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A CornNation Roundtable: The State of Nebraska Football

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The Huskers are in a tough place. Can they get out of it?

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

We are a little over half way though the season and the outlook is less than stellar. Losses to Oregon, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State has left the fans in a rough place. This wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if this was a first year rebuild, but it’s not.

The Cornhuskers are on year three of the Mike Riley regime. The team under him is 18-15 so far under his tutelage. Not ideal and the remaining schedule could very well mean that we could see overall losing record under his watch by the end of the season.

The athletic director who hired him, Shawn Eichorst, is out. Fired almost a month ago. Replacing him is former Washington State AD Bill Moos. A well liked guy who has been praised for turning around athletic departments.

It’s hard to say what will happen over these next few months and more importantly at the end of the season. Today we will try to answer some of these questions.

Q: What are your thoughts on the season so far?

Nate M: From a purely wins and losses perspective, it has gone almost as expected except for of course Northern Illinois. The unfortunate part however has been the obvious chasm between Nebraska and programs like Wisconsin and Ohio State. I only watched about three or four plays of the Ohio State game because I was busy. From what I heard it sounded like not only were we overwhelmed in regards to talent, but we were overwhelmed in regards to fight. If that is true, then that is an unfortunate reflection on both the coaches and the players.

Cobcast Ryan: This season is as bad as Macklemore’s 3rd album.

Paul: I mentioned in our Corn Nation slack channel that the preseason hype surrounding Lee was approaching President Obama’s pre-inauguration levels. And in 2008, I was saying that Jesus himself could not live up to that kind of hype. After that kind of warmup, the only possibility for Lee was to under perform expectations. Still...I did not see him throwing as almost as many TDs to the other team as to his own.

Andy: Not completely unexpected. I know I said something like 7-5 or 8-4 before the season, but my heart wasn’t really in that. New unknown at QB. Loss of chunk of one of our better receiver corps ever. Same problems & same coach on O-line. New scheme going in on defense. And same head coach with a big heart and a track record of mediocrity. I try to tell myself that boiling over some regularly about the state of things is still better than not giving a rat’s ass.

Mike: So far, we’re trending at the bottom end of what I saw coming. And by now, we all know where this is going. (Well, at least most of us. There are a few holdouts trying to fly the “needs more time” flag that’s in flames.)

Ty: I’m frankly not sure what I expected this year. I really feel like I’ve had only the lowest expectations since Bo’s firing, and when they exceed those (a la last season) I’m very happy! They’ve shown great fight at times (Oregon second half) and looked like utter crap at others (OSU).

Jon: There was more hype coming into the season than any previous season I can remember. When you hype up your yet-to-play quarterback as an “elite NFL talent” and he starts the season by throwing multiple pick sixes it’s not good.

The season’s been a shitshow. You start the season giving a massive yardage because of a passive defensive scheme, while your offense can’t show any consistency and you’re cycling players in and out like you have no idea what you are doing. So far it’s a disaster.

We should’ve expected this given our loss of offensive production from last season and the amount of inexperience that this team has. We all ate the hype like candy and here we are.

Patrick G: This was another “wait and see” season for me as there were a lot of question marks and changes going in. New offense, new QB, young OL, new defensive scheme and coaches. All of these things had me temper most of my expectations. While I didn’t think the team would be world beaters, I didn’t expect things to get as bad as they have in terms of on the field play. I have no clue what is currently going on at 1 Memorial.

Q: What do you expect the rest of the season to be like?

Nate M: The season actually gets easier. Unfortunately it is still going to be really tough to find some wins. Purdue is much better than everybody expected, and there is still the looming probable Penn State blowout left on the schedule. The worst team left on the schedule is probably Minnesota or Northwestern. Then there is Iowa waiting at the end of the year and there is no reason why I should expect us to win that game if we are 3-8 at that point. I could see us going 0-5 the rest of the way.

Cobcast Ryan: I fully expect to lose out until we get to Iowa and then beat the hell out of them.

