There have been more than a few Nebraska-Oklahoma football matchups on a Friday. The most recent one may have been the dumbest one for the Huskers.
Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos, after a full work day of silence from the department, eventually confirmed the initial report from Stadium’s Brett McMurphy: The Huskers had explored trying to get out of next fall’s trip to Norman.
“Due to the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to Husker athletics and the local community, our administration did explore the possibility of adding an eighth home game this fall,” Moos said. “That option would have helped us mitigate cost-cutting measures and provide a much-needed boost to our local economy.”
It would be nice to just take that at face value. Judging from the social media hive mind we all have access to, some are able. But the majority of responses I saw from those who root for Nebraska were a cocktail of disappointment, disgust and discomfort. Those responses were gentle compared to what anyone who doesn’t root for the Huskers had to say.
You have to take seriously the financial pinch Moos mentioned as the reason for Nebraska’s wandering eye. It’s real. People lost jobs. The revenue shortfall is sizeable.
That’s true at Oklahoma, Nebraska and everywhere else. If it were just the reality in Lincoln, maybe it would be easier to get behind such an every-man-for-himself approach. Desperate times and all.
Because it’s not, that won’t be the desperation I remember from this whole, needless saga between the Huskers and Sooners.
For much of the past two seasons, I’ve felt like I’ve been in the minority when it comes to assessing the state of Nebraska under Scott Frost. The results were the results—12 wins, 20 losses—but once you’ve processed that you have to go deeper, look for clues about the future rather than wringing hands over what has already happened.
On paper, I can make a decent case that things at Nebraska, while not good, are not as bad as the record so far indicates.
Here’s just one example: Over the past three seasons, Nebraska has “won” plays based on success rate thresholds at a similar rate to Iowa, 51.4% to 51.6%. The Hawkeyes are 25-9 during that stretch. Nebraska’s success rate over the last three years is better than that of Oklahoma State (23-14), Texas (25-12), Miami (21-16), Kentucky (23-14), Minnesota (21-12) and Indiana (19-14), to a name a few.
That isn’t creative accounting, fancy math or silver-linings searching. Football games are made up of football plays, and the above is a relatively simple evaluation of each one those teams ran. When Frost had to make the case that things were better than they looked, something he had to do often the past three years, it wasn’t hard for me to believe it. I couldn’t speak to cultural or weight room gains the way those in the building could, but I had my own proof.
Even considering backing out of the Oklahoma game shook that faith more than any of the losses of late. I could overlook other troubling signs as well—the departures of some of Nebraska’s most talented players, the fighting to play in 2020 (good) only to then imply you got a raw deal with the scheduling (bad)—because the numbers made sense.
Or, rather, they didn’t make sense. A team that played the way Nebraska did over the past three seasons should’ve at least had a winning record. Keep playing that way and a get a few better bounces in the more random parts of the game and the Huskers could start trending up. In fact, you’d expect them to. A team that wins the majority of its plays, should also win the majority of its games.
Those numbers are all still the same, of course. They may still portend what I think they would portend for any team that had them. What Friday changed for me was the ability to isolate those numbers.
Maybe there’s a reason Nebraska has defied the odds, in the wrong way, so far. Given the history between the Sooners and Huskers, does a team that believes it’s close to a breakthrough really look for another home game instead of playing Oklahoma? It would’ve meant a nice chunk of change, yes, and it conveniently also would’ve meant a much greater chance at one more win in 2021.
Sorry, I’m just not able to separate those two things.
Is Nebraska football really in a place where it would take any win it could try and buy over taking their shot against the Sooners? Is it so fragile that a bizarre schedule that includes three away games in the first four is just too much to ask? I know Nebraska is currently the place that can’t take a 2-0 start, which would require wins over Illinois and Buffalo, for granted which is why I never would’ve guessed a potential loss to OU (probably even likely based on the past 20 years at both programs) could halt the progress that was already hard to see.
That the notion of punting on the Oklahoma game didn’t die an immediate death indicate that these are desperate times indeed.
In more ways than one.