#B1GCoachRank: No. 8 Mike Riley
Ranking coaches in the B1G can be a pretty easy task. It’s easy to place a number beside a guy, failing to give any reasoning behind his placement on a “power rankings,” list.
At Saturday Tradition, though, we don’t want to just give you the rankings. We want to provide you with a detailed description of each head coach and why he’s ranked in his selected spot.
This was a practice that was kicked up from the ground last year and, since there’s still several months until football season gets underway, it’s worth revisiting. So, let’s continue our 2017 #B1GCoachRank:
Coach: No. 8 Mike Riley (Nebraska)
Record: 15-11, 9-8 B1G (Nebraska), 93-80 (Oregon State)
Record vs. top 25: 2-3 (Nebraska), 15-40 (Oregon State)
Where team was when he was hired: Conflicted.
Some Nebraska fans/players were still angry that Bo Pelini was fired. Many were confused that Riley was billed as the guy to lead the Huskers back to dominance when he never came close to that level of success at Oregon State. Nine-win seasons weren’t considered good enough for Nebraska, and Riley only had four of them in 14 seasons in Corvallis.
But there was also a group that believed Riley’s calm demeanor would be better suited for scrutiny and long-term success in Lincoln than the tightly-wound Pelini was.
Biggest win: Sept. 17, 2016 vs. No. 22 Oregon
How fitting it was that Riley got to face off with his old intrastate rival in his second season at Nebraska. In what felt like a make-or-break game for Riley’s public perception, the Huskers came up with a gutty win. Tommy Armstrong’s hobbled go-ahead score was as big a play as any in recent memory for Nebraska.
Sure, the Ducks faded quickly and proved not to be a top-25 team. But in terms of getting some much-needed momentum — from fans and in the recruiting world — it was crucial for Riley. That win helped Nebraska gain national relevancy for the first time in the Riley era.
Most embarrassing loss: Oct. 31, 2015 vs. Purdue
How bad was Nebraska’s loss to Purdue in Riley’s first season? The Huskers trailed by 26 (!) entering the fourth quarter against a team that was 1-18 in B1G games under Darrell Hazell. Besides the fact that it was the Boilermakers’ second B1G win in a three-year stretch, it dropped the Huskers to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the B1G, which was good for last place in the B1G West. It didn’t matter to critics that the Huskers were without Armstrong and several key starters because of injuries.
Reality sunk in that not only was Nebraska completely out of the B1G West picture, it was going to be an uphill battle just to clinch bowl eligibility (thanks to APR, Nebraska did earn a bowl bid). It was also the first time in program history that it entered November with six losses. Riley’s doubters grew in spades on that cloudy day in West Lafayette.
Best recruiting class: 2017
Yes, this is premature. Riley’s incoming class hasn’t played a game yet. Well, most of his first real recruiting class (2016) is still waiting to see the field, too. For now, 2017 is his best because it was a major push in the Calibraska movement.
Blue-chip recruits with California ties like Tyjon Lindsey, Tristan Gebbia, and Elijah Blades all turned down other big-time offers to come to Lincoln. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if they became the faces of the program in a couple years.
It also wouldn’t surprise anyone if Riley’s 2018 group — it’s currently ranked No. 8 nationally — later claims that title. But until they officially become Nebraska signees and not just verbal commitments, giving them the top spot would be too premature.
What could get him fired: A serious nosedive in 2017. And maybe more.
Missing a bowl game would fire up the coals in Lincoln. A couple of sub-.500 seasons usually doesn’t bode well for long-term job security at Nebraska. Just ask Bill Callahan about that.
Still, that might not even be enough for Shawn Eichorst to pull the plug on Riley. Keep in mind that Eichorst is still writing Bo Pelini checks after making the controversial decision to fire him in 2014. Riley was and is Eichorst’s guy. Who knows how low Nebraska would have to go to force Eichorst to move on from another coach?
Why he’s at No. 8: People might forget that besides Kirk Ferentz, nobody in the B1G has more Power Five head coaching experience than Riley. Having said that, he landed in the middle of the pack because well, he’s been a middle-of-the-pack coach. A 15-11 start at Nebraska (9-8 in B1G play) and a 93-80 record at Oregon State don’t scream “elite coach.”
The jury is still out on whether or not Riley can become that with Nebraska’s resources. His recruiting classes suggest that can happen. But high recruiting rankings won’t mean anything if Riley can’t start beating Iowa and Wisconsin (0-4). His 5-7 mark against the B1G West obviously has to improve, too.
Nebraska fans wouldn’t mind if Riley made a James Franklin-like jump in his third season on the job.
No. 8 Mike Riley (Nebraska)
No. 7 TBA