Opinion: Nebraska getting trolled by Illinois after another loss adds to Scott Frost's misery
Nobody in the country was louder about the importance of playing college football this season amid a pandemic than the Nebraska administration and head coach Scott Frost. In fact, when the Big Ten initially announced on Aug. 11 that it would not play this fall, Nebraska took the route of open rebellion, publicly blasting the league while exploring whether it could play non-conference games on the side.
As petulant as Nebraska and its fan base have been through this entire saga of 2020 — the complaints have ranged from having to open the season with Ohio State to the league’s decision not to allow them to schedule Chattanooga as a replacement for a game that got canceled — it’s true that Frost ultimately got his way. Football has been played in Lincoln.
It just hasn’t been played well. And, in fact, the season has only further exposed Frost to skepticism about his ability to rescue his alma mater from the abyss.
The most relevant thing that has happened to Nebraska this season occurred shortly after its 41-23 loss to Illinois when someone on the Illini’s social media staff posted the following to their official Twitter account: “Good game Nebraska. Thanks for bringing back B1G football.”
Winners and losers:Ohio State, Indiana, Nebraska and Northwestern top Week 12's list
During a season in which team Twitter accounts have become increasingly saucy, that troll job will be hard to top. In fact, it cut so deep that Illinois actually deleted the Tweet.
But nobody at Nebraska can run from the reality that its thirst to play football this season has not been met with equal vigor during the actual games. The Cornhuskers are 1-3 and as unsure about who they are or need to be offensively as they were the day Frost got there. There’s now officially a revolving door at quarterback between Luke McCaffrey and Adrian Martinez, and the identity crisis resulted in five turnovers against Illinois.
Frost is now just 10-18 at Nebraska and 7-15 in the Big Ten. A few years ago, fans were bemoaning Bo Pelini’s run of 9-4 and 10-4 seasons, which started the downward cycle the programs finds itself in now.
Frost fought hard to get the season started, but the shortcomings in how he wanted to build the program — starting with a coaching staff he brought from UCF basically in tact — are now being laid bare in embarrassing fashion. His reputation as a coach has taken a big hit.
Given Nebraska’s obnoxiousness over the Big Ten’s meandering road to playing football this year, it’s fair to question whether it was all worth it. That’s why Nebraska is No. 1 in this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.
FOUR MORE IN MISERY
Tennessee: It was revealed earlier in the week that athletics director Phillip Fulmer — you know, the former football coach who launched a bloodless coup to install himself at the head of the athletics department during the football coaching search of 2017 — quietly received a contract extension in May. This happened a few months before Fulmer took care of his football coach, Jeremy Pruitt, whose six-game winning streak to end 2019 put him and his agent squarely in the zone to take advantage of a naive administration by giving Pruitt his own unnecessary and ill-advised extension. And what are Tennessee fans getting for all that job security at the top two spots? The Vols’ 30-17 loss to Auburn was their fifth straight double-digit defeat, something that has never happened in program history. And it’s not as if Tennessee’s streak of awfulness is happening against historically great teams aside from Alabama; it’s Kentucky, it’s Arkansas, it’s one of the more mediocre Georgia teams of the past several years. Now, many of the same emotionally invested commentators who have steered Tennessee in the wrong direction at every turn are calling for the Pruitt era to end. But given the contract mess that Tennessee got itself into this year, that might be difficult. And with the bumbling Fulmer still at the helm, sweeping out Pruitt is probably not enough.
Tulane: Zooming out on the bigger picture of a program that hasn’t won a lot in the past 20 years, you could interpret the Green Wave’s 5-5 record as a huge positive given how many heartbreaking losses they’ve had this season. At the same time, the amount of bad luck and end-of-game ineptitude Tulane has experienced just in the space of several weeks is truly mind-blowing. Tulane blew a 24-0 lead against Navy and lost on a walk-off field goal in Week 2, couldn’t punch it in late to take the lead against SMU and lost in overtime and then suffered the coup de grace Thursday night against Tulsa. Leading 14-0 going into the fourth quarter, Tulane gave up two long touchdown drives only to re-take a 21-14 lead with 1:38 to go. But this being Tulane in 2020, three defenders allowed a Hail Mary on the final play of regulation to zip over their heads, improbably extending the game. Then, poised to take the lead in the second overtime, Tulane once again met calamity as Tulsa star linebacker Zaven Collins snagged a pass near the goal line and took it back for a game-ending pick six. Tulane has one more game left and may well finish with a winning record, but they’ll spend a long time wondering what they did to deserve such karmic blowback this season.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies will be a big litmus test for the college sports industry in how much of a COVID-19 free pass a coaching staff gets. The reasons for Virginia Tech’s fan base to be frustrated at the direction Justin Fuente has taken the program aren’t new; in fact, they’ve been simmering for a couple years now. By the same token, the reasons for Virginia Tech’s administration to prefer stability are also not new, as Fuente was empowered to build a program foundation without any shortcuts and given a financial commitment that would be very expensive to terminate. Then you throw in COVID-19 — which ran through the roster for several weeks and crushed any notion of a normal preparation for the season — and it’s a tougher evaluation than a 47-14 loss to Pitt would indicate. But the emotional damage of dipping to 4-5 and likely finishing a regular season under .500 for the first time in 28 years (the Hokies have two games left, and one of them is Clemson) isn’t rooted in sanity or fiscal responsibility. Instead, it’s a growing feeling that Virginia Tech’s reputation as one of college football’s big boys has slipped away and that drastic action is needed to prevent it from slipping further down the rabbit hole.
