You know who would’ve been a fascinating person to spend your Sunday with? The ever-charismatic Kirk Ferentz.
Just after 11:30 a.m., Iowa’s coach got the news that college football’s playoff selection committee had dissed Ohio State in favor of Alabama, mostly because of the Buckeyes’ 31-point loss at Kinnick Stadium. As the pundits put it, giving up 55 at Iowa is a scarlet letter on your season. Ferentz must have had a good laugh.
Just after 2 p.m., Ferentz heard the official announcement that he was spending Christmas in New York City — Iowa faces a very beatable Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27. Ferentz must have had a nice smile.
But in between, a less expected nugget surely popped up on his phone. A quote from 300 miles west, at the opening press conference of new Nebraska coach Scott Frost.
When asked how he will modify his system for the Big Ten, the 42-year-old whippersnapper got cute:
“I’m hoping the Big Ten has to modify their system for us,” Frost said.
Oh, 62-year-old Kirk must have gotten a kick out of that. The past three years, he’s rocked and socked Nebraska like the skinny kid on the playground by reminding the Cornhuskers that Big Ten football is won with big bellies, not with fast feet.
I imagine Ferentz saw the Frost quote — perhaps on his flip phone — scribbled it on a sheet of spiral notebook paper and tacked it to his bulletin board next to his Andy Griffith calendar. To be used appropriately in about 50 weeks.
There’s a culture war coming to the Big Ten West, and the progressive voice — the status quo’s biggest threat — isn’t Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck or Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. It is, rather ironically, the former option wizard at Nebraska.
Scott Frost took Chip Kelly’s track-and-field attack and transformed UCF from 0-12 to 12-0. Now he thinks he can do it again in college football’s most orthodox division, where a second brutish bully, Wisconsin, rules the schoolyard.
After Frost dropped his best sound bite Sunday, I asked him to expand on his ideas. You’ve seen Wisconsin and Iowa, I said. Do you have to do it differently, especially on defense? Frost didn’t hesitate.
“No, we don’t. We gotta get speed in here. I think we already have some of it. We gotta lift harder and get stronger. We should have great guys in the trenches. We gotta get some people that fit our scheme, and that’s gonna take awhile. But I’ve seen it happen in a couple places and I have no doubt that we can do that here.
“If we get the right pieces in place, I know what this offense can do, and I think that’s proven.”
I have little doubt that Nebraska is going to score. The bigger question is what happens on defense.
Saturday in Orlando, UCF’s defense allowed 753 yards to Memphis, one week after South Florida put up 653 on the Knights. Kevin Cosgrove never gave up more than 610 in a game. The most Bob Diaco yielded was 633.
And UCF allowed 1,406 total yards in two weeks? Seriously?
But events in the spread-crazed American Athletic Conference are less relevant than what happened from 2009-15 in the Pac-12 North. That’s the last time we saw a multiyear culture war involving Scott Frost.
Oregon vs. Stanford.
It was speed vs. power; no-huddle shotgun vs. ball-control under center; caramel sundaes vs. vanilla ice cream cones. It was one riveting football game after another.
Take 2012, when top-ranked Oregon was averaging 55 points per game until Stanford came into Autzen Stadium in mid-November and held the Ducks to 14, winning in overtime. Or 2013, when No. 6 Stanford upset second-ranked Oregon, 26-20.
Or 2015, Frost’s last year at Oregon. The Ducks returned the favor, upsetting No. 7 Stanford after the Cardinal failed a game-tying two-point conversion with 10 seconds left. Stanford held a 24-minute edge in time of possession and still lost.
In those seven years, Oregon went 4-3 against Stanford. That’s the kind of back-and-forth fight we should anticipate in the Big Ten West once Frost gets up and running in Lincoln. But don’t ignore the risk of his up-tempo offensive system, which exposes the Blackshirts.
“I think the fundamental question Scott has to decide is can his offense work here,” Makovicka said. “If he believes it can, then I absolutely want him back. ... And if not, does he have to change a little bit? Tweak a little bit for that to work here?”
Why tweak the best offense in college football? The answer had little to do with scoring.
“Sometimes when you run those spread offenses, you don’t necessarily have a physical defense,” Makovicka said.
That’s a common belief in coaching circles. It’s hard for a defense to prepare for Wisconsin or Iowa when it never sees a power play in practice.
Can Frost run his offense on 20-degree days in November when receivers are wearing insulated gloves? Yes. Can he do it while protecting the Blackshirts against those 350-pound offensive tackles in Madison and Iowa City? We’ll see.
But this much is certain: If the Huskers lose this culture war, surprise won’t be the reason. Frost battled Stanford all those years. His defensive coordinator, Erik Chinander, was at Oregon most of those years, too.
And where did Chinander play college football? Iowa.
He was a freshman offensive lineman when Ferentz arrived in 1999. As a senior in 2002, he earned the offensive team leader award after Iowa’s breakout Orange Bowl season.
Now, 16 years later in a strange twist of fate, Chinander’s defense will succeed or fail largely based on stopping rugged running games.
Of course, Chinander doesn’t have to stop Wisconsin and Iowa. He just needs to get the ball back so his quarterback can outscore them.
Football coaching influences through the years? Scott Frost had many — and big names, too
Scott Frost wasn't hurting for big-name mentors through his football playing and coaching career. A look at some of the people who influenced Frost — named head coach at Nebraska on Saturday — along the way.