Imagine if Nebraska linebacker Garrett Nelson’s strip sack of Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud took a different path Saturday.
Maybe the ball bounces the other direction. Perhaps Deontre Thomas picks the ball up instead of piling on Stroud and rumbles for the game-winning score in a 24-23 upset at Memorial Stadium. That play is worth another look:
If that happens, then the conversation about the vote of confidence Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts gave embattled coach Scott Frost on Monday doesn’t happen. Frost will be back with a restructured contract for the 2022 season. That would have been the much-needed break for the Huskers, even if the end-game reality was a 26-17 loss to Ohio State.
It’s the right call for one more season. There isn’t a candidate that jumps off the page for the Nebraska job. Maybe Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or Kentucky’s Mark Stoops could do a better job in Lincoln. But you don’t know how they’ll handle those expectations. Nebraska has won five national championships since 1970; the last coming when Frost was the quarterback in 1997.
It’s fair to give every Power 5 coach a five-year window. Frost’s first four years have been tough. Nobody envisioned a 15-27 record with a 10-23 record in Big Ten play. Frost made it clear it was a “brick by brick” remodel when he took over in 2018. The vote of confidence is similar to how Michigan athletic director Warde Manduel handled Jim Harbaugh in 2020, and aside from the Michigan State collapse, the response has been encouraging.
For Frost, it comes down to speeding up the rebuild to show results in 2021. Nebraska can’t count on the ball to bounce the other way.
Nebraska has proven it can compete with Frost. Four teams in the latest top 10 were on schedule this year in Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. Nebraska lost all four games by a combined 22 points. One-score losses to Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue turned up the heat, and Iowa and Wisconsin are tough outs on deck.
Nebraska will likely finish 3-9 in 2021. Why again is this the right call? So Alberts, another Nebraska 90s legend, can be absolutely sure they exhaust opportunity with one of their own. Frost has a big checklist waiting, too.
Frost needs to stabilize recruiting in the next month. According to 247Sports.com, the Huskers have the worst recruiting class in the Big Ten for the class of 2022; one that ranks 71st in the FBS. Frost could steal a page from Michigan State coach Mel Tucker’s playbook and work the transfer portal, too, especially at quarterback.
The Frost era has been tied to quarterback Adrian Martinez, who could still return next season. If he doesn’t, then Frost needs to find the right answer for 2022. Frost had a great track record as Oregon’s offensive coordinator, when he worked with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota in 2014. He was 19-7 in two seasons with UCF and McKenzie Milton. Frost knows the position.
It would help if the ball stopped bouncing the other way. Nebraska ranks 88th in the FBS in turnover margin at -2. That’s the same ratio as Kansas. The Huskers also have a knack for costly penalties at the wrong time under Frost.
Ultimately, it comes down to winning football games. That’s Frost job, and a winning season in 2022 is almost non-negotiable at this point. That starts with a trip to Dublin, Ireland, to face Northwestern.
Nebraska 2022 schedule
|Aug. 27||vs. Northwestern (Dublin, Ireland)|
|Sept. 3||vs. North Dakota|
|Sept. 10||vs. Georgia Southern|
|Sept. 17||vs. Oklahoma|
|Sept. 24||at Rutgers|
|Oct. 1||vs. Indiana|
|Oct. 15||at Michigan|
|Oct. 22||vs. Minnesota|
|Nov. 5||at Wisconsin|
|Nov. 12||vs. Purdue|
|Nov. 19||vs. Illinois|
|Nov. 26||at Iowa|
The Big Ten East cross-over schedule is friendlier, too, with Rutgers and Indiana replacing Ohio State and Michigan State. A winning season is possible, but Frost will still be judged in those big-picture games against Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Remember, the Huskers are 0-12 against ranked opponents under Frost.
It’s a daunting task, but nobody checked every box for this job quite like Frost when he arrived and the next coach will face the same challenges in a Big Ten where Nebraska has yet to assert its identity.
Frost deserves one more crack at it, but it is time for the program to make its own breaks.
If it does not happen next year, then it is time to move on.