The Unfathomable Irrelevance of Nebraska Football

Nebraska has not played in a major bowl game in a dozen football seasons.

For someone near my age of 31, that is stunning. For someone older than me, that is unfathomable. For today's college football players, that is routine.

nebraska cat
Nebraska gained some national headlines when Bo Pelini held up a cat before the program's spring game. It was homage to the Faux Bo Pelini Twitter account that is popular with the Husker faithful.

It was cute. It was fun. It was needed. Because who is writing about Nebraska's spring game otherwise?

As I was writing about what success looks like for UConn football is in 2014, I did some research to find if any other team had been hurt more by a BCS appearance. Remember, UConn played in the Fiesta Bowl just three seasons ago. But a confluence of events ruined everything about it.

UConn was the poster child for all that ailed the BCS. They were overmatched. They didn't sell any tickets. The ratings were down. They didn't deserve to be there. Well, two days later, Virginia Tech got smashed by Stanford in an Orange Bowl that no one watched and no one attended. Does anyone bring up the 2011 Orange Bowl?

It was the wrong place at the wrong time for UConn, just like the 2002 Rose Bowl was for Nebraska.

What if Nebraska doesn't get that title game berth they didn't deserve? What if they don't play arguably the greatest college football team in history? What if that season is remembered as the season when Eric Crouch won the Heisman and Nebraska won the Orange Bowl – instead of one that ends in embarrassment?

Nebraska hasn't meant anything nationally since and it's starting to appear that the Nebraska faithful have accepted this.

Bo Pelini has lost four games in each of his six seasons as Nebraska head coach. Tom Osborne never lost four games in his 25 years as head coach. His predecessor, Bob Devaney, lost four games twice in his 11 years, which is equal to the number of national titles he won.

What in the name of Johnny Rodgers is going on here?

As I was growing up, Nebraska played on New Year's Day – that was part of the deal. They played in Orange Bowl six out of seven years in the 1990's, taking a break only to dismantle Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. This was the program in college football. It was the one that all the others were measured against.

It wasn't just like that in the 1990's. For a full four decades, Nebraska was one of the defining brands of college football.

Now? Nebraska is mediocre and irrelevant.

When's the last time Nebraska truly mattered in the national discussion? When was Nebraska considered a powerhouse? When did other teams fear Nebraska?

It boggles my mind that UConn football fans are aghast with our program, just three years removed from a Fiesta Bowl berth. When Nebraska last played in a BCS bowl, UConn was not even a full-time member of major college football!

I do not have any personal insight into the Nebraska football culture but it seems that something is completely amiss. How does Bo Pelini get by with six years of four-loss campaigns when Tom Osborne struggled to completely win over the faithful for 20 years because he only got to Orange Bowl games without winning national titles?

The bar at Nebraska seemed to be set almost unreasonably high, until Tom Osborne broke through and won three national titles in four years. If not for the first Big 12 title game, Nebraska would have played for a national title in five straight seasons.

This streak of dominance didn’t happen in 1977, it happened in 1997. The program should not be irrelevant. Yet it is.

For the life of me, I have no idea why Bo Pelini is still the coach. Nebraska, like Alabama or Notre Dame or Ohio State, just needs the right coach and it will be great again.

Where was Ohio State before Jim Tressel arrived? Alabama before Nick Saban? Oklahoma before Bob Stoops?

The longer the mediocrity continues to linger, the further Nebraska fades into the background. The excuses I've read – that there isn't any local talent, that the competition is tougher, that the game has changed – are the exact same things that permeated through the Notre Dame fanbase for 20 years.

Once you're a blueblood in college football, you're always a blueblood. The reason Notre Dame wasn't winning was because they didn't have the right coach in charge. They had lost for so long that who knows if it could have survived yet another bad hire, but Brian Kelly was the right man for the job. He led them back to relevance. He made them a national story again.

ucla beats nebraska
Bo Pelini is not that guy for Nebraska. If he was, they would be back by now. We have seen time and time again that the right coach can turn a program around -- especially one with the stature of Nebraska – in three seasons. Maybe it takes a fourth. But by the sixth? If you haven't done it by now, what makes you think it will ever happen?

Winning 9 games every year at some places is cause for celebration. If Randy Edsall kept winning 9 games at UConn, we would have built a statue for him. If David Cutcliffe keeps winning 9 games at Duke, they'll rename the stadium after him.

Shouldn't Nebraska football be held to a much, much higher standard?

The last two seasons, any hope for greatness evaporated before fall officially arrived, with September nonconference losses to UCLA. This year, Nebraska must travel to Fresno State before hosting Miami in consecutive weeks before summer closes.

Is there any doubt Nebraska is losing at least one of those games?

Nebraska football is being left behind. It falls beneath Ohio State and Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and those are merely the teams with more national relevance in its own conference.

Nebraska football is now average. That shouldn't be.

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  1. Totally agree. Nerbaska sucks now.


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