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.
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.
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Adrian Martinez is, in short, one of the most talented quarterbacks to roll through Nebraska in many years. And Scott Frost knows it. Click here to read more.
The heart and soul of Nebraska’s defense, Mohamed Barry is perhaps the Huskers' best leader. The run-stuffing linebacker has lacked an elite defensive line in front of him ... until now. Click here to read more.
One of the most valuable transfers in recent Husker history, Darrion Daniels came to campus ready to work and lead. And, by all accounts, he’s done that, immediately becoming one of the top voices for the Husker defense. Click here to read more.
Few players turn and run the way JD Spielman does, and he’s a good returner, too. His health is paramount, and, like a well-tuned sports car, Spielman can’t get too banged up. Click here to read more.
Lamar Jackson has the frame, the length, the speed and the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s best cornerbacks. One of the nation’s best corners, for that matter. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Deontai Williams has little fear in run support and he can cover ground quickly in the pass game, as evidenced by two interceptions last season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska running back Maurice Washington’s sheer gifts are offset by off-the-field issues that hindered his progress since high school and could mean he misses some playing time in 2019. When he’s out there, it’s clear: He can play the game at a high level. Click here to read more.
While he didn’t win every one-on-one battle, Dicaprio Bootle's league-leading pass breakup total indicates he’s one of the better field corners in the Big Ten West, and perhaps the league. Click here to read more.
Brenden Jaimes’ most important job is to protect the backside of quarterback Adrian Martinez, and other than a few hiccups, he has done that well. As a junior, he’s likely to be one of the better tackles in the Big Ten. Click here to read more.
Khalil Davis is poised for a breakout senior season. He helps anchor an experienced defensive line that should be — and needs to be — among the Big Ten’s best in 2019. Click here to read more.
Carlos Davis, who has 25 career starts, has long been one of the more respected Blackshirts among teammates, but now he has the experience to reinforce his reputation. Click here to read more.
Dedrick Mills could have a Devine Ozigbo-like impact on Nebraska’s running game with his physical, up-the-middle style. Talent and opportunity appear to be lining up for the rounded back. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Matt Farniok, the new vocal leader of the offensive line, earned the right to be the one holding others accountable after starting all 12 games at right tackle last season. Click here to read more.
Exactly where JoJo Domann will line up on the field isn’t always obvious. That’s just fine for Nebraska as long as he’s out there. NU’s most versatile defender has his own position name — Cinco. Click here to read more.
The hype is high for Wan'Dale Robinson. And the talent is real. Expect to see him take off right away. Click here to read more.
If the tight end position gets going again at Nebraska, Jack Stoll figures to be a big reason why. While others at his position may have more physical upside or long-term potential, no one offers the same reliability and intangibles. Click here to read more.
Cam Taylor has contributed on all four special teams units and can play safety or nickelback if necessary, as well. The ingredients are there for him to quickly become one of NU’s youngest defensive leaders, if he isn’t already. Click here to read more.
After beginning last season as a backup, Boe Wilson started the last nine games at right guard en route to honorable mention All-Big Ten status. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has had success in the graduate-transfer market under Scott Frost. That trend may continue with Kanawai Noa. Click here to read more.
Perhaps the final piece for Ben Stille is on-field disruption. With a full offseason of strength training, he could be the biggest in-house improvement on the team as a pass rusher and edge setter. Click here to read more.
Here comes Nebraska’s long-term answer at nose tackle. A season to learn under older brother and grad transfer Darrion Daniels won’t hurt for Damion Daniels, and neither will another offseason to build his strength and conditioning. Click here to learn more.
Nebraska's Mike Williams already has the speed, the hands and the understanding of the offense. If he can also be a consistent blocker, his playing time could spike as much as anyone on the team. Click here to read more.
Collin Miller made 17 tackles in 12 games as a reserve. Now, Miller's job is more clearly defined, and whether through ability or attrition, he will get a chance to prove his versatility and the fruits of his hard work. Click here to read more.
For all of Nebraska’s uncertainty at outside linebacker, Tyrin Ferguson represents perhaps the most reliable option when 100 percent. For the senior, though, being at 100 percent isn't always a given. Click here to read more.
Trent Hixson, from Omaha Skutt, got a taste of major college football while appearing in four games last year. Since then, O-line coach Greg Austin describes him as playing with “his hair on fire.” Click here to read more.
