- For Nebraska, the end of the season—no matter how ugly the final score was—should come as a relief. A new era is about to begin.
It had been a long month—or season—for Nebraska going into Friday’s season finale against Iowa. Coach Mike Riley’s job had been in question for weeks, with daily speculation about his successor and the timing of his termination. When the school fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst in September, Riley’s fate seemed sealed, but new AD Bill Moos was adamant that he’d let his coach play out the year.
For Nebraska, the year ended in a blowout 56–14 loss. The Cornhuskers’ four wins are their fewest since coach Bill Jennings’s team won three in 1961, and after his third season in Lincoln, Riley looked like a coach set to be relieved of his duties. [On Saturday morning, Nebraska made his firing official.] Former coach Bo Pelini was let go three years ago after a 9–4 season—a mark Riley was only able to reach once and never eclipse in his three years at the head of the Huskers. Overall, he went 19–19 in the regular season and 1–1 in bowl games.
For Nebraska, the end of the year should come as a relief. The endless speculation about Riley, who never really seemed to fit in Lincoln, has derailed the season, and the football has been mediocre at best. On Saturday, after taking a 14–14 tie into halftime, the Cornhuskers allowed 505 total yards as Iowa’s offense pulled away, and quarterback Tanner Lee threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two).
For weeks there’s been speculation about UCF coach Scott Frost, a Nebraska alum who quarterbacked the Cornhuskers from 1996 to ’97. Frost is under consideration for the Florida job, but he seems like a close to perfect fit for Nebraska as soon as the job opens. Just as Nebraska’s season was ending on Friday, Frost’s undefeated team edge USF for a spot in the American Athletic Conference title game. With a 49–42 win, the Knights are now 11–0 and poised for a New Year’s Six bowl berth if they beat Memphis next week. In his two seasons in Orlando, Frost took a team that went 0–12 in 2015 to 6–7 last year to perfect in ’17—one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent history.
Regardless of the coach Nebraska lands, it has some significant rebuilding to do. The defense entered Thanksgiving weekend ranked No. 110 in the FBS in scoring, and its offense was No. 76. For a program that demands double-digit wins nearly every year, a team with a sloppy offense and porous defense won’t stand. Riley’s tenure in Lincoln will go down mostly as a forgettable one; even last season’s 9–3 regular season felt like something of a letdown when the Cornhuskers lost their bowl game to an inconsistent Tennessee team—which also fired its coach this month. For Nebraska, it’s time to move on, and with the infrastructure in place in Lincoln and the team’s spot in the Big Ten’s relatively weaker West Division, it won’t take long for the right coach to bring the Huskers back.