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No, the Northwestern Game is Not a “Must Win”

While it would be an important win, the story of the 2022 Nebraska football season will not be the written by the end of the Northwestern game.

2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

I know I’m in the minority on this point. In fact, based off of the reaction of my fellow writers here at Corn Nation I might actually be alone.

It is my belief that there is no way we should consider the Northwestern game tomorrow to be a “must win” for this program.

After bringing this up to the other Corn Nation writers I received a range of reactions. It was anywhere between “a loss would indicate that nothing has changed” to the thought that if it “looks ugly that Frost might be fired after game one.”

Nobody interjected to say “Nate, I agree with you.” I am alone on this hill. So I might as well set up my tent and wait to die on this hill.

It all comes back to the fact that if Nebraska loses to Northwestern tomorrow that 11 of the 12 games will have yet to be played.

That means 92% of the season has not been determined by a win or loss to Northwestern. The book on the 2022 season will not have been written after a loss to Northwestern.

To believe so would be creeping into fatalism.

I must concede the point however, that a loss to Northwestern will make more difficult for this season to be considered a success and thus extending Scott Frost’s tenure as head coach at Nebraska.

Nebraska fans are yearning for a string of wins. Yearning for positive momentum for this program. A win tomorrow would give Nebraska exactly that and I want it as much as anybody. If Nebraska starts out 1-0 then it is likely going to be 3-0 heading into Oklahoma. The atmosphere for that game in Lincoln would be intense.

Some have said it might rival the atmosphere from the 2014 Miami game in Lincoln.

Momentum. Belief.

Belief against a longtime rival with a first time head coach and a transfer quarterback in Dillon Gabriel who has played four games against Power Five opponents.

The only Power 5 conference teams that Gabriel played against in his three seasons at UCF were Stanford, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Louisville. He also played against BYU and Boise State. UCF’s record in those games: 3-3.


If Nebraska wins then they start 4-0 with games against Indiana, Rutgers, Purdue and Illinois to follow. To be clear I picked Nebraska to lose to Rutgers and Purdue brings back a ton of starters from a 9-3 team. So no an 8-0 start is nothing to expect at this point. But it is an opportunity.

With that said, positive momentum could put Nebraska at 8-0 heading into the grinder that is waiting for them at the end of the season.

This start is impossible if we lose to Northwestern right? Well obviously 8-0 is impossible but what about 7-1?

What about 6-2?

Can we truly believe that a game in Ireland against an Pat Fitzgerald coached opponent that bounces back every other year would truly ruin any chance for a successful season?

It isn’t difficult to write the story of a successful season if Nebraska starts 0-1.

It starts with the defense. Erik Chinader’s group gave up an average of 22.6 points per game last season. That group has improved every year under his guidance. There is no reason why we shouldn’t expect a level of consistency from that group for this upcoming season. Nebraska doesn’t need greatness from the Blackshirts. There is a concern about the defensive line and stopping the run but that’s for another article.

This fatalistic idea of the “must win” truly leans on the offensive side of the ball right? So lets get to the offense.

The argument that “if we lose to Northwestern that it means nothing has changed” does not hold water at this point in my view.

There has been a tremendous amount of change. Change on the offensive side of the ball. Now whether it’ll prove to be good enough is something we will learn as we go through the season. The final exam for the offense is not to be taken in a game against Northwestern in Ireland.

This is true whether Nebraska wins or loses. The story has yet to be written.

Is it fair to come to a final conclusion for an offense that has a brand new offensive coordinator and a brand new offense after one game? Does that make any sense at all?

What has killed Nebraska during the Scott Frost era?

Terrible special teams and turnovers.

Particularly turnovers at terrible times. We love Adrian Martinez and I hope he is extremely successful at Kansas State and he’ll probably win the Heisman.

But at Nebraska over his four seasons he had 45 touchdown passes. He also had 30 interceptions and 42 fumbles. He lost 28 of those fumbles.

To be extremely fair, the offensive system did him no favors and Nebraska couldn’t find a single dependable running back to take the heat off of Martinez. So Nebraska fired all of the offensive coaches except for one and Frost has given up the play calling duties.

Can we agree that with the exception of Donovan Raiola every single hire was an upgrade on that side of the ball? This includes Scott Frost taking a step back to be in more of a CEO role.

Insert a quarterback in Casey Thompson who put up 48 points against Oklahoma last year. He isn’t the reason why Texas lost. Nebraska put up 16 against that same Sooners team.

New Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple has placed a major emphasis on taking care of the ball. He made the point that most first games are lost more than than they are won. They are lost by turning the ball over and hopefully Nebraska is able to follow through on that fact.

To that point last Sunday at the post-practice media session Casey Thompson said the following:

“But I would say the biggest thing that the experience has helped is just my decision making at practice, my poise in the pocket and being able to take care of the ball. I know for sure I had a low number of turnovers. I think in spring ball I had five turnovers through 15 practices and one of those was a tipped pass. In camp I had four or five and one of those was also a tipped pass that got caught by the defense. So being able to throw four or five interceptions over 18 practices where you are having hundreds of attempts is really good. I like to do that in the season as well. Definitely poise in the pocket and decision making and being smart with the football has been the main things that my game experience has helped.”

Sure seems like the message is getting through. We shall see if the proof is in the pudding as we make our way through the season.

Then there is special teams. We all know it has been an afterthought and a disaster over the past four years under Frost.

For the first time there is an actual special teams coordinator running the show and every practice starts with special teams. It appears to be important for the first time in four years. Add the fact that the skill positions have been upgraded substantially from what it appears.

So yes, things have changed and hopefully they have changed for the better. Now whether Nebraska wins three games or 10 games this season has yet to be determined.

A lot is riding on the game tomorrow. Frost did not take the crew he had the past four season and run it back for season five. He fired friends and essentially gave himself a demotion in his eyes.

So no, a loss to Northwestern would not indicate whether things “have changed.” It is a long season and many opportunities for the offense to get things figured out week by week. This isn’t the same-old same-old Frost team. It looks different and at this point it feels different.

I don’t know what is going to happen this season and neither do you.

Nebraska may end the season 2-10 after losing to Northwestern. The offense could also take the lessons from that loss and implement them going forward and finish the season 7-5 or 8-4. Nebraska could also end the season 3-9 after beating Northwestern. We have no idea.

The story of the 2022 season will not be written after the Northwestern game. Win or lose.