Extra Points: Why an old rival could spell the end of the Scott Frost era at Nebraska
Each week, college football insider Matt Hayes tackles the biggest topics in the game, in and around the B1G:
A Big Red line in the sand
One mega program already has fired a coach. Another could be on the way.
This is a big weekend for Nebraska coach Scott Frost. The game he tried to get out of – the rivalry game with Oklahoma – is here, and the Huskers need to play well or an undercurrent of unhappiness in Lincoln will grow stronger.
Frost and Nebraska are being investigated by the NCAA for rules violations, and Frost’s shaky tenure already has caused some within the university to begin questioning his vision for the program.
He’s losing games at an alarming rate – including bad losses to bad teams – and the Huskers make the same mistakes they made when he returned to his alma mater 4 years ago.
Now here comes big, bad Oklahoma, a rivalry game that still is the most important game on the schedule for so many in Nebraska. But here’s the problem:
Nebraska, if it fired Frost without cause, would owe him $20 million. If he were fired with cause, NU would owe him nothing.
That’s why the current NCAA investigation into improper use of analysts and consultants during practice and games, and improper practice during the pandemic, is so critical.
Understand this: The investigation of Frost and Nebraska was unknown until the Action Network broke the story last month. That story was anonymous source-based, and within 24 hours, Nebraska had confirmed all of it.
These things don’t just leak out – they’re leaked for a reason. Because NCAA violations and sanctions are the get-out-of-jail-free card for the university with Frost’s fat contract.
The more Frost loses, the more the university can focus on the NCAA issues and firing Frost for cause (just like Tennessee did with Jeremy Pruitt – another NCAA investigation that was leaked).
“This is the new road for universities who make bad decisions with contracts and don’t want to honor them,” an industry source told me. “Because the NCAA is toothless right now, universities would rather go through that investigative process and take whatever weak punishment they’re given, then pay a large buyout to a coach who for one reason or another, didn’t succeed. It’s a new level of greed.”
Cardinal, Gold — and green
Lost amid the firing of USC coach Clay Helton is the reported number the university had to pay to make it happen.
Helton signed a new deal in February of 2018, and the Los Angeles Times reported that the buyout for Helton after the 2019 season was “more than $20 million.”
USC is a private university and doesn’t have to report contracts, but simple math says two years after the 2019 season means two more years off a $4.5 million per year salary as reported by the Times, means USC likely paid Helton, who had 3 years remaining on his deal, $13.5 million to walk.
More important moving forward: a $4.5 million a year salary isn’t going to cut it if USC wants an elite coach.
One industry source told me two coaches at the top of USC’s wish list are Penn State’s James Franklin and Tampa Bay Buccaneers OC Byron Leftwich. Franklin makes $6.7 million a year, and it would take a significant raise to get him to leave what he has built in Happy Valley.
Leftwich, who will be in high demand for an NFL head coaching job this offseason, will demand a large salary to take the USC job – likely in the $7-8 million a year range.
USC is a top-3 job, and to get a top-3 coach, the university has to pay for it. Nick Saban ($9.1 million), Jimbo Fisher ($9.1 million) and Ed Orgeron ($8.6 million) are the 3 highest-paid coaches in college football.
Or USC can hire another Lane Kiffin, or Steve Sarkisian or Clay Helton – and see where that gets them.
A Cyclone mess
Brock Purdy, on the verge of becoming Iowa State’s all-time leading passer, was benched in last week’s loss to rival Iowa. And we should’ve seen it coming.
In his past 4 games dating to last season, Purdy has 2 TDs and 6 INTs, and the Cyclones are 2-2 in those games. The losses, though, are critical games: the Big 12 Championship game vs. Oklahoma, and the Iowa game.
“It’s tough to play that position,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “He’s played it 4 years, and he knows how to handle tough times.”
Iowa State returns nearly every starter from last year’s Fiesta Bowl champion team, and Purdy’s numbers are regressing. He’s averaging less than 200 yards per game, and a paltry 6.3 yards per attempt.
The ball is not going downfield, and the explosion plays that highlighted his first 3 seasons in Ames aren’t happening two weeks into this season.
“That’s the thing that stands out for me,” one NFL scout told me. “The ball isn’t going downfield, and the velocity, which was never really a strength, looks different, too.”
The QB conundrum
Alabama coach Nick Saban says his defense is preparing the same for Florida QBs Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.
They’re both dual threats, he says, and it becomes more difficult preparing for dual-threat quarterbacks when both quarterbacks are “effective passers as well as runners.”
In that sense, he’s correct. They’re both dual-threat quarterbacks.
After that, there’s a significant chasm between where Jones is as a threat to Alabama, and where Richardson can hurt the Tide.
Richardson isn’t just a “runner” – he’s a 235-pound tailback with 4.4 speed, who can run over and by a defense. He isn’t just a thrower, he’s an accurate threat who can make all the throws – and only lacks playing time and a better understanding of pass defenses.
This may not be the moment where Alabama is forced to deal with the complete Richardson. But it might happen in December in the SEC Championship Game, if Richardson can stay healthy for Florida’s big SEC games down the road (Kentucky, LSU, Georgia) and get the Gators to Atlanta.