In a season that has been swirling in controversy and disappointment, the Nebraska Cornhuskers may have received a favor from the Wisconsin Badgers during Saturday’s 38-17 home loss.
How could a 21-point home loss three weeks after losing to a MAC team in the same stadium possibly have a silver lining?
Mike Riley is a nice man. I would hate to see him get fired at the end of the season because he is a good person. But his football program is in a tailspin. Things are bad and will only get worse this weekend when the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes roll into town.
Nebraska will be hard-pressed to finish better than 5-7 and the thought of finishing with a losing campaign for the second time in three seasons is mind-boggling to most Husker fans. Riley’s 18-14 record as the NU head coach is certainly nothing to write home about.
The argument is that Riley is trying to work with athletes he didn’t recruit for his system. That could be especially true for Bob Diaco’s new defensive scheme. The fact of the matter is time is running out. From 6-7 to 9-4 (with a season-ending collapse) to 3-3 this year with several more defeats staring the Huskers in the face, the future does not bode well for Riley.
The pieces of the Husker football puzzle are lying on the table just waiting to be put together. The first piece fell into place when Bo Pelini was fired and an “average” coach in Riley replaced him. The name Scott Frost was being bounced around, but with no head coaching experience at the FBS level Frost admitted he was not ready for the job in Lincoln. He went to Central Florida and took an 0-13 team in 2015 to a bowl game in 2016 and that team is currently unbeaten in 2017 and rated in the top 25.
Another piece of the puzzle is hanging dangerously close to the end of the table and could fall on the floor. That is the recruiting puzzle. Nebraska has 11 players committed to play for the Big Red and several others are listing Nebraska as a possibility. Did the loss to Wisconsin shatter that recruiting mojo? Possibly, but if these young people knew they were going to play for a winning and blossoming head coach, not only could things remain status quo, they could actually get much better.
Ironically, Wisconsin provided a very important piece to the puzzle when it battered the Huskers on national television. Had Nebraska won, or even played down to the last minute with the Badgers, Riley could have saved his stay in Lincoln. When the clock ticked off the final seconds of the 38-17 loss, the axe in Lincoln was being taken out and sharpened. Now Ohio State gets to do a little honing and can add yet another piece with a resounding win over the fading Huskers.
With each loss there is a head coach down in Florida who is looking at how those pieces to the puzzle begin to be assembled. Unless there is a major turnaround in the circumstances for the football program in Lincoln, the bashing that Wisconsin subjected Husker Nation to Saturday night could have been a step toward returning the Nebraska football program to greatness. The pieces are falling into place. The puzzle is nearing completion.