Rather than complain, Nebraska would be better off embracing its new role in the B1G
I roll my eyes when I hear players or coaches say “nobody believed in us” or “we don’t get enough respect.” When that sort of comment comes from someone like Dabo Swinney, that eye roll lasts a full 5 seconds. It’s cliché. It’s a manufactured rallying cry. It’s usually untrue. On some occasions, it’s true, but with good reason. Like, sorry for not believing in you, 3-6 team. How dare I look at your body of work and determine you might struggle against the No. 2 team in the country.
We’ve finally gotten to the place where that “nobody believed in us” cliché might actually be true for Nebraska. The Huskers didn’t receive a single preseason AP Top 25 vote (even 2-10 Northwestern got a vote). That was after a 50-year stretch in which it was a preseason Top 25 team on 42 occasions.
And more important, there’s now more of a reason than ever for the college football world not to want to believe in the Huskers.
Well, between the Nebraska players’ lawsuit against the B1G, the Nebraska coaches and university officials publicly criticizing the league’s decision to postpone the football season and then the subsequent complaining from athletic director Bill Moos about drawing preseason top-10 teams Ohio State and Penn State following the latest release of the 2020 schedule, it looks like the program in Lincoln has finally reached “villain” status.
Should the team that fought to play football be a villain? No, but is this something that Scott Frost should use to his advantage? Absolutely. That makes a whole lot more sense than openly complaining about the B1G sticking it to Nebraska.
Yes, when your athletic director goes on record with comments like these, it’s officially complaining:
“For obvious reasons, I was hoping we could dissemble the schedule because of unique circumstances and rebuild it to be fair for each school in the conference,” Moos said, according to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald. “I was outspoken on that, to the point where they heard it from me every day. The rationale was there, I didn’t think we needed to follow it. Nebraska is playing five AP preseason top 25 teams. Ohio State’s playing two.
“I’m sure my friend (and Ohio State athletic director) Gene Smith is smiling today. His friend Bill Moos is not. I’ve got a good football team with a great football coach that deserves a break here or there to start getting back on track to being a contender in the Big Ten West.”
Man. All he had to do was not say that last sentence.
Nobody wants to here about the 20th century power complain about “deserving a break.” Yuck. That’s a bad look. You know what an athletic director in that spot should say? Something like what Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement after his program was dealt added games with Florida and Georgia.
“We already owned the nation’s strongest 2020 football schedule and with these additions to our SEC only schedule, we now own the most challenging schedule in the history of college football. As Razorbacks, we have never backed down from a challenge, this year will be no different. Our focus remains on the growth of our program and supporting Coach Sam Pittman and our football student-athletes as they embrace this extraordinary opportunity.”
That’s the mindset Nebraska needs right now from the top down.
To be fair, Moos doesn’t speak for everyone. I doubt that Frost spent his Saturday sitting on his couch and crying about the brutal schedule. If Nebraska is ever going to be among the B1G’s elite, it’ll have to get through those teams anyway.
If Frost wants to storm into the weight room, blast some Rage Against The Machine and yell at every player on a max-rep lift that nobody on the outside respects this program, by all means. Have at it. That’s not some contrived thing. In the past, I’d argue, that’s been the case.
Nebraska entered the 2019 season in the preseason AP Top 25 despite the fact that was coming off a 4-win season and ranked No. 93 in percentage of returning production. Including 2019, each of the past 3 times Nebraska appeared in the preseason AP Top 25, it finished unranked. The last time Nebraska finished ranked higher than where it started was 2009.
Who could forget that year? That was when Ndamukong Suh and the Huskers became must-see TV, though part of that was because of the weekly intrigue about whether Bo Pelini would spontaneously combust.
Nobody is expecting a top-15 finish like that year, especially now that the schedule is out. Nebraska didn’t even crack one of the top 3 B1G West spots in the preseason media poll. Compare that to last year when the Huskers were picked to win the division … fresh off a 4-win season. Shoot, even compare it to 2018 when Frost’s arrival sparked the “Nebraska will be back soon” takes.
In 2020, Nebraska is the program without a single preseason AP Top 25 vote that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016. The college football world is no longer waiting for Nebraska to return to glory. These past 6 months changed that. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you didn’t see the Twitter belly laughs at Nebraska’s expense when the schedule was released Saturday:
Nebraska gets Ohio State and Wisconsin to start the season… pic.twitter.com/yMQ6E8kbwP
— Jeremy Werner (@JWerner247) September 19, 2020
If I’m a Nebraska fan, I have no problem with that. The reaction, that is. And if people want to hate on the program that led the effort to have a season, so be it.
I have to think that Frost is going to try and use this to his advantage. And that’s not to say he wants his team to be consumed with people laughing at the fact that his program got the toughest possible draw. But at the same time, like, they hear that noise. That’s OK.
You need different ways to stay motivated in a year like this. There aren’t 90,000 screaming fans to help. There will be times when coaches will have to dig deep to get a team fired up to play in an empty stadium. Being a college football player is a much different experience in 2020 than it is in a normal year.
I don’t know if that means Nebraska will rise above some rather pedestrian expectations. Certainly there’s no guarantee that the Huskers will stop figuring out new ways to lose. Being the villain doesn’t suddenly make you a team that makes smart decisions in the final 2 minutes.
But I do know that “Nebraska nice” shouldn’t define the Huskers in 2020. It’s OK to be hated.
Now would be as good a time as ever to lean into it.