It has been an interesting week for Nebraska’s football brand. First a Finebaum fill-in says the Huskers are one of three programs that won’t be great again, and now FOX Sports columnist Stewart Mandel has stripped Nebraska of its crown.
The king’s crown, that is, which Mandel hands out once every five years as part of his “Program Pecking Order” feature. Nebraska was in the King category (the top tier) in 2007 and 2012 but got dropped to the Baron group in Mandel’s most recent ranking.
I’m 41 years old. In my teens, 20s and early-to-mid 30s, you could never have convinced me Nebraska would one day be viewed as anything less than college football royalty. But today’s recruits were not even born the last time the Huskers won even a conference championship, in 1999, much less Tom Osborne’s three national titles in four years from 1994-97.
And while the school’s move to the Big Ten unquestionably benefits the program financially, few would contend Nebraska is viewed in the same grouping as league powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Its perception at this point more closely resembles those of Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Fair enough. Since joining the Big Ten most Husker fans would probably trade Nebraska’s past six seasons for those of Wisconsin and Michigan State (seven combined title-game appearances, two conference titles each). While it’s wise to only do this every five years — every year would be fairly boring — it can still be a little too reactionary to me. That’s because it’s really, really hard, at least in my mind, for programs to fall out of their class (so to speak).
For example, there have been 81 years of Associated Press polls since it started in 1936. I like the AP poll for this purpose because some of its imperfections — subjectivity first among them — make it a pretty good measure of perceived reputation and relevancy. Here are the top 15 programs based on appearances in the top 10 over the first 40 years of polls (1936-75) and the most recent 41 years (1976-2016). New teams in the second set appear in all caps.
So if you did a Kings of College Football at the end of the 1975 seasons, your top 15 (Mandel has 14 Kings currently) probably looks something like the first column. Revisit that group 41 years later and 10 of your initial 15 teams are still leading the way in terms of top-10 appearances. (Nine teams from the first group are on Mandel’s current Kings list.) You have the rise of the Florida schools over the second half of the span (Florida State started play in 1947), and the other two new entries — Auburn and Georgia — ranked 18th and 23rd on the initial list. They were knocking on the doors of the King’s castles over the first 40 years anyway.
As for the teams that dropped out of the second group, Michigan State ranks 34th in top-10 appearances from 1976-2016, Georgia Tech (47), Ole Miss (55), UCLA (20) and LSU (16). Of those five, LSU probably still retains its “King” status and maybe UCLA does as well. Point being, you could probably justify keeping 12 of your Kings from the first 40 years, adding the three Florida schools (something of a unique circumstance) and doing some regional shuffling to account for the other two (i.e. Georgia usurped Georgia Tech and Auburn overtook Ole Miss).
So is Nebraska the Georgia Tech or Ole Miss in this scenario? Could be and if it is Mandel will get credit for being 25 years ahead of the curve. Me? I’d prefer to wait another couple of decades.
We Got One!
I wasn’t sure if Nebraska would show up in any top-25 rankings, but the Huskers cracked the list from Yahoo! Sports blog Dr. Saturday. The staff there ranked Nebraska 22nd.
Tulane transfer Tanner Lee is the successor to quarterback Tommy Armstrong and he’ll have a nice group of playmakers around him, highlighted by explosive wideout De’Mornay Pierson-El. Mike Riley’s third season at Nebraska could easily result in another 9-4 season and Bo Pelini will likely take notice as the Huskers aim to compete with Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten West.
I still think any such ranking for Nebraska during the season will be based more on defense than what Lee brings to the table, but it’s a close race.
The Grab Bag
- A bunch of week-one betting lines are out and Nebraska is favored by 19 over Arkansas State in the opener.
- Illinois dismissed three players from the program following burglary charges.
- And speaking of theft, former Wisconsin running back Michael Bennett was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading no contest to burglary and identity theft charges.
- Two Big Ten players make this list of the 17 most irreplaceable players in college football.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.