In a sense, Dismuke is the last man standing. Now the junior with 44 career tackles in 20 games (one start) is perhaps a favorite to start at safety. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Kade Warner knows the offense, he blocks consistently, and he doesn’t drop passes. The 20-year-old wideout caught 17 balls for 95 yards in nine games last year. Click here to read more.
Noah Vedral, who followed Scott Frost from UCF, is as versed in the offense as any current Husker. If nothing else, he’s a valuable insurance policy for starter Adrian Martinez. Click here to read more.
Alex Davis played all 12 games last year with four starts. Until now, it’s been more about thinking than reacting for the 23-year-old whom teammates call “Ace.” Click here to read more.
Another offseason of strength training and familiarity with Nebraska's scheme gives Caleb Tannor the potential to become one of the team’s most valuable defenders. Click here to read more.
As a redshirt freshman, Austin Allen caught two passes for 54 total yards. The Aurora product will be in a battle with Kurt Rafdal for the second-string tight end spot behind Jack Stoll. Click here to read more.
Inside linebacker Will Honas only appeared in four games last season and racked up 15 tackles, including one for loss. This season he'll have beat out three others for that starting position. Click here to read more.
Miles Jones will line up all over the field. Nebraska’s thin at running back, so there’s a good chance he’ll get a decent load of carries. Click here to read more.
With how often Nebraska will rotate defensive linemen, sophomore Deontre Thomas will see the field as long as he’s healthy. And he may finally be able to contribute to a pass rush with his size and speed off the ball. Click here to read more.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Jaron Woodyard to make an imprint in his senior year. The junior college transfer still presents an opportunity to take the top off a defense, but only if he can find his way onto the field. Click here to read more.
Should he prove he can block and become a consistent option for Adrian Martinez, Andre Hunt could easily become Nebraska's third starting wide receiver. Click here to read more.
Noa Pola-Gates may need to pack on some weight this summer and fall to have a chance at playing right away, but the ceiling for the No. 2 player from the state of Arizona is high. Click here to read more.
The comparison to Dave Rimington by Scott Frost isn’t rubbing away anytime soon for Cameron Jurgens. He has a chance to start in on that legacy this year as the odds-on favorite to be Nebraska’s starting center. Click here to read more.
Kurt Rafdal averaged 16.8 yards per catch, fantastic for a tight end, particularly for a freshman. He gives Adrian Martinez a red-zone option should the NU receiving corps take a while to come along this season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has struggled to keep linemen healthy the past few years, and if one goes down, Christian Gaylord could take over on either side if needed. Click here to read more.
Though young, Braxton Clark is a tall corner who will fit behind Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle. Click here to read more.
Matt Sichterman is a former three-star recruit from Cincinnati. He has put on weight and could move inside to a guard spot if necessary. Click here to read more.
You could argue the position group with the most question marks is running back, making Rahmir Johnson’s presence even more important. He ran for more than 2,300 yards as a senior in high school. Click here to read more.
Barret Pickering was money at the end of last season. As a true freshman, he nailed his final 10 field-goal attempts, including three in the snow against Michigan State for a 9-6 upset win. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Joseph Johnson wears weight on his frame well after a redshirt season, and now he’s needed at inside linebacker, which has a firm alpha in Mohamed Barry and a lot of questions otherwise. Click here to read more.
Watching the tape of Quinton Newsome at safety is like watching a natural at the position. His ceiling as a safety is as high as that of Deontai Williams — who’s bound for a special 2019 himself. Click here to read more.
Isaac Armstrong averaged 43.6 yards per punt — ninth-highest in Husker history — and pinned the opponent inside its own 20 nine times. He can be a weapon for the Huskers this fall. Click here to read more.
The younger brother of starting right tackle Matt Farniok, Will is shorter but possesses many of the same qualities as Matt. Tough, athletic, plays to the whistle. Click here to read more.
In the right situations, Katerian LeGrone can be the kind of big-play guy Cethan Carter used to be for the Huskers. Click here to read more.
Honorable mention: QB Andrew Bunch, RB Wyatt Mazour, P William Pryzstup, DB Jeramiah Stovall, LS Chase Urbach, ILB Jackson Hannah, WR Jamie Nance, WR Darien Chase, QB Luke McCaffrey, DE Chris Walker. Click here for more on the Huskers that received honorable mention.