Photo Credit: John Peterson

Padding the Stats: On Rivalries, Readiness and Common Sense

September 15, 2021

On Rivalries, Old and New

This is a big week for a lot of people. For the first time in more than a decade, former conference rivals Nebraska and Oklahoma are set the square off on the gridiron.

The series between the Sooners and Huskers is one of the most storied rivalries in college football history. A large portion of the fan base grew up on the clashes between the team in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Some members of the coaching staff have taken part in the rivalry as players.

But as Steve Marik wrote on Monday, for the players, it’s just another game against a “nameless, faceless opponent.”

Ben Stille is one of the oldest players on the team (non-Damian Jackson division) and he’s a native Nebraskan. What’s his take?

“I mean, it has been awhile. How long has it been? 2010. That puts me at 13. I do not know a ton about what I remember distinctively. But obviously that goes into the game a lot. The history of it. But for us it is another game. It is another opponent. We are going to prepare like anyone else.”

Heck, I’m 29, a good seven or eight years older than the average age of the current Husker football player, and even I only have a few memories of Nebraska-Oklahoma (come back when the Mailbag drops to read about those memories).

For most of these guys, the number in front (No. 3 in the AP Poll) is more important than the name that follows. This is a big game because it’s an opportunity for the Huskers to test themselves against one of the best teams in the country. It falling on the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century is just icing on top for those that experienced the rivalry in all its glory.

That last part, experience, is important. Tradition only goes so far; without experiencing the battles yourself — either watching it happen regularly, participating in it or both — it’s just something fans talk about. After next year in Lincoln, Nebraska and Oklahoma are going to go back to not playing each other for a long time.

The Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry will always have a special place in college football history, and in fans’ hearts, but this week and the players’ responses to Oklahoma questions made it more clear than ever that it’s time to move on.

Conference realignment is hanging over everything in college sports right now, but for the time being, Nebraska is in the Big Ten, so let’s stop fighting it. Embrace the possibility of new rivalries. Matt Sichterman referenced Iowa, and that is the most obvious one based on proximity, history on the field and things outside the game (such as comments from athletic directors, actions by kickers and the relative disdain many of the fans share for each other). Northwestern and Wisconsin are logical possibilities as well.

Football is more fun with rivalries. Instead of pining for old ones, let’s embrace the ones in front of us. In order for them to get really heated, of course, Nebraska is going to have to start holding up its end of the bargain, and I hope the Huskers start doing that soon.

Frosty Impression

On Monday, Ross Dellenger published a story detailing the Florida coaching search process that resulted in Dan Mullen taking over in Gainesville. Why is that of interest here? Well, Scott Frost was a key part of that story.

Florida honed in on three candidates to replace Jim McElwain: Mullen, Frost and Chip Kelly. Ultimately, Kelly withdrew himself from the search as he decided to take the UCLA job instead, and Florida turned its focus to Mullen, seemingly in part because of his track record and in part because of how things went with Frost.

Here’s the most interesting quote from Dellenger’s story.

“Three days before visiting Kelly for a second time, members of the search committee drove to Orlando to meet with Frost on Thursday, Nov. 16, two days before Frost’s 9–0 Knights played Temple. They describe the interview with Frost as unimpressive, and they emerged with a similar feeling: He’s not ready for this big of a job.”

Later, Dellenger mentioned that Frost never returned Florida’s phone call, and that’s where the pursuit ended. Some are pointing to this story as revisionist history or “sour grapes.” I’m sure Frost’s relative lack of success at Nebraska emboldened them to share those thoughts on his unreadiness, but I have a hard time seeing Dellenger’s source for the quote simply making something like that up for the heck of it.

And again, Frost’s 14-21 record would imply that the statement was correct: he wasn’t ready for a big-time job, at least not to the point where he was capable of orchestrating a quick turnaround. Would things have gone differently for him had he received and accepted the Florida job? It’s possible, but I think some of the same problems he’s run into in Lincoln would have shown up in Gainesville.

There’s no denying that Frost was one of the hottest candidates on the market in 2017. After leading the Central Florida Knights from 0-12 to 13-0 in just two years and putting together one of the best offenses in the country, Frost seemed like he was well on his way to the top. Add in his Nebraska ties and he was a no-brainer candidate when Nebraska and new athletic director Bill Moos decided to search for a replacement for Mike Riley.

He was on Florida’s list as well for a reason. But it seems like once the Gators did their due diligence, they weren’t totally sold. That has me wondering about Nebraska’s process, and whether those meetings were interviews or if they more resembled pitch meeting from Moos and the Huskers. How much due diligence did Nebraska do, and what were those involved expecting from Frost?

At the very least, Frost wasn’t ready to turn around a program like Nebraska quickly. A lot of the things that went his way in Orlando haven’t in Lincoln, and he hasn’t found a way to overcome that. It’s taken into his fourth season to surpass his UCF win total from just the 2017 season alone. It’s worth remembering that though he has been around some incredible coaches throughout his football career, he had only been a head coach for two years when Nebraska hired him.

Does a 14-21 record through 35 games mean hiring Frost was a mistake for Nebraska? Not necessarily. There’s a key difference between “not ready” and “incapable.” Has Frost been learning from his struggles and success in Lincoln? The answer to that question should go a long way toward confirming or discrediting something of a throwaway line from Dellenger later in that story —that many feel Frost is likely to be fired by Christmas.

Saturday’s game against Oklahoma has a chance to go seriously sideways for the Huskers. I mean, the Sooners are favored by more than three touchdowns. If Oklahoma covers that line, the questioning of Frost’s job status will continue to get louder. However, Saturday also provides the Huskers with a chance to show they’re progressing, win or lose.

Frost may not have been ready for a big job on 2017, but he got one anyway. With three years in Lincoln under his belt, is he ready now? The rest of this season should help us answer that question.

Common Sense

I’m sure Greg Smith will touch on this more in-depth, but I figured I’d mention it here as the news dropped on Tuesday afternoon. Allow me to reference Dellenger once again.

As the college sports landscape continues to shift and change, rules will have to be flexible and decision-makers will need to be ready to make adjustments. Altering the class limits to account for the rise in transfers in part created by new transfer legislation (e.g. the one-time free transfer) is a no-brainer.

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