When Mike Riley was hired to replace Bo Pelini after the 2014 season, I was confident that I knew two things.

I covered Nebraska home games while living in Central Nebraska during Pelini’s final two seasons. I sat in Pelini’s post-game press conferences, where I had a front-row seat to his tireless practice of looking annoyed to be in a room with the media. That probably paled in comparison to the angst he felt when forced to be in a room with Nebraska athletics director Shawn Eichorst.

Ultimately, Pelini didn’t handle the criticism (fair or not) well and he was fired by an A.D. who never wanted him around.

So when happy-go-lucky Riley strolled in from Corvallis, I was pretty confident that he was going to handle the Husker football microscope better, and he was going to have the full support of his athletic director.

But neither of those things mean squat if you get embarrassed in Lincoln.

When you lose to a MAC school for the first time in program history (and at home), it’s no longer a matter of whether or not you’re a good post-game press conference guy. That’s a different matter than not beating Ohio State or Texas in a primetime game. There’s only so much going to bat your A.D. can do for you.

As Riley heads into another opportunity to grow his doubters — Rutgers did hang tough with Washington — the question is becoming all too real.

What will it take for Riley to get the boot?

Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

For what it’s worth, I came into the year saying that barring an epic collapse, Riley would have his job beyond 2017.

Losing to Northern Illinois is a sign of an epic collapse.

That was supposed to be Nebraska’s easiest game in 2017. After all, the Huskers paid Northern Illinois $1.02 million just to cancel a game in Chicago, and they paid NIU an additional $820,000 to come to Lincoln. And win.

Power 5 programs aren’t supposed to eat checks that big. The question is whether or not the Huskers would be willing to eat the rest of Riley’s check, which now has three years and $9 million left on it after this season.

So let’s go through the odds of each possible scenario:

What if…Nebraska loses to Rutgers?

Eeeeeeek. I’d say it’s basically a coin flip. Also important is how it happens. If Nebraska loses 48-45 and the offense looks sharp all afternoon, that’ll come back to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco more than it will to Riley.

Would that make the loss any less embarrassing? No, but the low point of the Riley era happened because it was his offense that ultimately melted down against NIU. If the Huskers have an effort like they did last week, that could tip the scales in favor of booting Riley.

It’s bizarre to even talk about a coach losing his job in September. But keep in mind that the early signing period goes into effect this December. One would think that firings will happen earlier than ever. That’s definitely something to remember with Riley, whose recruiting ties were a crucial reason he was hired in the first place.

But yes, to answer the question, there’s still a scenario in which Riley could be gone by this time next week if the Huskers are stymied by Rutgers.

Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

What if…Nebraska loses to Illinois?

That depends. If the Huskers start B1G play 0-2 with losses to Rutgers and Illinois, conventional wisdom says that Riley is gone before October. As previously mentioned, the style of loss would matter, too. If the Huskers crumble like they did two years ago in Champaign, Riley’s seat would be scalding hot.

Something that’s worth remembering about the Illinois game is that it’s on a Friday night on Fox Sports 1. In other words, Riley could have a national audience criticizing his every move. If the Huskers get thumped by an Illinois team that won three games last year, social media will have a field day with it.

Could Riley survive that? Probably, but Eichorst would have a mutiny on his hands if it was preceded by a Rutgers loss. An 0-2 start to conference play with games against Wisconsin and Ohio State on deck certainly wouldn’t bode well.

What if…Nebraska wins seven regular season games?

Believe it or not, I think that would be enough for Riley to stay.

You’d be looking at a 6-3 conference mark, which would be the same as last year. While seven wins definitely isn’t the long-term goal in Lincoln, I think that number would at least get Riley to 2018.

This, of course, is assuming that Eichorst (under contract through 2019) is retained and he’s making the decision. We know he’s going to have a longer leash than Jason from Kearney. That was the reason Eichorst pulled a Jerry Jones and spoke to the media after the NIU loss on Saturday.

His job is dependent on Riley’s success, neither of which look like their in good shape long term.

It’s ironic that we’re talking about Riley potentially keeping his job by getting seven wins after Pelini was fired for winning nine games every year. Everyone knows that. So does Eichorst. Probably.

So then what’s the end-of-season mark that’ll get Riley canned?

That’s a complicated question because I don’t think Power 5 coaches will get to coach for an entire season anymore. The aforementioned early signing period could prevent Nebraska from doing what it did with Pelini. That is, wait for him to finish out the season and fire him immediately after the final regular season game.

If that somehow happens, though, five wins should be the mark to fire Riley. Eichorst can’t justify sticking with a coach who won five regular season games for the second time in three years. And of course, Nebraska probably can’t justify sticking with the A.D. who hired the guy who won five regular season games for the second time in three years, either.

Yes, Nebraska is still paying Pelini. The thought of paying multi-million dollar buyouts to two coaches is a nightmare scenario for an athletic department. But those are easier pills to swallow if the right hire follows.

Time and patience is running out for Eichorst and Riley to make this thing work. Whatever’s left could be gone if the Huskers do the unthinkable and lose to Rutgers at home.

Well, after last week, I guess anything is possible now.