Paul: I don’t see how this team becomes bowl eligible. Northwestern and Minnesota are probably 65% win probability. Iowa and Purdue are probably 40%, and PSU is maybe 5%. A simple Monte Carlo sim with those numbers gives NU < 20% probability of playing in a crappy bowl game. We’ll beat NwU or Minnesota, Iowa or Purdue, and get destroyed by Penn State for a 5-7 finish.

Andy: After Northern Illinois, I said 4-8. W’s - Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern or Minnesota. L’s - Wiscy, Ohio St, Purdue, Minnesota or Northwestern, Penn St and Iowa. I’m sticking with that.

Mike: ESPN’s FPI shows us as the underdog in every single game the rest of the season. I don’t think that happens, if only because Mike Riley is usually good for one good upset every season. So I’m thinking 4-8...but maybe 5-7, if they can save the chair in Minneapolis against the Goofers.

Ty: No idea. We could win out. We could. We could lose every single game. I’m hoping for 7-5, expecting 5-7. Should beat Minny and Northwestern. Everything else is unlikely. Which team comes to play? Crap. I forgot about Iowa. As everyone should. 6-6. We should beat Iowa.

Jon: Me trying to not drink any alcohol but giving up and doing it anyway only to result in feeling like shit and being angrier at the world than I already am.

Patrick G: Honesty, more of the same. Most likely pull out a couple more wins but that’s about it. We don’t have the talent a team like LSU has to make a quick turnaround.

Q: Did Nebraska do the right thing in firing Shawn Eichorst and why?

Nate M: I have no idea. I’ve heard so many different opinions on this topic. Piecing everything I have heard together I have come to the conclusion that a combination of boosters and President Hank Bounds wanted Eichorst out anyways. So the loss to Northern Illinois was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now that still doesn’t answer whether it was the right thing to do.

I do think he was somewhat tone deaf in regards to Nebraskans and what is important to us. The plan to have a football game in Lincoln on a Friday was terrible. Taking away the Black Friday game was misguided. And setting up layers of bureaucracy between him and coaches was not the way to do things here at Nebraska.

But I do not think the hiring of Mike Riley was a fire-able offense for Shawn Eichorst.

Cobcast Ryan: I don’t know anything really about what makes a good AD. So, I have to go by the look test - My reaction to Shawn Eichorst had been that he’s a smug, asshat who is constantly trying to sell me a car.

Paul: Harvey Perlman hired Eichorst specifically to fire Pelini. He did that, and then turned around and hired not the best coach, but the one least like Pelini. That would be fine if Riley had won, but he hasn’t and that’s all it takes. The AD most important job, after finding and supporting the best football coach, is strategic leadership. When he so badly botched NU’s response to losing the Black Friday ABC game it was an unforgivable failure of strategic leadership. I think Bounds had already decided he needed to go, but that was the catalyst for the actual dismissal. So to answer the question...yes. it was both the right and necessary thing to do.

Andy: The AD can’t be The Invisible Man in Lincoln. Eichorst came to town with that nickname already established and kept on proving it. Other than stating that, I pretty much agree with everything said above. Maybe his ideal position is Asst. AD in charge of something...I don’t know...where he doesn’t actually have to talk to press, players, coaches, fans? Not here of course.

Mike: Clearly. Bo Pelini may have picked the worst language possible, but he was pretty accurate in sizing up Eichorst. Eichorst tried to change his stripes, but in the end, when it became clear how badly he bungled the search for a new football coach, it became clear to University leadership that he couldn’t be trusted to do it again.

Ty: Yes. It just seemed like he was in over his head. A school with the prestige and visibility of Nebraska is not the place to get your feet wet.

Jon: They probably did although I still don’t have to like it. It bothers me the way that we vilify people when we do this. It’s not enough you fired the guy but then you have to burn down every good thing he did.

