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How Long Does it Take to Turn Around a Program?

Frost orchestrated a unbelievable turnaround at UCF. Why shouldn’t it happen in Lincoln too?

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The end of the Mike Riley Era occurred Saturday so the inevitable unrealistic expectations for the next program head began percolating to the top almost immediately. I’ll be honest...I’d love to see Scott Frost direct a turnaround in Lincoln the way he took an 0-12 team to 11-0 in two years.

How likely is it that Frost, or anyone else, will take Nebraska to 12-0 (which would obviously guarantee a division championship) before the next Presidential election?

Not very likely, it turns out.

I looked at all 1244 FBS seasons since 2010 and calculated the change in total wins in two seasons.

Of those 1244 seasons, 496, or 40%, had a change between +/- 2 wins. 2.5% had a change of more than +/- 8 wins.

To get to 12-0 , which Wisconsin reached yesterday, and Iowa reached in 2015, FWIW, Nebraska needs to increase 8 wins.

These are the teams that have had a change in total wins of 8 or more in 2 seasons:

Since 2010, 10 teams have improved 8 or more wins in 2 seasons. Of those 10, only 2, Auburn and Colorado, were from Power 5 conferences. The biggest change is, of course, UCF this year.

Gene Chizik took Auburn from 5 wins in 2008 to 14 and a National Championship in 2010. I think that may have had more to do with Cam Newton than Chizik. Auburn was 3-9 two years later.

San Jose State and Colorado have an interesting connection. The were both coached by Mike Macintyre. He seems to have a knack for quick turnarounds, but it’s hard to know if he can sustain them. Even with the turnarounds, his best win percentage was his last year at SJSU at .833 or 12 wins in the WAC.

Idaho is coached by Paul Petrino. While 9 wins at Idaho is astounding, his track record as a HC, all at Idaho, indicates that he won’t keep Idaho at the 9-win level for long.

Marshall, coached by Doc Holliday, has more overall success than others on this list, but after an outstanding season in 2014 his team was 3-9 in 2016.

The moral of the story is that turnarounds happen...but they depend on a complicated confluence of talent, coaching, and good luck. A quick turnaround can be frustratingly short-lived as well.

My recommendations for Husker fans are these:

  1. Be realistic about how much improvement in a year is feasible. 8-win improvements are possible, but they are extremely rare and probably not long lasting.
  2. Be patient when the inevitable regression happens in seasons 3-6 or so.

Nebraska will win again. It will, however, take several years and can be prevented if the fans and administration have unrealistic expectations about the task awaiting Nebraska’s next coaching staff.