What Could Have Been

Nebraska football is going through a rough stretch lately. Actually, rough might be a little too kind. Nebraska has started the 2018 season 0-6, the worst start in program history. These six losses include big-time teams like Troy and Purdue, teams that the Nebraska of old would never dream of losing to, not to mention old rival Colorado. Most Nebraska fans attribute these losses to former head coach Mike Riley. Riley had one of the most forgettable tenures at Nebraska finishing with a 19-19 record. Only winning half of your games is not something that Nebraska has ever strived for and he was let go to bring in former Husker legend Scott Frost. The player, turned coach, came off an undefeated season at the University of Central Florida and Husker Nation had high hopes for this season. Clearly, those high hopes were not realistic after the horrific start. Everywhere Husker football is talked about you hear the same thing, “Just wait till he gets his players”, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and “He was left with an awful team”. All of these things are true. Frost was left in a bad situation, and the expectations for this season were a little high. Hopefully things will change for Nebraska in the near future, but will we ever get back to the 90s’? That is the question that many have been asking, but Nebraska may have already let go of the coach that could have gotten them to the promise land, former Husker head coach Bo Pelini.

Bo Pelini had a love/hate relationship with the Nebraska faithful. Pelini was heard saying explicit words towards the Nebraska fans after coming back to beat Ohio State, attributed to giving up one of the biggest rushing totals in Division One history against Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin, and as his final straw hit a referee with his hat in his last game as the head man at Nebraska. These bad things are what some fans could not let go. Instead of looking at the good that came from Pelini everyone just looked at the bad. We know there were no national championships, or conference championships for that matter. But winning takes time, and Pelini wasn’t given the time he needed.

Let’s start with Pelini’s first season at Nebraska. He finished with a 9-4 record and a bowl game victory over Clemson. 9-4. Most Husker fans would be ecstatic with 9-4 this season, but Frost has started 0-6 and for some reason most of Nebraska is okay with it. Yes, we all know Frost was given a 4-8 team the year before, but Pelini was given an equally bad 5-7 team. And it was a team that gave up 76 points to Kansas. That’s right KANSAS. But Pelini somehow won nine games with that team. He didn’t have his own players, just like Frost today, yet had a way better season. Not that Frost’s team can’t bounce back. Pelini’s team won six of their final seven games in his first season, but as of now, it looks like Pelini started off his career noticeably better. Another thing that makes Pelini look not so bad, is looking at Tom Osborne’s first season. Osborne’s first season ended with a 9-2-1 record. This was the same number of wins as Pelini, given they played one less game. Everyone loves Osborne, but in his first season, he only won nine games. This was not overly impressive given he received a way more skilled team than what Pelini received.

The similarities from Osborne to Pelini are a lot closer than what people may think. In Osborne’s first seven seasons at Nebraska, he finished with a combined 65-18-2 record and four bowl wins. In this stretch Nebraska never outright won a BIG 8 title. If you look at Pelini’s seven years at Nebraska, the record is fairly close. Pelini finished with a combined record of 67-27, (technically 28, but he didn’t coach the bowl game in his final season), with three bowl wins. So, Pelini won about 71 percent of his games and Osborne 78 percent. Not a huge difference, especially considering Nebraska played in the Big 12 under Pelini, which added Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech, who are traditionally pretty solid teams. Also, Pelini and Osborne have a blaring similarity through their first seven seasons. Both coaches never surpassed 10 wins in a season. This is something Pelini received a lot of grief for, never being able to win more than 10 games. Osborne never won over 10 games until his 10th season as the Husker head coach. Pelini was never given the chance to coach for 10 seasons. All the Husker fans can remember is the success of the 90’s and since Pelini didn’t win in his first seven years, they let him go.

It took 22 seasons for Osborne to win a championship, and everyone expected Pelini to win in seven. These expectations show how crazy Nebraska fans can really be. Just sitting down and looking at the facts, it’s clear that Pelini was a good coach, but many would disagree. They will say the same thing every time, “Pelini couldn’t win more than 10 games”. Well, just show them Osborne’s record through his first seven seasons, and that should shut them up. If they still can’t see it, tell them Osborne didn’t win the big one for 22 years. There’s no telling how good Pelini could have been at Nebraska, but now we must hope for the best with Frost. It’s going to be a wild ride, but be patient Husker Nation. If history repeats itself, we may be in for a long wait until we can get back to winning national titles.