Patrick G: I was skeptical at first. Though, I had just finished reading “The Energy Bus” and had put in a request to interview him over it for the site so I had a little skin in his employment status.

I’m still no 100% on it as it could have happened at the end of the season. My guess is that things were getting bad enough internally that he had to go. There are a lot of things that go on in the athletic department that we think we know about. However, that usually hits a wall when it meets the truth. I’m sure it will all come out someday.

He is a fairly smart guy and is respected outside of the system so I’m sure he will land on his feet just fine.

Q: Is Bill Moos a good hire and why?

Nate M: I’m going to punt on this one as well. I do want to say that the fact he was a rancher, while makes him more relatable to Nebraskans, really shouldn’t matter. All we want him to do is help build a powerful football program. The rest of the athletic programs are secondary. Sorry.

One of the more popular arguments I have seen for Bill Moos is about all the fundraising he accomplished while at Washington State. That might be a great thing for Washington State, but Nebraska is going to receive $51 million from the Big Ten this year. Money isn’t the issue. The football program is the issue.

With that all said, isn’t it important to note that the new AD was a rancher and his last name is Moos? Yes, I think it is important.

Cobcast Ryan: I feel the same way about Bill Moos as I do about my neighbor - I don’t know the guy.

Paul: From what I’ve read, he has the skills to do the job. He certainly has a more accomplished resume as an AD than Eichorst did. It was a safe hire for certain.

Andy: I hadn’t heard of him before the hire, but that means nothing because I don’t claim to be any kind of Athletic Director stats tracking savant. From what I’ve read, he got Phil Knight to start contributing to Oregon and hired Mike Leach at Washington St. And when he and Knight had a falling out that appeared to cost him job at Oregon, it was because he stood tall for a coach he believed in. It’s not much to go on, I know, but it’s a much better gut feeling than our last hire for this job.

Mike: He clearly wasn’t the guy anybody was thinking of, but considering that he helped mentor TCU’s Chris Del Conte and Alabama’s Greg Byrne early in their careers, he’s not a bad choice. I think we need to defer to our University leaders on this one; they certainly did their due diligence quickly, from what we understand. And clearly, he knows the importance of making a good hire.

Ty: For a lot of reasons, yes. He’s given the fan base and the support a great deal of hope and expectation. He’s led two universities from relative obscurity to the national stage. It’s definitely an upgrade, though not one any of us probably saw coming.

Jon: Of course he’s a great hire – we can have a lot of fun with his name. I should find someone who’s good at Photoshop just so we can come up with moose memes.

Patrick G.: Ask me at the end of the basketball season.

Q: Should Mike Riley be coach of the Huskers next year? Why and why not?

Nate M: Oh man, if people could only see the discussions in our Slack chat room on this subject.

Cobcast Ryan:

Reasons to keep Mike Riley 1) He’s a nice guy 2) Recruiting 3) You shouldn’t fire a coach in his 3rd year. Those are all great reasons to keep him.

Reasons to fire Mike Riley 1) He has never beaten Iowa. 2) He got beat by Purdue. 3) He lost to NIU. 4) He almost lost to Arkansas State. 5) He was embarrassed on national TV by Ohio State. 6) He was embarrassed on National TV by Ohio State. Again. 7) He hired Banker, Hughes, Reed, Langsdorf and Cavanaugh. 8) he’s a lifetime .500 coach. 9) He’s 693 years old. 10) I love Chaos. These are all great reasons to fire him, ask him to retire or trade him back to Oregon State for a couple pairs of Air Jordans.

You make your own decision.

Andy: Any joke I make will just sound mean. No. It’s over. It was over from Day 1.

Mike: Barring Riley upsetting Penn State to finish the season on a 5-0 run, nope. Nebraska has only had one coach have two losing seasons in the last 55 years; the second one was his last. All of the excuses used to justify 2015 no longer apply. Riley is trending downward, and there is no reason to believe that he’s going to turn this around. Riley supporters can’t keep trying to play the talent card in their arguments when he keeps losing to teams with lesser talent (Purdue, Iowa, Northern Illinois, etc.)

