Eighteen months ago, Kentucky Sports Radio founder Matt Jones hopped behind a microphone and blurted out an ugly prognosis for the future of Nebraska football. He proclaimed confidently that the Huskers would never be great again.
Jones’ argument stemmed from the nationalization of college football and how Nebraska loosened its grip on the local market, through no fault of its own. With more games being televised and every team receiving national attention, top recruits had access to more schools. Luring the best local prospects to Lincoln grew to be even more challenging, even with the history and tradition that glamorizes the program.
At the time of his comments, Jones took arguably the easiest stance, though it was wildly unpopular among Big Red Nation. Nebraska looked nothing like a championship-caliber program, and hadn’t for years. Mike Riley and Shawn Eichorst were the latest to shovel the dirt over the grave of a once-dominant program.
In just a year-and-a-half, Jones’ remarks have ventured from plausible to foolish. Nebraska feels like a program on the brink of a return to glory, even after a 4-8 season. It took Scott Frost one season to rekindle the spirit and enthusiasm surrounding Husker football.
Nebraska is on the doorstep of enjoying decades of success that would mirror the Tom Osborne era. The only question is how many knocks it will take before that door eventually opens.
That might seem a little hopeful for a program that has won just eight games in the last two seasons, but the evidence has already emerged.
Despite that ugly 4-8 record, Nebraska owned one of the best offenses in the B1G last season. The Huskers averaged 30 points and 456.2 yards per game last season. Five times the offense exceeded 500 total yards. It all happened with Adrian Martinez — a true freshman — under center and a group of players Frost inherited, rather than guys who were hand-picked to operate his system.
Nebraska’s offense will likely flourish even more in 2019 with two of Frost’s recruiting classes on the roster. The Huskers will have another dynamic playmaker on the field in explosive 4-star all-purpose back Wandale Robinson, a guy capable of assisting Martinez with a majority of the workload.
And if you don’t believe Nebraska can take an enormous leap from Year 1 to Year 2, just remember the immediate success Frost had at UCF. The then-first time head coach led a winless program to six victories in his first season and a perfect 13-0 record, an AAC title and a Peach Bowl win over Auburn the following year.
Why can’t that happen in Lincoln?
More important than Frost’s ability to create buzz and produce a competitive product almost instantly is the foundation he’s constructing for the future. There’s no hard proof that Frost can develop and maintain a successful program over an extended period of time — he just wrapped up his third season as a head coach — but the building blocks of long-term stability are in place.
That might be most apparent with the latest recruiting class. The Huskers landed a top 25 class which ranks fourth in the B1G. Frost has demonstrated the ability to win the battles in his own backyard, as well as poach from other areas.
The largest percentage of Frost’s recruiting class were in-state prospects, receiving five commitments from native Nebraskans. He was also able to secure pledges from six 4-star recruits in the 2019 class, all of which were from different states. Right now, Frost’s latest class consists of 25 players from 16 states, stretching from Washington to Georgia.
Frost is turning Lincoln into the crossroads of college football, and it will soon be one of the sport’s major hubs, right up there with Tuscaloosa, Columbus, Clemson and Norman. While there’s no guarantee Nebraska’s revival will be exactly like the days of Osborne — which included three national championships and an 83.6 win percentage for over two decades — it’s certainly on the cusp of re-establishing itself as a juggernaut for a long, long time.
Eighteen months ago, it was hard to argue against Jones’ point. Nebraska was stuck in a slump of mediocrity with no clear direction of where the program was headed.
A lot has changed in that time. The Huskers are forming an identity and are just beginning their climb to the peak of the mountain. They will arrive at the top sooner rather than later.
Once Nebraska reaches that point, it’s going to hold its place for quite some time.