The B1G 10: Go big, go bold, Nebraska. Go get Sean Payton
Every Tuesday, insider Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten.
1. The B1G Story
The time for purity and pageantry is long gone. Win at all cost is unavoidable.
Forget about fit or ties to Lincoln or someone who will embrace the grand traditions and uniqueness that is Nebraska football.
Nebraska tried all of those Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky, feel-good moves every time it hired someone to walk in the shadow of Dr. Tom.
It didn’t work.
Now that the latest iteration — beloved former Huskers national champion quarterback Scott Frost — has officially failed and been sent on his way with $15 million in buyout traveling loot, it’s time to do the smart thing, the prudent thing.
Go get the biggest, baddest dude on the block.
Go hire Sean Payton.
The nicest program in college football. The most knowledgeable fans in college football. The purest and most polished progr … forget that crap.
Wake up, Nebraskans.
College football as you know it is getting smaller in the rearview with each failure of a coaching hire. If drastic measures aren’t taken, you’re doomed to forever be tied at the hip with the Illinois and Indianas of the Big Ten.
It’s time to hire a coach who will do anything within the rules to get the best players. Hire someone who will push to the edge of the envelope, then stand tall and micturate on it. Just to let you know he was there — and he’ll be back for the next 5-star.
Hire someone so dynamic and charismatic, his mere presence will attract players who in the past wouldn’t think of coming to Lincoln for a visit — then commit or sign before they leave the football building.
This is my Super Bowl ring. You want to win a championship? You want to get to the league? Follow me.
If you think Nebraska couldn’t land Payton, 58, you haven’t been paying attention to the football landscape. Not only are the elite college coaches earning NFL money, in some cases (hello, Lincoln Riley, Nick, Kirby and Dabo) they’re making more.
You want a sales pitch to Payton? There is no salary cap here, man.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn and president Carol Folt saw the future of college football (and how USC was in danger of falling further behind), and did what had to be done. They threw an ungodly amount of cash at Riley — and allegedly paid off and bought homes — to bring the hottest young coach not named Kirby Smart to Troy.
They fired Clay Helton in the first month of last season and gave him millions in walkaway money (sound familiar?), and then mortgaged everything for the future of the football program. Because in college sports, nothing is more important than football — and nothing should be spared in pursuit of winning.
Not conference affiliation. Not long-term friendships, or collegial presidential relationships. Not history and tradition and all the things that once made Nebraska unique.
They don’t matter anymore. Only winning does. If the past 2 decades of roaming lost in the desert hasn’t proven that, what will?
If one of your All-American heroes of a former player couldn’t make it work, couldn’t bring players to Lincoln and change a losing culture, there’s nothing left to chance.
I could throw the typical names at you — Matt Campbell, Bill O’Brien, Lance Leipold, PJ Fleck — and all, in one form or fashion, may be able to win at Nebraska.
But don’t make another mistake by wishing and hoping. Go get a guaranteed win.
Go make Sean Payton an offer he can’t refuse.
No matter what it costs.
2. Plan B
Of course, there’s a strong possibility that Payton likes retirement. Or wants to sit out a season before returning to the NFL.
So if Nebraska AD Trev Alberts can’t convince Payton to try college football, go get the meanest, toughest SOB in the coaching fraternity and give him the keys to the kingdom.
Get Mark Stoops.
He has won at a basketball school and consistently built a winning program in the toughest conference in college football. Kentucky has 4 double-digit win seasons since it began playing football in 1915.
Stoops has 2 in the past 4 years, and is closing in on another 10-win season this fall.
Stoops has made it work at Kentucky, has consistently beaten teams with bigger budgets and bigger tradition (see: Florida, Tennessee) because he and his staff are among the SEC elite in developing players.
Two years ago, he changed his offensive philosophy (he’s not stubborn), opened up the offense and Kentucky is more dangerous than it has ever been. He’s on his second former NFL assistant as an OC (the first, Liam Coen, spent 1 successful season and was hired by the Rams as their OC), and the offense no longer takes a backseat to his stout defenses.
He’s now winning recruiting battles against the SEC elite and neighboring Ohio State, and he’s doing it as the university’s No. 2 sport. What happens when he arrives in Lincoln, and the world is his oyster — and there is no expense spared?
I can tell you what won’t happen: 5 straight years (and now staring at 6) of no postseason.
3. The final option
So what does Alberts do if he finds himself without Payton or Stoops? Don’t panic, stay true to your idea of a dynamic and charismatic leader who can recruit the major states of talent (California, Texas, Florida) and immediately upgrade the roster.
As much as I believe Matt Campbell of Iowa State is a terrific coach, I don’t know that he’s the guy Nebraska needs. Ten years ago, he would’ve been the perfect fit.
He’s measured, he’s focused, he’s all about the college experience.
That all sounds good, but does it sell in the new NIL-driven, brand-first, “me” above “we” world of recruiting high school players (and transfer portal players)?
You need a coach who can reach players, who has a track record to sell, and who is also among the best in the business when it comes to matching Xs and Os with Jimmys and Joes.
Give Chris Petersen a 10-year contract worth $110 million, and pull him out of retirement. This, Nebraska, is your offense/quarterbacks hire.
You’re not winning the Big Ten championship with Casey Thompson as your quarterback. Or Adrian Martinez (or Taylor, for that matter) or Tanner Lee or Tommy Armstrong or Zac Lee or Joe Ganz or — do you really want me to continue? — any other Joe since Nebraska 86’d the triple option to join everyone in the 21st Century.
