Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Nebraska and Scott Frost are sure traveling a long way for a must-win Big Ten game in Week 0

There are a few must-see things in Dublin, Ireland: the Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar Pub, Grafton Street, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle. Take it from me.

What not to do? Go to Ireland’s capital needing a must-win.

That is (just about) the case for Scott Frost. Fate, timing and the schedule have placed Nebraska’s coach in Ireland for the 2022 season opener against Northwestern on Saturday.

His job is on the line. Maybe not right away, but it doesn’t get more depressing than having to schlep across the North Atlantic to lose an opener in Europe to a traditional second-tier Big Ten program.

That makes Nebraska-Northwestern the most significant game of Week 0, laden with more potential calamity than spilled lager on brewery tours.

Frost is embattled no matter whether his passport needed to be updated. Right away. In Dublin. There’s no dancing an Irish jig around it. Northwestern should be a W. It must be a W. Otherwise, it seems less of a kickoff to the season and more a prelude to a departure.

Nebraska hasn’t had many laughers under Frost. The Cornhuskers beat the Wildcats by seven touchdowns last year in Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s the kind of margin the Huskers used to lay on everybody. But talking about what used to be at Nebraska would be as depressing as considering an internationaL on Saturday.

That adds to the uncertainty of what — in another universe — would be a certain win. Nebraska is an 11.5-point favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook, but Frost is only 2-2 against the team picked to finish last in the Big Ten West.

Entering his fifth season at his alma mater, Nebraska’s former national championship quarterback has underachieved mightily, going 15-29. That winning percentage is the second-worst for a Nebraska coach since 1947.

The point is not bury the guy. The head-scratching goes on.

Frost was a rising star under Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich at Oregon. UCF claimed a national championship when Frost went 13-0 in 2017. If there was a slam-dunk hire at Nebraska after all the years of mediocrity, it was Frost.

Then mediocrity turned to outright losing — each of the last four seasons. If there is one constant deficient under Frost, it has been special teams. But at times, there have been breakdowns all over the place.

All nine losses last season were by single digits. That might be a record. Doesn’t matter. It actually was gut-wrenching, if not heart-breaking.

“We were competitive in every game last year,” Frost said. “We had our chances to win. We made a ton of progress as a program from a talent perspective and from a culture perspective. We haven’t gotten it there yet.”

Whether it’s the foreground or background, athletic director Trev Alberts is always there. Judging. It will be up to another former Huskers great to decide whether a mere bowl game, 6-6 or 7-5, is good enough. Whatever the final record, the standard has slipped at Nebraska. Alberts has made it clear he is the captain of this ship going forward.

There was a messy — if minor — NCAA dust-up for which Frost had to answer. He changed every member of the offensive staff but one with two games left in the 2021 season. That’s never a good sign because, sooner or later, there is nowhere else to look but at the head man.

However, veteran offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has Texas quarterback transfer Casey Thompson with whom to work after coaching Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison (Biletnikoff Award winner) for the ACC champions. Ohio State and Michigan are off the schedule, replaced by Indiana and Rutgers. The Huskers could be 3-0 when Oklahoma comes to town on Sept. 17.  

For first time since 2010 and just the fourth time in the last 25 years, every Big Ten head coach returned from a season ago. Frost was one of those. Barely?

What’s most frustrating is not knowing the exact formula for Nebraska to rebound.

“It would be easy if it’s one thing,” Frost said. “It’s a little harder because it’s a little something different in every game.”

Dublin is a great place for culture, friendliness and free finger sandwiches in the pubs during happy hour. It’s a horrible place to lose to Northwestern, perhaps signaling the beginning of the end for a native son … in a faraway land.

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