The sad reality about Nebraska firing Bo Pelini can be split in two: Most schools would kill for having a three of four loss season each year, and that no matter who comes in for him, the odds of doing a lot better aren’t very good.
The changes in the United States and not just the college football scenery make it very difficult for Nebraska to rise to the top of the College Football world again. Their previously annual rivalry game with Oklahoma on Thanksgiving was an excellent recruiting tool. Both teams usually played for the Big 8 title and the national championship. Few games were actually broadcast live nationally these days. Today, even playing against an FCS team can get you national air time. Nebraksa lost one major way of standing out.
The bigger change is probably socially. Black recruits from the top recruiting grounds stayed away from violent, racist of volatile spots. That gave Nebraska an advantage over a lot of other schools that today have no problem getting to the best schools in Florida and the rest of the South. The SEC and SWAC is no longer sanctioned and punished by the NCAA, and once again Nebraska don’t have the advantage they once had over SEC schools.
Playing in the Big Ten these days means money, but not a lot else. Recruits prefer schools that play in pleasant weather. Sun always beats snow for people who grew up in Florida and California. People who grew up in the Northeast also prefer going somewhere warmer. Players in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Michigan? Nebraska have a hard time competing with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. In-state? They have no competition with anyone there, but you can’t build an elite program on players from Omaha.
Bo Pelini lost his job because he lost the big games. He didn’t win the conference title, he never got Nebraska close to the national championship game or even the discussion. He lost to Minnesota at home a week after getting crushed by Wisconsin. That loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game was still ringing in people’s heads when he got routed by Melvin Gordon in 2014. For a school and fan base that still lives in that period between the 1960’s and 1990’s when Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne called the shots, that’s simply unacceptable.
The problem? Nebraska can’t bring in the big names in the sport, because they’re all tied up to better contracts on more successful teams currently. Without that kind of recruiting boost, it might be impossible for them to climb back up from where they are on a consistent basis, regardless of who the next head coach is.