You need someone who has a history of developing the position and getting the most out of it. Petersen had an unbeaten season and beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl at Boise State with Jared Zabransky, and he went to the Playoff with Jake Browning.
Lincoln is a larger version of Boise, a small-town football heaven that revolves around the program and the people supporting it.
It couldn’t be a better fit for Petersen, who burned out quickly at Washington and could be attracted by the football-fueled passion and endless resources of Nebraska — and the ability to coach and win in the Big Ten.
4. The move
Of course JJ McCarthy is the Michigan quarterback.
This thing started in Ann Arbor but was so obvious, it was telegraphed from Detroit. McCarthy gives Michigan the best chance to take the next step as a program, and move beyond just getting back to the Playoff.
If McCarthy wasn’t the the pick all along from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, he never would’ve come up with this 2-game competition. These were 2 bad teams, any QB would play well.
But an elite QB would knock it out of the park and leave no doubt among the fan base, and most important, the guy he’s replacing — the team leader and heart of a Big Ten championship team from 2021.
Feelings are hurt, and the guy who led you to the Playoff last year (Cade McNamara) is now on the bench. He doesn’t like it, and thinks he did enough in fall camp to win the job.
Yeah, well, the portal streets are full of guys who feel that way.
5. The Weekly 5
Five picks against the spread, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel:
- Oklahoma (-13.5) at Nebraska
- Purdue (-2.5) at Syracuse
- Michigan State (+2.5) at Washington
- Penn State (-3.5) at Auburn
- Colorado (+27) at Minnesota
Last week: 3-2.
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Minnesota RB Mohamed Ibrahim.
“A hard runner with deceptive speed, and a guy that can get to the edge. He’s not a burner, but he’s difficult to bring down in space. That (Achilles’) injury is difficult, and he doesn’t look any different 2 games in. That’s about habits and desire and how badly you want to play. I love to see that stuff. He reminds me a lot of the (Dameon) Pierce kid from Florida last year. A hard guy to bring down, and a guy with enough wiggle to make it in this league. He’s not just a north-south guy.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: Week 2 reality check.
1. Ohio State: I don’t want to say reassess after seeing Notre Dam lose at home to Marshall. But, yeah, reassess.
2. Michigan: It’s tempting — very tempting — to move Michigan to No. 1 now that we’ve eliminated this nonsense of who plays QB.
3. Michigan State: Everything checks out. Time to take a long trip cross-country and prove it in a trap game against rebuilding Washington (and former IU QB Michael Penix Jr.).
4. Penn State: Don’t tease us now. Don’t show what dynamic freshman TB Nicholas Singleton can do — and keep giving him 10 carries a game.
5. Minnesota: It’s early and it’s 2 cupcakes, but the reconnection of QB Tanner Morgan and OC Kirk Ciarrocca is starting to feel like 2019 all over again.
6. Purdue: Don’t give up on the Boilers after they blew the season-opener against Penn State. Still too much good to ignore.
7. Wisconsin: At some point, you move on from banging your head over and over against the wall while continuing to play QB Graham Mertz (58 percent of passes completed, 7.3 yards per attempt at home, vs. double-digit underdog Washington State).
8. Indiana: Hoosiers are playing smarter, and that’s a huge start. They also have forced 4 turnovers in 2 games, the foundation of the 2020 team.
9. Rutgers: Those who wanted elite QB recruit Gavin Wimsatt to play now instead of Noah Vedral (when he returns from injury) might want to reassess.
10. Iowa: How is it possible no one on the Iowa roster gives the Hawkeyes a better chance to win than QB Spencer Petras? I’m not buying it, nor am I buying OC Brian Ferentz’s play calling.
11. Illinois: The trend is very clear: Bret Bielema’s non-Wisconsin teams have the same personality: lose games you shouldn’t, win games you shouldn’t.
12. Maryland: Now that the Terps have beaten 2 truly bad teams, let’s see how far the defense has come against a team (SMU) that will stress it from many angles.
13. Northwestern: A “bounce-back” season doesn’t include giving up 221 rushing yards to Duke. A huge, huge red flag.
14. Nebraska: Bottom line: The players (who don’t get $15 million thank-you-for-losing money) deserve a season with limited distractions.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: That big nonconference win over Notre Dame may not help Ohio State so much in November. If Notre Dame tanks, does that eliminate Ohio State’s chances of losing a game and still making the CFP? — Louis Renton, Cincinnati.
I would almost 100 percent guarantee that a 1-loss Big Ten champion, no matter who it is, will advance to the Playoff unless the remaining Power 5 conferences produce unbeaten teams (and that’s not happening).
Notre Dame isn’t the issue for Ohio State. The more pressing problem is Michigan, which now has a genuine dynamic and athletic playmaker at the most important position on the field. A guy who can make every throw with velocity and accuracy, and who can run by your second level of defense on zone read and QB design runs.
This won’t be the predictable run, run, play-action of McNamara. This is anything (and everything) is on the table. This is a quarterback who will stress the Ohio State defense like few (if any) have before.
Ohio State has 10 weeks to figure it out.
131. That’s the Iowa offense, everyone. Dead last in the FBS out of 131 teams in scoring offense (7 ppg) and total offense (158 ypg), 126th in average yards per carry (1.8), 123rd in 3rd-down conversions (25%), and tied for last in long scrimmage plays (9 of 10-plus yards).
10. Quote to note
Nebraska AD Trev Alberts: “This is a day I hoped would never come. Scott (Frost) worked really hard here. He wanted this thing to work. And I can tell you I really wanted this thing to work. Our donors wanted it to work. Everybody wanted it to work.”