LINCOLN — And you thought Bill Moos was kidding.
Well, OK, some of us took it lightly when the Nebraska athletic director was asked last July what his expectations were for Scott Frost’s second year.
Moos said 6-6. Just get to a bowl game, he said.
There were no shortage of rolled eyes. Why the low ball, Moos?
There were national experts predicting Nebraska to win the West Division. Even Frost thought it was low.
But now here we sit. Five games into that second season, Nebraska is 3-2. And there are plenty of Husker fans who would take 6-6 right now and hope for 7-5.
Moos has done his share of hyping the Frost Train. Why would he reverse course now? What did he know?
He couldn’t have known that NU would be without a kicker. But he knew that offensive line wasn’t Big Ten-ready. And the league would be full of weekly obstacles bent on making the Golden Boy earn it. Mostly, he knows that when you’re building something the right way, it doesn’t come quickly.
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That has never been more evident than after last week’s 48-7 loss to Ohio State. Call it a slap to the senses. Reality check. Frost reset, perhaps.
Most Husker fans understand this is a long-term project. But there was also something unsettling about watching Frost and his staff look so helpless on the biggest stage the program has had in years.
What it said, or reminded, was that the young Nebraska coach doesn’t have a magic wand.
In college football, the magic is in the players.
A former Husker told me a few weeks ago that he wished Frost had gone 9-3 in his second year at UCF, not 13-0. The difference would have slowed the hype and expectations, he said.
Interesting point. And maybe. And who’s to say that the hype and expectations have been bad? They create excitement and buzz, something the program has been short on. Expectations, too.
Frost brought a swagger to the job. An aura for a guy in his third year as a coach. He was bulletproof. Folks like Tim Brando, the college football TV vet who is calling Saturday’s game in Lincoln, said Frost was the next Nick Saban.
Then Frost would say things like his team would be really good in the second year, and you better get us now, etc., etc. It might have been a message to recruits, but it might have been real. Frost has never lacked for confidence.
The point is, big expectations followed from a lot of folks. I certainly was in front of that parade.
What’s interesting is that Nebraska is a play or two away from being 4-1, and that met a lot of expectations.
But there’s still that helpless image of Frost last week. And it was a reminder for Husker Nation that this might take awhile.
Frost doesn’t have the offensive line or receiving corps to run his offense. His defense is better, but playmakers and speed are still at a premium. Depth, too.
And no kicker in Year 2? Frost made it look so easy at UCF. And now it’s really hard. This roster flip will take at least four years.
In the meantime, Frost and his staff get to grow up in a hurry. And that’s a good thing.
These guys are smart, but they don’t have all the answers. They’re learning on the run, having to make adjustments every week against a league of big boy coaches.
Heck, to get to 7-5, they’re going to have to coach this team up. Perfect.
Like that old-school I-formation that Frost rolled out last week. Frost has been saving that as an off-speed pitch to keep defenses honest. Imagine that, Tom Osborne’s brilliant offense as the slider, not the fastball.
It worked last week. The drive didn’t finish, but Ohio State’s coaches had to call timeout and were scrambling.
Frost has some innovator in him and that’s exactly what you want to see. But he has to find ways to get his team to play above its roster deficiencies.
You can make the case that this would be easier if Nebraska was in the Big 12. To survive in the Big Ten, you have to have big, rugged offensive and defensive lines. These take time to build.
What’s more, Frost is trying to do what mentor Chip Kelly never did at Oregon: Combine the spread offense with some physical line play. He’s trying to marry two philosophies he grew up with. It’s not like he’s done this before.
These are good things to keep in mind for those of us who have Frost on the fast track to winning here.
Now comes Northwestern, which has a habit of leaving Memorial Stadium with a win. Nebraska has the horses to win — had ’em last year, too — but those horses sometimes get a little wild and sloppy. Frost has a turnover issue on his hands, one he didn’t have at UCF.
Can he fix that on the run? The learning curve continues.
As the first day of the rest of the season begins Saturday, here’s an old saying that’s good to remember.
It’s never as good as you think or as bad as you think.
In this case, Nebraska isn’t as good as the hype but certainly not as helpless as Ohio State made it look.
The answer is somewhere in the middle, somewhere out in the gray-skied hinterlands with Northwestern, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland and Iowa.
Whatever they get, the Huskers will have to earn it. I think that’s what Moos was trying to tell us.
Tom's Tailgate Takes
1. Did Michigan right the ship? I’m not convinced. That was Rutgers. Look out, Jim Harbaugh. Once in a while, Iowa gets sneaky good. Shea Patterson and his receivers could hurt the Hawks, but I love the matchup of Iowa’s defensive front against Patterson. Iowa should have won the West last year. Might the Hawks be a year off? Iowa 21, Michigan 17.
2. TCU is a must-win for Iowa State. The Cyclones have two losses and still have Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State left. The Frogs are rolling (jumping?) and handled Purdue’s offense on the road. Tough assignment, but I’ll go with Brock Purdy and a little desperation.
3. This is the second time in 11 years that Auburn and Florida have met. That’s ridiculous. Who’s in charge of the SEC scheduling, the Big Ten office? There’s been a call to do away with the SEC divisions and go to pods where each of the 14 schools plays three designated rivals each year, then rotates playing the other 10. How would you feel if the Big Ten went to that? If you’re like me, you can’t get enough Maryland and Rutgers.
4. It’s been a long, humbling week in Husker Land, from the Ohio State damage to the suspension of Khalil Davis. What is Scott Frost’s program made of in Year 2? The rest of the season, an important building-block season, begins today. Nebraska needs to start beating some of these West teams at home. They’ll do that, without a Hail Mary. Nebraska 24, Northwestern 14.