in the country. No school has been more consistent even though others have won more national titles.

If you think the Osborne era was a singular event and that Nebraska’s recruiting challenges are bigger than at most traditional powers, Michigan becomes the clear No. 2 in the Big Ten.

If you think Nebraska is one great coach away from making regular appearances in the top 10 again, you could argue that the Huskers belong at No. 2. As Fornelli notes in his writeup on the Wolverines, Michigan has a better recruiting territory than Nebraska but it’s not exactly situated in the most fertile of recruiting grounds. Michigan has also won one national title since 1948 and no conference titles since 2004. Michigan was also considering Todd Graham, Kevin Sumlin, Les Miles and Greg Schiano if it didn’t get Jim Harbaugh. (Where is Michigan at right now if it doesn’t get Harbaugh?) Point being, the evidence for Nebraska being a national-championship program in football’s modern era — assuming your definition of “modern era” is at least 15 years old, but not more than 60 — is as good if not better than the evidence for Michigan. (Not trying to cherry-pick Nebraska’s best era there, just pointing out that there’s a pretty significant stretch when it would’ve been tough to pick and that stretch probably falls in what most people would consider the modern era.)

So if you think that is still Nebraska’s on-field ceiling, you can probably argue for the Husker at No. 2 in the Big Ten in the coaching-job rankings. If the Huskers fall just short of that, three might still be doable given that Penn State is there. The Nittany Lions belong there in a summer after a conference title, but I think we’re still in the very early stages of finding out what that program looks like post-Paterno. Maybe James Franklin will be there for a very long time and the 2016 season was just the start. It’s also possible that going from unranked (and not even receiving votes) at the end of September to Big Ten champs two months later was incredibly unlikely and will be tough to replicate. It’s always tough to tell, but Penn State, at least in my opinion, might be at its coaching-job ceiling right now at No. 3.

If you feel similarly about Wisconsin at No. 4, I won’t do too much to dissuade you, but these things are always a matter of scale. How far do you go back? How much does that inform the future? Tough questions, each of them.

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