We can’t fully move past the horror that is Nebraska Football since 2001 without confronting our demons. To do that, the Corn Nation staff debates which Nebraska football team was worse: 2007 or 2017?
Nate M: My answer is more personal than stats, analytics or records but 2007 was by far worse for me than 2017. I vividly remember the Oklahoma State game in 2007 as I sat in the stands. It was the beginning of the second half and my section was less than half full. I literally felt like my world was crashing around me. Nebraska fans don’t leave. That isn’t who we are. But the quality of “football” was obvious to every single person with a brain.
A few of my friends were at a bar so I thought I might as well go and hang out with them. I walked through the entrance and looked up at the T.V. Oklahoma State scored again. I turned and walked back to my car and went home.
Fast forward to 2017 against Minnesota. I was watching the game on T.V. at home and Minnesota scored again. I laughed. I’ve seen this show before.
“Whatever. I’m just going to take a nap.” So I turned the T.V. off and went to sleep.
Paul: At it’s most basic, the only statistics that matter in football are how many points a team scores, and how many it prevents its opponent from scoring. By those metrics (scoring offense and scoring defense) 2017 was awful...much worse than 2007. When I plot scoring offense and defense on a scatterplot, four distinct groups emerge. 2009 was a bad offense with a national championship caliber defense. 2010 and 2006 we both good, not great teams, 2017 and 2007 are alone at the bottom of the chart for defense, and every other season is stuck in a big group between bad and good.
2007’s defense was less than a FG per game worse than 2017’s, 36.9 to 36.4. On offense, however, 2017 was more than a full TD worse than 2007, 25.7 to 33.4.
I believe that the feeling that 2007 was the worst season of Nebraska football is largely due to how hated Callahan had become and that it occurred only six seasons since Nebraska had played for a National Championship. An extra 10 years to become numb to the reality of Nebraska Football and a general sense that Riley was a likable guy makes 2017 a bit easier to accept. But, by most every important objective measure, 2017 was the worst season of Nebraska football since the 50s.
Just for fun, let’s add Kansas and Alabama into the chart. Draw your own conclusions about the company that 2017 Nebraska is keeping.
Mike: My instinctual response was to say that 2007 was the worst, because, well, I had always accepted that 2007 was the worst Husker football season ever. And somehow in the back of my mind, I kind of put up a mental block that said that 2017 wasn’t real. Maybe it was a coping mechanism. Or maybe it was because I had already moved onto the Scott Frost era. Minnesota hangs a fifty-burger? Oh well, Scott’s coming to clean this up. Iowa scores again? Frost will fix that. 2007 didn’t have that light at the end of the tunnel; I figured that Bo Pelini could be the next guy, but I didn’t know for sure. He would be a first time head coach, it wasn’t the slam dunk that Frost appeared to be.
While I still believe that 2007 Oklahoma State first half was Nebraska’s worst in modern history (38-0 at halftime), some of those ‘07 blowouts were to pretty good teams. Last season, there really wasn’t much of anything that was good, other than second half comeback attempts against Oregon and Penn State. And that Minnesota loss has to be the worst loss for Nebraska this century. Sure, Nebraska lost to Texas Tech (70-10 in 2004) and Ohio State by more (62-3 in 2016), but I could explain how those games got away due to quarterback play. After scoring 54 against Nebraska, Minnesota was shut out the rest of the season, being outscored 70-0. That wasn’t being blown out by good or great team; that was getting the shit kicked out of you by a crappy team.
Nebraska had long given up that day, and frankly, I had given up on Riley at that point. I had moved on, so I was kind of numb to just how bad Nebraska was last season.
Jill: Recency bias is at work here, but 2017 was worse. Losing to a MAC team at home? That’s historically bad. Letting a bad Minnesota team score 50+? That’s unwatchable football. The last half of the season felt like you were watching a beloved pet die and wishing someone would put it out of its misery. Except no one would. And we watched out of some sense of misplaced duty and thought maybe that by sharing the misery and spreading it around it would somehow be less awful. It wasn’t.
Andy: Regardless of the numbers, I’d take 2007 over 2017 every time. 2017’s final weeks were just a steady diet of watching the team lay down and get kicked in the teeth by teams ranging from elite to mediocre. It was one embarrassment after another and that includes leaving in the starters to pad their stats against Penn St’s backups and walk-ons. The surrender-monkey crossed arms, head hung body language that Riley first became famous for in 2015 during BYU’s comebacks was on constant display.
The defense was pathetic in 2007 and the Mizzou, Okie St., Texas A&M blowouts were the final nail in Cally’s coffin, but they finished with a near-upset of Texas, shoot-out losses to Colorado & Kansas and 73-31 ass-whipping of Kansas St that helped punch Ron Prince’s ticket and left Joshy Freeman 0-fer against the team he bailed on. There was talent & hope after 2007. 2017’s end felt like rock bottom until the Frost press conference.
Uglydog56: Thankfully, I was bringing a new reactor critical in 2007, so I missed that season entirely.
2017 though, just had an ugly feel, right from the Arky St game. Then pick-6’s were on discount at the Northern Illinois game. And right after halftime of the Wisconsin game, you could just feel the air go out of the team. That was the end of the season for those kids. How quickly did the team quit in 2007?
Jon: 2017 was worse for one simple reason. I didn’t have any expectations that Bill Callahan was going to figure out how to be a head college football coach. He had a serious character flaw in that when things got bad, he stopped communicating. He didn’t man up and accept responsibility, didn’t take charge. He was the equivalent of a guy who would run and hide under a desk and expect that someone else would make everything better.
Maybe it’s hindsight, or the idea that time heals wounds, but I don’t hold as much against Callahan as I did then.
Mike Riley had no excuse. The guy has been a head coach for a very long time. There was absolutely no reason for him to let a team implode to the point that Nebraska did last season. I don’t care about his “nice guy” demeanor as it appeared to be the character flaw that kept him from being successful. We all have flaws, and we all have blind spots, but someone with Riley’s experience should have been smart enough to understand and compensate for both. He did not.
Hence, 2017 was the worst football team in my lifetime.