Scott Frost

Eyes were drawn to Big Red and Scott Frost when the Husker coach took his turn at Big Ten media day.

CHICAGO — Nebraska went 4-8 last year, right?

You’d never know it by hanging around the Chicago Hilton this week. The world of Big Ten football has overtaken the giant downtown hotel, and a certain coach and team from Lincoln, Nebraska, are stealing headlines.

In one season — one losing season — Scott Frost has performed quite a trick. He has made Nebraska relevant in the Big Ten.

In a preseason poll of Big Ten writers by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Huskers are the favorites to win the wild, wild West Division.

Then, as Big Ten media days opened Thursday, the Plain Dealer released another poll from the league writers.

The premise: With Urban Meyer out of the conference, which Big Ten coach would the writers hire if they were an athletic director looking for a coach?

Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald led the pack with 14 votes.

Second place? Scott Frost, nine votes.

The rest of the voting went like this: Jeff Brohm, 4; James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh, 2; Ryan Day and Mark Dantonio, 1.

Yes, that Dantonio, the guy who has won three Big Ten championships.

Conspicuous by their absence: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who has two Big Ten titles and a bunch of winning seasons in 20 years. And Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, who is 42-12 in four seasons with two West Division titles.

Neither Ferentz nor Chryst may be the best coach in the Big Ten, but to not garner one vote? Let those fan bases chew on that, and strike up another chorus of “Nebraska’s overhyped.”

There may not be a “best coach” in the Big Ten with Meyer on the golf course. Here’s what we do know: Frost is still a shiny new toy for the league — and national — media.

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One 4-8 season, complete with a 0-6 start, can’t take the shine off the boy wonder coach who many think is destined to lift Nebraska back to the heights of college football.

But in Year 2?

The West Division is a Michigan Avenue traffic jam of teams with strengths and flaws, all looking for an edge. Frost went down the list of NU’s question marks Thursday. Finding a center and left guard. Depth on the line and at receiver. Finding a running back. A defense that went backward a lot in 2018.

But a lot of media types think Frost will be the difference-maker for a couple of reasons. He has the best quarterback, Adrian Martinez. And that second year at UCF, where the Knights went 13-0.

“It’s a few things,” said Bruce Feldman, national college football writer for The Athletic. “The Ohio State game, they went toe to toe with them, nothing looked fluky about it.

“And his track record, Year 2 at UCF, they really got it going. And there’s a lot of belief, that if you have a really good quarterback, you got a chance. And they got a really good quarterback. And I just think the division is pretty good, but there’s not a heavyweight.

“He has such a presence that people can say I can buy it, I believe it.”

In the first several months after he was hired at NU, Frost threw out the statement that Nebraska “would be pretty good” in Year 2. A lot of folks made the connection then to the staff’s second year at UCF, when the culture and strength program kicked in, and quarterback McKenzie Milton had the offense mastered.

Frost, however, made it clear Thursday that he’s not interested in making that connection with this Nebraska team.

“We coached a lot of really good kids and really good players in Orlando,” Frost said. “We got a lot of really good kids and really good players in Lincoln.

“Those two teams have nothing to do with one another, and I’m not going to make any comparisons. I love where I am. I’m the coach at Nebraska.

“We’re concerned about this team. I love the progress this team has made. ... We’re better. We’re better than we were a year ago and the rest of it we’re going to have to earn.”

This was a slightly dialed-down Frost on Thursday. A year ago, Frost uttered the now-famous line: “People better get us now ... we’re going to be good.” Then several Big Ten teams took him up on that line.

Reminded about that line Thursday, Frost joked, “I don’t remember saying that directly to the coaches.”

His message this time was more about Nebraska earning its way, and doing that through a conference where every win is hard to get. Frost still exuded a confidence. He’ll never lose that. But it was tempered.

That may be the sign of a coach who doesn’t want the hype machine to weigh heavily on a team still looking for leaders and physical play and covering up weak spots.

“I don’t care who people are picking. I don’t,” Frost said. “Ninety percent of the time, you guys are wrong.”

This is one time he hopes the 10 percent pans out. Make that double for his boss, Athletic Director Bill Moos, who told the Nebraska media, “The hype is good because this is Nebraska. We’ve got a brand, and we’ve got to get it dusted off and back where it belongs.”

Frost has been good for both. There isn’t nearly the eye-rolling or snickers around the league toward Nebraska’s hype as there was in past years. Because the coach has a system and a scheme and a quarterback, and they all work.

Frost makes a good point about 2017 UCF. Different team, different schedule, different chemistry. But part of the comparison works. Frost’s program did kick in that second year. There was a huge jump.

Can it happen this year? Well, if not now ...

“I mean, I don’t know if they can win it,” Feldman said. “But I think they’ll go from four wins to eight wins, and next year they’ll go to 10 or 11 wins. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t get them in the top 15 by next year.”

Just think what they’ll say when Frost has a winning season.

Sports columnist

Tom is The World-Herald's lead sports columnist. Since he started in Omaha in 1991, he's covered just about anything you can imagine. Follow him on Twitter @TomShatelOWH. Phone: 402-444-1025.

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