Even without winning championships or contending for one, Nebraska aren’t a bad football program. They’re simply not an outstanding one, and that can’t be tolerated at Lincoln for too long, as Bo Pelini is one again being put on the hot seat by media and fans, as his promise of turning things around and improving are starting to sound like a broken record.
Tom Osborne is something of a god in Lincoln and in most of the state except for rabid Creighton fans. Everything and everyone has been measured up to his achievements with the program. Almost impossible to live up to. But Pelini, who has a 66-27 record with the school, should have been the one to bring the Cornhuskers back to that place. He hasn’t failed overall in his job, but he hasn’t lived up to the promise.
The last time Nebraska won their conference was in 1999. They haven’t been to a BCS Bowl under Pelini, playing in two Gator Bowls, two Holiday Bowls and two Capital One bowls. The second-tier bowls. His highest ranking at the end of the season has been #14 in 2009. The expectations, even with the difficulties of recruiting that the program is facing, have always been higher. This season seemed to be a turning point, but then came another loss to Wisconsin, followed by a shocker at home against Minnesota.
The four loss thing is an anecdote. The important thing is not winning championships, not coming close to being in contention for the national championship, and constantly losing the big games against the big opponents. This season, 2014, might be the perfect opportunity to check the trend: Nebraska rolled all over the weak ones, only to lose at Michigan State (a narrow, acceptable loss) and then get crushed by Wisconsin and Melvin Gordon. Not for the first time.
It’s not that they don’t beat ranked teams (this season they haven’t). They beat Georgia last season in the bowl game, a #20 Michigan in 2012, a #9 Michigan State in 2011, a #17 Oklahoma State and #7 Missouri in 2010 and a ranked Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona in 2009. It just doesn’t happen at the right time and the right venue, losing three conference championship game since taking charge of the program, including that humiliating 70-31 loss to Wisconsin.
With Nebraska’s history and aspirations, losing four games each season and settling for a mid-tier bowl just isn’t enough. They get blown out too many times since Pelini took over, and especially under John Papuchis as his defensive coordinator, allowing 42.2 points per game in the 15 losses since the beginning of the 2011 season (Papuchis came in 2012). Nebraska are in a division that’s perceived as weak, and yet they still can’t come out of it, and constantly look like they’re light years behind Wisconsin.
It’s no longer about adapting to a new conference or a new head coach bringing in his own players through his recruiting. Nebraska is a program that sees itself in the same line as the best in the SEC, Florida State, Ohio State, USC and others who consider themselves as part of the pillars in college football. A national powerhouse of the past and one of the biggest names in the game, then and still. The standards need to be higher than going 10-4 each season.
Pelini believes he can turn things around, which means going to the next level. Even if they beat Iowa this weekend (humiliated 38-17 last season by them), it’s not going to be a happy season. At best a 10-3 year with another bowl game win, which always improved the mood when going into the offseason.But Pelini has said the same optimistic things a year ago, and the year before that. Maybe he’s being realistic. The more important question is whether or not he’s the man who is capable of taking this program back to better days.