LINCOLN — You wonder if Nebraska coach Mike Riley ever gets really ticked off. If he does, now is the time to at least show it to his team.
Transition year or not, multiple injuries or not, marginal recruiting the past three years or not, leftover virus in the heads of the players or not, the fact is the Huskers should never — and I mean never — lose to Illinois and Northwestern in the same season.
If the new coaching staff doesn’t understand those implications, somebody with a sense of history in the athletic department ought to point it out.
Illinois is flat-out bad at football, and has been for a long time. Doesn’t mean there are bad people there or anything like that. It’s just that football hasn’t been the school’s thing.
The Illini have two winning records in conference play in the past 20 years. Their Big Ten success rate the past five seasons is 20 percent. And if you subtract the titanic 14-13 win over Nebraska three weeks ago, it’s 17.6 percent.
Let those numbers burn into your Big Red-loving soul.
As for Northwestern, things have changed a lot since Gary Barnett performed the miracle of taking the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl in the 1995 season. Current coach Pat Fitzgerald — good coach, great guy — has done wonders in difficult circumstances, with hurdles to overcome in recruiting and with facilities.
Still, the Wildcats have lost more games among all FBS schools (651) other than Big Ten brother Indiana (655). And their all-time bowl victory total? Two.
At least Northwestern will get to play in a bowl this season.
The Wildcats clinched eligibility with Saturday’s 30-28 win at Nebraska. Fitzgerald is a 2013 Hail Mary pass away from being 3-0 in Lincoln since the Huskers joined the Big Ten, despite coaching with one arm tied behind his back relative to what Nebraska has going for it.
Nebraska has been to so many bowl games (51) it has trouble housing the trophies. But any need for an addition this season is in doubt. At 3-5, the Huskers must win three of their final four games to qualify.
In the two remaining home games, they will be underdogs — to No. 6 Michigan State on Nov. 7 and to No. 10 Iowa on Nov. 27.
Lose those two, and Nebraska ends up winless in home conference play for the first time in 54 seasons, and without a bowl bid for the third time in 47 years. And NU has five losses before November for the second time in 58 years.
That’s quite a first-year dive in the history books. But as ugly as those numbers are, please stop calling and emailing me that Riley should be fired.
That’s not happening, nor should it. Why? Because he needs time to figure out whether he’s on foot or horseback. Plus, the athletic director who hired Riley — if anybody can find him or remember his name — would have to put a noose around his own neck, too.
So times are tough in Huskerland. What are the solutions?
One minimum standard exists to retain the trust of Nebraska fans. It comes in two simple parts:
» Act like you’ve been coached.
» Play like you care.
Right now, I’m not seeing either often enough. And come Saturdays — the ultimate truth-serum day in college football — trust your eyes. Nebraska, though playing close, doesn’t look close to contending for a conference title.
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