Ty: I want to say yes because firing coaches at this rate isn’t a good luck when it comes to trying to get the best of the best. If he wins out, then I think Riley keeps his job at 8-4. Anything less and I think he’s gone. Sadly, I think he knows that, too, so we have to think of that when discussing his coaching decisions.

Jon: Unknown. If they cannot come up with a good fit for the next coach and people turn them down repeatedly then Mike Riley needs to be our coach next year. That’s it. Don’t spew this crap about throwing money at people. The new coach either has to fit or not be hired regardless of where we are now and where we think we’ll be next year.

Paul: Riley is a super nice guy. I’d love to have him over at Thanksgiving. Mostly so he’s not be on the sidelines on Black Friday. And I can disagree with Jon’s assertion that throwing money at this issue is crap. Throwing money at the problem means buying one of the best coaches in America before someone else does. If we don’t do that, we will settle for what’s left rather than going out and getting the best. Nebraska can afford it.

Patrick G.: Yes, and mainly because I don’t think 3 years is enough for any coach. His system is a little more complex that what we are use to and development doesn’t always happen overnight. Though, don’t tell Purdue that.

However, things might have developed to a point where there is no future for him here. Again, we can only go off rumors and guessing on what is really going on in Lincoln. If he is canned I would say the entire system might want to look at a reboot. Think of it as burning a field to get some healthy nitrogen into the soil for some positive growth.

Q: Any remaining thoughts on the season?

Nate M: I hope that Mike Riley goes 5-0 and then Bill Moos still makes the right decision for the program, whatever decision that happens to be.

Cobcast Ryan: The way the next few months are handled will determine if we are destined for mediocrity. Hiring and Firing must be done in a manner that is fair, correct and appropriate. Tom Osborne fired Callahan the right way. Shawn Eichorst fired Bo the wrong way. Full Disclosure: I was a Bo-Liever until he turned on the fans. I do think it’s best that he’s gone. I mean, he did just play a convicted rapist even after Tressel said not to. TRESSEL SAID NOT TO. JIM TRESSEL. In spite of how you feel about Bo, his tenure in his first 3 years was objectively better than Rileys. If only Bo had recruited better. And wasn’t an asshole.

Scott Frost or Chip Kelly will look good in Red.

Paul: This season feels way too much like 2007 to me. I desperately hope that Riley and Co can keep this team together and not lose them like The-Coach-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named did. Riley is done, and I think he and the staff know it. So let’s end this the Nebraska way...by playing hard, winning with class, losing with dignity and dismissing the coaching staff with grace.

Andy: Remember the Kansas St. game during Callahan’s final flame out? We scored 70-something and Ganz threw for like 510 yards. For good measure, we went for it on a 4th & 20 in the 4th quarter and Ganz scrambled for the 1st down. The season was a disaster, but that last little middle finger to Prince and Josh Freeman at least put a few grins on faces as that era came to an end.

That would be nice to do to Iowa.

Mike: Some people think Mike Riley looks like he’s fatigued. If so, I think this becomes remarkably easy as I think he’ll announce his retirement at the end of the season. He’ll go out on his terms, and Nebraska can move on. This would be the idea way for this season to work out, and make the transition as painless as possible.

Ty: Support this program. It’s also not a good look for potential recruits when the stadium’s below half-full in the second half. We want this program to be nationally relevant again? We need to get those great kids to want to come here. We have to make a place they feel like they have to play.

Hate the coach, fine, that’s your prerogative. However, remember, the kids playing are the future of this program. They need our love.

Jon: I want to see our players continue to grow and develop. I want to see Tanner Lee develop into the elite NFL quarterback that he was hyped to be. He deserves it. I want to see JD Spielman become an amazing playmaker. I want to see Mick Stoltenberg do the same. These are still our players regardless of who their coaches next year not. I wish the best for them.

Patrick G: