Two seasons ago, Nebraska was picked by many to win the Big Ten West. Coming off back-to-back 4-8 years, the Huskers had a hot quarterback and what looked like a roadmap but what would became an albatross year two link to UCF’s takeoff. Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos set the floor at 6-6, stressing the importance of a traditional postseason that came with 15 extra practices attached.
A young team needed those practices, and a success-starved program needed momentum.
In reality, the Huskers limped to a 5-7 record, with losses in five of their final six games. In the same way the coaching staff has had to take their lumps and adjust to things that weren’t quite what they expected, Moos has had to roll with the punches.
“I think two years ago was a stretch, and I took some heat for saying that,” he said. “But I got a pretty good taste for what the Big Ten’s about in football, and it’s tough.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Hail Varsity this week as the calendar years draws to a close, the Husker AD didn’t lay out timetables for success or set win-loss expectations. “It’s a tough, tough conference, and in order to compete in it you better have a solid program, not a one-time wonder,” he said. Head coach Scott Frost won’t be going anywhere, because despite the slow crawl of wins, Moos feels his coach is building exactly that.
Moos pointed to the Huskers’ academic reputation that continues to flourish. The most recent fall semester, he said, again set a record for cumulative GPA. That would break the previous record set in the spring semester. Frost, according to Dennis Leblanc, NU’s Executive Associate Athletic Director for Academics, has the five best semester GPAs in the 30-plus years they’ve been tracking it.
Moos also pointed to the team’s strength and conditioning and nutrition programs, which he called among the best in the country.
“There’s so many things that people don’t see that will ultimately be evident on the scoreboard,” he said. “Good, solid, quality programs produce winning teams. We’ve got to continue to build on this program and add whatever we need. The result will be winning teams. When that’s gonna happen? Hopefully sooner than later.”
Is Moos still pleased with the job Frost is doing? It seems that answer is a definitive yes.
He likes the recruiting class Frost just signed, another seemingly strong group that should bolster what’s already a plenty talented roster. He likes the collective will of the team, crediting quarterback Adrian Martinez for his leadership throughout the season. He very much liked the growth of the Blackshirts.
While some will use a lack of wins as reason to turn up the temperature under Frost’s seat, Moos is careful to point out nothing good comes from consistently riding the coaching carousel.
He did it in 2017, and the program, he says, has come a long way since.
“Better players, and more of them,” he said when asked to compare where Nebraska was now and where it was when he first got to campus. “That’s a key. Coaching staff changes were for the better. We know what we need to work on in regards to the three components. I personally feel the defense made great strides, they’re starting to look like the Blackshirts of old. I think that’s the biggest positive of this unique season.”
But, he says, “We still have a lot of work to do there.”
What does Moos want to see in 2021? Surely a winning record? Is competing for the division out of the question in a fourth year under a head coach?
Declarations like that aren’t exactly necessary in late-December, early-January. So much can still change. No one has any idea what the 2021 season will look like yet.
Moos wants to see three things.
“Scott and I have talked about this. We need to address penalties, turnovers, and special teams. Those are all primarily mental,” he said. “When you have that subconscious determination to win, those things are taken care of. The great Nebraska teams over the period of three decades came on the field knowing they were gonna win.
“When you get more players that are high-quality like we’re getting now and there’s competition at those positions, if there’s an abundance of mistakes you replace that player. When there are no guarantees of who’s going to start on any given Saturday, that’s when you have the makings of a really, really good team.”
Nebraska had the third-worst turnover margin in the country this season. The Huskers found a kicker finally—Connor Culp was named the Big Ten’s Kicker of the Year—but other areas of special teams still produce too many negatives. And with 6.8 penalties per game (tied for 91st nationally), the Huskers took a huge step back from where they were a year ago (5.1 a game, tied for 22nd).
“Quite frankly, with empty stadiums, I don’t see how you can have a procedural penalty,” Moos said. “It’s one thing when you’ve got 100,000 people screaming and yelling and you can’t hear the signals, but I could hear the signals up in my box.
“These are mental things that have got to be addressed, and it’s all part of discipline and Scott knows that, we’ve talked about it, and I have every reason to believe it’s going to be addressed.”
We’ll have more from our conversation with Moos in the coming days.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.