Shortly after Nebraska lost the Ohio State game by the score of 63-38, the teeth grinding around Husker Nation was audible. How did Nebraska's defensive minded head coach, Bo Pelini, just have one of the school's worst defensive performances in year five of his tenure? With Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Penn State immediately following on the schedule, it's no surprise that the outlook for the season turned grim.
For some Husker fans, this represented a moment where they switched from "wait-and-see" to "Bo's gotta go." This marked an interesting point for those who thought Nebraska might have a rough finish to the season, and miss the Big Ten championship game for the second-season in a row. Believing Nebraska wouldn't be able to reach the title game, and that Bo wouldn't be an attractive candidate for other jobs, would the detractors root against Nebraska, hoping that a bad season and a new Athletic Director could "right" the internal ship?
Fast forward five weeks. Nebraska shares the division lead with Michigan and holds the key tiebreaker. The Huskers have won four in a row, and finished their murderous six-game conference stretch 5-1. All that remains between the Huskers and Indianapolis is lowly Minnesota and Iowa, and even then the Huskers might be able to finish .500 if the Buckeyes defeat their cursed rival Wolverines in "The Game."
On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated's David Miller suggested that if the Auburn Tigers fire head coach Gene Chizik, they should look to Nebraska skipper Bo Pelini to stabilize the Tiger program. Miller suggested that "observers" have said Pelini desires a bigger job and would strongly consider returning to the SEC (Pelini was defensive coordinator for three years at LSU prior to becoming head coach at Nebraska).
In a strange way, those same detractors of Coach Pelini's may now be his biggest fans. Their arguments haven't changed much. They believe Bo's teams are undisciplined, committing too many penalties and turnovers. They believe the deficiencies on the roster are Pelini's fault, given that this is year five of his program, and question both his recruiting acumen, strategy and work ethic. They howl about cronyism and favoritism both in staff choices and on the roster itself.
Six weeks ago, those detractors quietly (or in some cases, not so quietly) rooted for the wheels to come off. They looked at 2013 and 2014 as years where Bo couldn't possibly do poorly enough to be fired, due to Nebraska's immensely easier conference schedule. Now, after the Comeback Kids have surged into the driver's seat of the conference on the heels of four double-digit second-half come-from-behind Big Ten victories, the detractors have only one hope: just win.
If Bo Pelini manages to win the conference championship this year (and beating a seemingly surging Wisconsin team for a second time on a neutral field will not be a sure thing) - he may find himself to be in demand. Given the high amount of job openings this season, a 50-18 Bo Pelini coming off the heels of a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth would be a hot candidate on the market.
From Bo's position, this might make sense. The flirtation with Miami was well-documented and shows that Bo doesn't seem to be completely wedded to the Nebraska job. He also now has a new boss in Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, and certainly realizes he isn't Eichorst's guy. Furthermore, Bo must realize that Eichorst IS Chancellor Harvey Perlman's guy, and after that fateful Texas A&M game and public chastising of Bo by the Chancellor, there isn't much love lost there.
Given the recruiting classes both Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer are bringing in, Pelini may realize that despite the easy 2013 and 2014 schedules, he may not be able to win another Big Ten Championship in the immediate future with some of Nebraska's roster deficiencies and (still unmet) needs for next season. In that regard, he could believe his stock won't be much higher than it will after this season.
On the flip side, Bo does have a pretty great thing going for himself in Lincoln. If he wins Nebraska's first conference title since 1999, he'll immediately see his job approval numbers shoot up. The schedule gets remarkably easier in 2013 and 2014, and he returns Senior QB Taylor Martinez in 2013. If Nebraska can get some help on the defensive line in the form of JUCOs, replace its tight ends and safeties as well as LB Will Compton, it could be a strong unit.
Regardless of which side of the Bo-fence you're on (pun intended), everyone is rooting for Nebraska to bring home the conference championship. The question is, if the Huskers do, what will Pelini do next?