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New Year, Old Nebraska Again

January 01, 2019

“New Year, new me,” is popular on Instagram today. The resolutions are out in full force, no one has broken down yet, optimism is high. Nebraska has a new resolution for this new year, too. At least, I think it does.

This came across the timeline Saturday while Clemson was blasting Notre Dame in the first of two College Football Playoff semifinals. Barry will be a senior in 2019. It’s likely he’ll be a captain, too. Nebraska and head coach Scott Frost will be in an interesting spot. They’re still only entering into Year 2 of the rebuild — the part everyone seems to forget — but they’ve got a collection of seniors and elder statesmen who have lost 16 games in two seasons — the part everyone wants to forget but can’t.

Is Nebraska ready to start contending? No one really knows the answer to that one yet. But everyone inside Nebraska’s athletic department should be ready to start talking about it.

Throughout the offseason run-up to Scott Frost’s first year, he held fast to the notion that Year 1 was about growth and progress. Many tried to get him to put a win total out there, a nice round number that, if hit, would signal success. He wouldn’t do it. Instead, he kept preaching “Day-by-day.” If Frost could look at his team during a Wednesday practice and think, “We’re better than we were Saturday,” or look at a November game and think, “We’re better than we were in September,” he would be happy.

That was last year.

That approach worked then, it shouldn’t be called upon for another year.

Nebraska needs a new goal to strive for. Because while there were members of the 2018 Huskers who said Indy was the goal, that ultimately proved unrealistic. Steady improvement was the more appropriate end goal given all the bad Nebraska had to purge from its system. That stuff is all out now.

Frost has remade the roster in 12 months. He’s added close to 50 new faces during each of his first two recruiting cycles in Lincoln. Of the 82 current scholarship players, 47 of them are Frost’s. As much as the culture is now his, the players are now his as well.

The youth could signal a team still a year away. (Or, you never know, Michigan has certainly flown past its timetable the last two years.)

But 4-8 burns. And 4-8 in back-to-back seasons burns hotter. And you can be certain Barry is not the only one in Nebraska’s locker room who watched those Dec. 29 playoff games and thought, “Dammit I want to play in those before I leave here.”

If Nebraska comes out ranked in the preseason polls, that burning intensifies. If Nebraska gets hyped as one of those preseason darkhorse candidates to steal conferences, that burning intensifies. If Adrian Martinez gets that Heisman pub so many expect to start coming his way, that burning intensifies. Nebraska will be a trendy team for analysts who want to be able to use that “see, I told you they were going to be good” line.

Maybe the resolution shouldn’t be “Let’s get back to championships,” just yet, though. You don’t want to rush that process and start piling on expectations too soon. Those are the kinds of things that can cripple even the best of coaching staffs. Instead, the resolution ought to be “Let’s get back to Nebraska.”

The Nebraska that didn’t lose home games to non-Power conference teams. The Nebraska that wasn’t a multi-touchdown underdog in big games. The Nebraska that wasn’t penciled in as a win for those with high hopes. The Nebraska that wasn’t relegated to calling Purdue and Northwestern and Illinois toss-up games. The Nebraska where a bowl game wasn’t a goal, it was an expectation.

This new year might not bring one of those coveted championships back for the trophy case, no matter how friendly the schedule is compared to last. Nebraska needs to replace a good deal of stuff in a good deal of places. But this new year might show Nebraska is as close to one as it has been in a while.

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