That Nebraska's home loss to Minnesota hurt Bo Pelini's support among fans is not open to debate. What isn't fully known, however, is just how deeply that support has eroded.
The indications are that it may be at a point that is even lower than the nadir of November and December 2013.
Using Google search trend data, we can get a good sense of what is on the minds of Husker fans.
The highlighted background indicates the weeks during the college season. Using the search term "Huskers", it's obvious that Husker fans' internet searches follow a predictable pattern. They tend to surge in the first week of the season and then drop significantly as the season progresses. There's a bump in the first week of February which corresponds to national recruit signing day.
*note: Google does not report the absolute number of searches for a given term. The numbers charted are a percentage of the maximum number of searches recorded. The maximum number of searches for "Huskers" occurred prior to the start date of this chart, so that week is given the number 100. Every other week is reported as a percentage of that count. On this chart, the highest recorded number of searches for "Huskers" occurred the week ending 27 Nov 10. Searches that week were 98% of the max recorded.
When we add "Bo Pelini" as a search term we see a different pattern.
The pattern here is a slow buildup in searches and a surge in them towards the end of season. 2012 and 2013 are of interest here, as the patterns are different. The highest recorded number of searches for "Bo Pelini" occurred the week ending 21 Sep 2013. You might recall that was the day that Nebraska was down 14-17 at halftime to South Dakota State, a game in which it surrendered 464 yards. It was also the full week following the UCLA game, in which Nebraska gave up more than 500 yards in a 21-41 home loss. Another peak occurred the week ending 30 Nov 2013, after at 38-17 home loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. What this indicates to me is that the data is reliable, as it corresponds to significant events relating to the search terms.
Things become very interesting when we use the search term "Fire Bo Pelini".
There weren't enough searches for "Fire Bo Pelini" to register prior to 2012, and then 2013 happened. There were three notable spikes for the search in 2013, two corresponding to losses and one to the now infamous TapeGate link is NSFW). What is most revealing, though, is that the search term was completely off the radar until after the Wisconsin loss, at which point it surged past every other week to become ranked 100. Searches for "Fire Bo Pelini" were more than twice any other past week. The truce between Husker fans and Bo Pelini that had held since Shawn Eichorst put an end to the speculation of Pelini's future in Dec 2013 has failed, and failed spectacularly.
Shawn Eichorst isn't going to make a decision about Bo Pelini's future based on Google trend data. But it has to a concern to him how quickly the animus of late 2013 has returned to HuskerNation. Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald captured some of the potential consequences when he asks if the sellout sellout streak would be in danger if there were more home games to be played.
For all the Husker football cornerstones that have been upended in recent times — the nine-win streak, the bowl streak and now 15 years without a conference title — woe be the A.D. under whom the 340-game sellout run stops.
This football season and this head coach have brought us to this point. Between the current states of apathy and anger among fans, how does NU "sell" football if coach Bo Pelini returns? The phone calls and texts I got from friends and contacts of all ages Saturday night tell me it won’t be easy.
Bo Pelini's ongoing employment with the University of Nebraska is a divisive issue that threatens to tear the fabric of unity that Nebraska football enjoys. The evidence shows that the events that led to the toxic environment of 2013 are neither forgiven nor forgotten.
What will Shawn Eichorst do? That is the $5,000,000 question.