Syracuse: There are plenty of programs slogging through the 2020 season but none in such dreary fashion as the Orange. It was really just two years ago that Syracuse was 10-3, ranked in the top 15 and considered one of the ACC’s ascendant teams. But that phenomenon might as well have been decades ago because that’s how it feels watching 1-8 Syracuse manage just 137 offensive yards in a 30-0 loss to Louisville. In fact, everything about this offense has been a breathtaking failure this year. Syracuse has managed to score 30 points just once in its lone win over Georgia Tech and broken the 300-yard barrier only three times. It puts Syracuse on track to finish with its worst season since 2005, when its lone win under Greg Robinson was vacated due to NCAA violations. There’s no indication that any NCAA misdeeds have taken place recently, but if somehow they could find some and magically wipe this season from the record books it might be considered an act of mercy.
TRENDING TOWARD MISERY
Michigan: It’s never a good mental space for a fan when there’s uncertainty about whether a loss or a win would be better for the long-term health of the program. Had the Wolverines lost to Rutgers, as they seemed on track to do at various points Saturday, there would have been no doubt about the direction to take. Instead, Michigan won 48-42 in the third overtime, which isn’t much to celebrate for a 2-3 football team that remains quite bad. But by avoiding a catastrophic loss, the final chapter to the Jim Harbaugh era doesn’t quite seem written. Really, that’s the worst of all worlds.
Kentucky: By looking at the 63-3 final score, you’d never know the Wildcats were competitive with Alabama for well over a quarter. In fact, they should have been leading the game as one early drive inside the Alabama 10-yard line got blown up by a holding penalty and another ended with a botched snap on a field goal attempt. The game was pretty much over once Kentucky whiffed on those drives, but that’s not unforgivable. The larger context is that Kentucky scored just three points this season against Alabama and three against Georgia, which is a pretty big signal that you’re not coming close to the elites with this offensive approach. Kentucky can cobble together enough wins to go to bowl games, but the ceiling is not very high.
Penn State: Between the opt-outs and injuries to key players, we can safely assume that Penn State was never going to be very good this season. But looking back to their season opener, the Nittany Lions were a 50-50 instant replay call away from beating Indiana, which has turned out to be a top-10 type of team. What happens if that call goes Penn State’s way? Certainly not 0-5, which is what they are after a 41-21 loss to Iowa. While the outcome was predictable and Penn State’s futility no longer stunning, it’s fair to wonder what the outcome would be within the Nittany Lions’ locker room if they were able to vote on just shutting down the season right now. They sure don’t look all that interested in being there.
Kansas State: At one point in late October, you could have reasonably made the case for the Wildcats as the favorite in the Big 12. Maybe that was overly optimistic, but they were 4-0 in the conference, had already beaten Oklahoma and seemed to be gathering momentum each week. Instead, the bottom has fallen out quickly, punctuated by Saturday’s 45-0 loss to Iowa State. Beyond the general COVID-19 issues, of which there have been many for Kansas State, something else is going on under the surface. As the season has played out, Kansas State is up to 10 players entering their name in the transfer portal, which is the highest in the Big 12. Maybe you can just chalk it up to the unusual nature of this season combined with Chris Klieman naturally turning over the roster in his second year. But with three consecutive losses now, the trends are all going in a bad direction.
TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“Pray we are now a Basketball school” — Husker Online
“We are the bad news bears of the SEC!” — VolNation
“Need a trade portal for Coaches with Massive Buyouts” — Tech Sideline (Virginia Tech)
“That was a heck of a pillow fight” — The Wolverine
“Franklin said he was going to rewrite the PSU record book” — Blue White Illustrated