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Nebraska Football Then and Now: The Difference Over Two Years
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Football Then and Now: The Difference Over Two Years

October 14, 2018

On Oct. 16, 2016, we posted the first question to our new 'Fan Poll' on Hail Varsity: "Nebraska is 6-0 and 8th in the AP Poll. That ranking is… ?"

Of the nearly 400 votes, 50 percent said the ranking was too high. Another 48 percent thought it was just right. Only two percent felt it was too low.

Nebraska had defeated Indiana, 27-22, the day before that poll question went live. That was after wins over Fresno State, Wyoming, then No. 22 Oregon, Northwestern and Illinois. The Huskers would also defeat Purdue the following Saturday, 27-14, and take then-No. 11 Wisconsin into overtime two weeks later for a near-win before dropping the first game of the season, 23-17.

Two years later, our new Fan Poll (which you can vote on right on our homepage) looks a little different: "What has surprised you most about Nebraska football in 2018?"

Maybe it's the defense allowing on average 38 points per game, or the offense only averaging 23 points per game. It could also be the fact that Nebraska is averaging over 10 penalties per game, or more directly the struggles on special teams or the number of transfers. Maybe it's something not even listed in our options.

Whatever the case, things look a little different on Oct. 14, 2018, than they did two years ago at this point in the season. The Huskers would end the 2016 regular season 9-3 before heading to Nashville for the Music City Bowl. Nebraska would ultimately drop that matchup, 38-24.

There were worrisome moments in 2016. Losing 40-10 on the road to Iowa? Not great, but it was easy to justify. The Huskers were without their starting quarterback, and toward the end of the game, also their backup quarterback.

Maybe the 62-3 loss to Ohio State three weeks prior should have alerted us all to the cracks in Nebraska's armor. To be fair, it did to some degree.

"You thought that maybe these days were over," Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel wrote at the time. "Maybe Nebraska had made enough progress in year two under Mike Riley that it could go into Ohio Stadium and look like it belonged."

The title of that post-game column was fitting, too: O-H, N-O.

Oh no, indeed.

The 2016 season ended with change. Riley fired defensive coordinator Mark Banker and hired Bob Diaco in his place. With him, Diaco brought a change from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4. It was a system Nebraska didn't necessarily have the pieces for (yet, at least) so it was easy to once again explain away the problems.

Temporarily, though. By the time Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois, 21-17, on Sept. 16, 2017, the armor was cracking faster than anyone expected. It resulted in the firing of former athletic director Shawn Eichorst and the hiring of Nebraska's current athletic director Bill Moos. Nothing was official then, but most had a feeling about what was to transpire.

As we know now, Riley was fired. Scott Frost was hired. The enthusiasm for the Nebraska football was sky-high.

Expectations for the season were mostly realistic, with many settling around six total regular season wins and a bowl game berth as a success. That felt like a good place to start for the Frost Era, and no one would have complained if there was an extra win or two along the way.

But no one saw this coming.

“Some of the things that are happening to us, I’ve never seen before,” Frost said after the 34-31 overtime loss to Northwestern.

He's right. No one has ever seen this. This is the first six-game losing streak in Nebraska football history.

When we wrote that 'Fan Poll' question two years ago (and more specifically, 25 games ago), we had no idea of what was to come. No one did. What a difference two years can make.

There's optimism when you look at it like that. Where might Nebraska be two years from now? What questions will we be writing for the 'Fan Poll' then?

Nebraska faces Illinois on Oct. 10, 2020 at home. Let's put it on our calendars to revisit this very topic then.

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