If you pay attention to any Nebraska sports media or message board chatter, you’d think Mike Riley has already been relieved of his duties as Nebraska head football coach and Scott Frost will be returning to his alma mater. Amazingly, the Huskers will still be led by Riley this Friday when they take on Illinois. Still, the prospect of Frost leading the Huskers as the head coach has plenty of people excited — understandably so.
Some of the most recognized national college football writers like Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are already setting up the “Prodigal Son” storyline. Frost’s return would surely have fans in a frenzy, especially if he was chosen by an athletic director who is a native son as well, such as Trev Alberts or Dave Rimington if the interim portion of his current title is removed. If Tom Osborne gave his blessing, that’s icing on the cake.
While that may be an exciting prospect, it would ultimately cost Nebraska football far more than the several million dollars required to buy out Riley’s contract. Let’s take a look at the ultimate price the Huskers would pay if the Big Red brass makes this move.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the football program — recruiting — would take a tremendous hit immediately. Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. has made no bones about why he showed his son what Nebraska has to offer. It was because of Riley. Johnson has ushered other recruits to Lincoln for the same reason.
Nebraska’s sudden emphasis on West Coast recruiting (The Calibraska Movement) caused notable members of the current roster such as quarterbacks Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia, wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey, and defensive backs Lamar Jackson and Marquel Dismuke to settle in the Cornhusker State. All of those 4-star recruits were brought in under Riley’s watch.
Currently committed prospects such as Chase Williams and Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles also hail from the Golden State. Every major school in college football wants Bookie. He was a silent commitment for a year after he attended a summer camp at Nebraska as a junior and took an immense shine to both Riley and his wife, Dee.
The Calibraska movement that frustrates Pac-12 coaches, Keyshawn Sr.’s influence (he wears Nebraska gear at every opportunity), the expansion of the Nebraska recruiting footprint — all of it is dead on arrival the very moment Riley is fired. I know what you might be thinking. Forget California, Nebraska can turn to Texas. Devine Ozigbo, Brendan Jaimes and Damien Daniels are all quality names, right?
Nebraska hasn’t often visited the Lone Star State lately. Building bridges again will be insanely difficult. Nearly every Division I school in the state has improved to at least some degree and brought on talented young recruiters who handle every aspect of social media as easily as you blink.
Oklahoma, maybe? The current Nos. 3 and 15 teams in the country reside there. Lincoln Riley’s Sooners won’t be going anywhere for a while thanks to Bob Stoops’ recruits, let alone the ones Riley brings in. Mike Gundy has the Cowboys rolling, having posted 10-3 records over the past two years while opening this season 3-1 with a lone loss being to No. 16 TCU.
The Huskers will battle most of their Big Ten brethren in the Rust Belt. Recruiting in SEC territory, well…you know how that goes.
Let’s say that Frost embraces the grind necessary to recruit to Lincoln despite all that adversity. I put this question out to the Twitterverse — I am truly curious: What is Scott Frost’s 5-star pitch? Not five-heart. What can he tell the best prospects in the country to get them to come to Lincoln? Nobody even offered an attempt.
Part of recruiting is the staff Frost would surround himself with. Would he bring a good chunk of his current roster as Riley did when he made the move, or would he get a blank check to either keep Nebraska’s best or bring in others that are on their level, if not above?
If recruiting and putting together a staff isn’t hard enough, the transition year appears to be a bloodbath. Scott Frost’s Nebraska team wouldn’t feature the triple option and Power I as in so many dreams.
The offense would likely be a combination of what he guided at Oregon combined with a steady run game. He needs mobile quarterbacks for that to work, though. He wouldn’t have one on his depth chart barring a miracle during his transition recruiting class.
As a result, he has two choices. He can either run an offense that would mesh his and Riley’s to make the best use of his remaining offensive personnel’s talents — as his predecessor did with Tommy Armstrong and Co. — or he could try the “square peg-round hole” approach Bill Callahan did. Put good money on the former.
No matter what offense or defense he decides to put on the field, his team will be facing one of the most difficult schedules Nebraska has seen in a long time in year one at the helm. Road trips to Michigan (the Big Ten opener), Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa line the slate. Colorado and Michigan State both visit Lincoln.
Frost’s first year would be hyped more than Tanner Lee was this past offseason (ironically or not), and he would be expected to navigate that deathtrap of a schedule with a respectable record. What will the people who clamored for the 1997 national championship-winning quarterback do if he loses more games than Riley did in his first year?
Well, they will probably point to his lack of experience and say he needs time to learn, get his recruits, etc. But if he’s so unprepared, why would Nebraska hire him in the first place?
Nebraska’s image cannot afford to take another beating for the sake of a coach learning on the job. This wouldn’t be like the Bo Pelini era, either. With the best recruits of the 2018 class bailing and signing elsewhere in December or February, Frost is left with only two full classes of recruits from Riley, essentially two-and-a-half total.
Husker fans would no doubt be thrilled to have Frost as their next head coach when the time comes to choose one. However, if Riley is fired this season and Frost is lured away from UCF after only two years, many Big Red fans either don’t understand that he’ll be in a situation where the deck is immediately stacked against him or simply don’t care. To them, he will somehow prevail.
Then we have to ask ourselves what happens when Nebraska fans finally turn on him. It may take four years, five, seven, or maybe even a decade, but it will happen. In that scenario, Nebraska football will be in a far worse state than today.
Does that sound like a good return on investment?
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