Nebraska football is special. Do not forget that fact.
Even with the changes throughout college football, I can still think of several reasons Nebraska is special. But first I'd like to start off with three reasons Nebraska still stands out from the crowd.
First, Nebraska fans have continue to sell out football games. This has been going on since 1962. That stat continues to blow my mind every time I hear it.
Second, the Huskers have played on Black Friday every single season since 1992. That almost ended this year, but Shawn Eichorst listened to the fans.
Finally, Nebraska fans love to fire football coaches.
We all know the history of the firing of Frank Solich and Bo Pelini. We can hash out why each should or should not have been fired all night long. But what is sad is that people wanted to fire Mike Riley before his first game. Each person had their own reason.
Either it was because Shawn Eichorst, as a “one-man search committee,” hired him. Or it was because he replaced Bo Pelini. Or it was because he was bringing in the same type of offense as Bill Callahan brought to Nebraska. Or it was because he sported a 93-80 record at Oregon State. Or it is because he has the exact opposite temperament of Bo Pelini.
The reasons can go on and on. But it doesn’t take away from the following fact: There is a large vocal segment of the fan base that wanted Mike Riley fired before his introductory press conference in 2014.
Fast forward to today and Mike Riley’s career record at Nebraska currently stands at 16-13. Not good enough. Everybody knows it, including Mike Riley.
College football writers and experts on television like to mention that a new coaching staff's third year is where the rubber meets the road. We should know whether a new coach will succeed by his third year.
This is probably correct as a general blanket statement.
But remember everybody. Nebraska is special. We are different.
The state of Nebraska shares borders with the following states: Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.
David Keynon of Bleacher Report ranked the top 25 states for the 2017 recruiting cycle. Not a single state that borders Nebraska made the top 25. Is there another “elite“ program which is surrounded by near the same number of states that did not make that top 25 list?
That makes Nebraska football pretty special. We stand out.
Our expectations as a fan base is to compete with the big boys. I agree. But we cannot expect to run a football program like the big boys. That three year blanket statement cannot apply to Nebraska.
So does that mean we need to give Mike Riley five years? No. Depending on how the rest of this season goes - he might only get three.
So what needs to change?
Nebraska fans are currently evaluating Mike Riley through the lens of a program that has won five national championships, has had 96 first team All-Americans, three Heisman trophy winners and has the best fan base in college football.
Maybe instead we should evaluate him through the lens that has been Nebraska football over the past 16 years. That lens includes Colorado in 2001, Texas Tech in 2004, Iowa State in 2007, Texas in 2009, Oklahoma in 2010, Wisconsin in 2012, Wisconsin in 2014, now Northern Illinois in 2017 and the best fan base in college football.
After two seasons at Nebraska, Mike Riley fired one of his best friends. Riley realized Mark Banker was not good enough to be the defensive coordinator at Nebraska. So Riley goes out and hires Bob Diaco. If given the opportunity, we could have a top flight defense in the next couple of years.
Now after the first three games of the 2017, Mike Riley has to be looking at Mike Cavanaugh and wondering if he is good enough to be the offensive line coach at Nebraska. If Riley comes to the conclusion that Cavanaugh is not the answer, we know he will do something about it. I would also apply this to Danny Langsdorf and Reggie Davis.
If Bob Diaco is the right answer on the defensive side, then shouldn’t we give Riley ample opportunity to address the offensive side of the ball?
Mike Riley has his faults. He brought too many of his guys from Oregon State to Nebraska and expected that transition to work. But one thing he has succeeded at over the past two plus seasons is that when he chooses to replace a member of the staff, it is usually a substantial upgrade.
Give Riley that opportunity. As a football program, Nebraska could be on the verge of being dominant again. Then again - we could be on the verge of heading back down into the gutter. I get it.
Has any fan base in the country gone through as much as Nebraska fans have in the past 16 years? It has been a constant cycle of expectations and heart break. And usually the heart break happens in front of a national audience.
So maybe we need to try something different than firing the head coach. Maybe we should give Mike Riley, a coach who is willing to make changes, an opportunity to succeed.
The past 16 years have been rough. But just think if Riley actually gets the offensive side of the ball fixed. We might finally be able to climb out of the pit, that is the last 16 years of Nebraska football.
That would be pretty special.