Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football after Week 2 (tickets to the Jayden de Laura Thrill Ride sold separately in Tucson):
First Quarter: Frost Melts
Bringing Scott Frost back for a fifth season at Nebraska (1) was a bad idea from the moment it was conceptualized. Continuing on a vague, hope-over-realism course with a person who had clearly documented he could not get the job done and doomed this 2022 season to exactly the start it has had: 1–2, with both losses coming as a double-digit favorite. Shuffling the staff and hitting the transfer portal wasn’t a plan; it amounted to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Now, Frost is finally out, and the school didn’t even get to save the money its fans had been congratulating themselves on. (Fans rooting for athletic department revenue is one of the more deviously clever tricks College Sports Inc. has played on itself.) His buyout was scheduled to drop to $7.5 million on Oct. 1, but the situation was so bad, Nebraska couldn’t even wait that long.
The choice to hire Frost made perfect sense and carried a load of promise—he was 18-7 at UCF and coming off a 13-0 season; he was a Nebraska hero who understood the program and the state; he had cut his teeth with Chip Kelly at Oregon and coached an entertaining brand of offense.
Then none of it worked. And instead of recognizing that, the Cornhuskers went into denial.
He started 0–6 to begin his Nebraska tenure in 2018, and everyone blamed it on the previous staff leaving Frost nothing to work with. His second season: a 5-7 slog that included no big wins, but athletic director Bill Moos still gave in to the dumbest of all administrative impulses and awarded Frost with an extension that drove up the buyout price. The 2020 COVID pandemic-affected season was a weird disappointment (3-5) and last season was a complete debacle—the Huskers went 3-9 and somehow still stood by their guy.
Now, he’s finally gone with an absolutely cringey record (16-31, worst at Nebraska since Bill Jennings from 1957-’61). It’s even worse upon close inspection: just 10 victories in conference play, despite being in the far easier of the two Big Ten divisions; zero non-conference wins against Power 5 opponents; and a career-killing eight-game losing streak against FBS competition. Georgia Southern on Saturday night was the last straw, but the straw had been piled higher than 100 hay bales by then.
Nebraska now faces a second wake-up call: trying to sell a program of declining prestige without a ready-made ideal candidate like Frost was. It’s never going back to the Tom Osborne days of dominance, but it’s not a flat-out bad job. The place has incredible fan backing, which can be important in the name, image and likeness era—people are likely to invest monetarily as much as they have emotionally, and that can help offset the disadvantages posed by geography and home-state demographics.
So, who would want the job? If Nebraska wants to raid its old conference, there are a few compelling possibilities in the Big 12.
Matt Campbell (2), Iowa State. He’s done one of the hardest things in college football—turning Iowa State into a consistent winner. Campbell has an active streak of five straight winning seasons, which last happened from 1923-’27. He’s a midwestern guy who does most of his recruiting within that area. In his seventh season in Ames, and with the Big 12 fighting to maintain competitive relevance, he could be ready to make a move. He’s also just 42 years old, which means his best years likely are ahead of him.
Lance Leipold (3), Kansas. It took far too long for a Power 5 program to hire Leipold, who was a ridiculous winner at the Division III level and then quickly transitioned to FBS success at Buffalo. The former Frank Solich assistant at Nebraska simply knows how to build solid programs in tough places, as evidenced by the Jayhawks’ 2–0 season start and upset of West Virginia on Saturday. Watching Frost’s teams habitually sabotage themselves is essentially the antithesis of the Leipold experience. He could have a nice run in Lawrence, but what football coach would rather be at Kansas (and in the Big 12) than Nebraska (and the Big Ten)?
Chris Klieman (4), Kansas State. Like Campbell and Leipold, Klieman is a Midwesterner with an established track record of huge success on a lower level. Klieman helped continue the North Dakota State FCS dynasty, and has done good work for the past three-plus seasons at K-State. He might have his best team in Manhattan this year after getting off to an authoritative 2–0 start. Like the two names above him, the financial realities of the Big 12 vs. the Big Ten could add to the attraction of Nebraska.
Plus one from outside the geographic footprint:
Mark Stoops (5), Kentucky. John Calipari says Kentucky is a basketball school. You know what is a football school? Nebraska. If, after 10 overachieving years in Lexington, Stoops wants to experience being the big man on campus, Lincoln offers that opportunity. Nebraska also offers a winnable division, as opposed to ramming your head into the brick wall that is Georgia. Stoops has done monster recruiting work in the Midwest, albeit more in the Michigan and Ohio area than further west. He could be driving up his asking price as we speak with what could be UK’s biggest season in decades, but money cannot be any object for Nebraska at this point.
Smell Something Burning? It’s Your Season Going Up in Flames
That glow you see on the horizon? It’s not the sunrise. It’s a tire fire emanating from several programs that had high hopes but already are in grave danger of burning to the ground just two weeks into the season. Yeah, it’s that bad in a few locales. Here is a Dash Heat Check on where the flames are roaring:
Texas A&M (6). No one has tried harder to money-whip the sport than the Aggies, and the returns continue to be far below investment. The embarrassing loss to Appalachian State on Saturday was a repudiation of their considerable preseason hype, and the entire Jimbo Fisher tenure to date. The coach was given a wildly one-sided contract to leave Florida State, and then A&M doubled down with a four-year extension last year that more than doubled his buyout to a preposterous $95 million. Unless a fuming oil-tycoon booster steps in, they’re likely stuck with Jimbo and his 8-4 records for a while. They’re also stuck with an offense that cannot get untracked—Texas A&M is tied for last in the SEC in scoring, 13th out of 14 in total offense and 12th in rushing offense. And the Aggies haven’t played a league game yet.
Notre Dame (7). Everyone loves coach Marcus Freeman—until they see his on-field product. Losing a 21-point lead in the Fiesta Bowl was disappointing, but it was a fire-drill situation after just taking over the job. Losing a halftime lead at Ohio State was tough, but it was the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe and a competitive game throughout. But losing at home to Marshall to start a career 0-3? There is no redemptive spin for that. None. Gerry Faust didn’t do that. Charlie Weis didn’t do that. No one has ever started 0-3 under the Golden Dome.
Even with major offensive problems—like, everything but at tight end—Notre Dame should be able to beat Marshall on sheer talent and effort alone. The tenacity the Fighting Irish showed against Ohio State wasn’t present against the Thundering Herd, which means the Irish essentially let the Buckeyes beat them twice. That’s Coaching 101: turning the page to the next opponent, preparing sufficiently and delivering maximum effort. Freeman flunked that test.
While a steep learning curve is understandable for a 36-year-old rookie head coach, Notre Dame isn’t a steep-learning-curve kind of job. Whether the school’s rush to promote Freeman was spurred by shock and anger after being dumped by Brian Kelly or listening too much to the players, the decision is under further review by a howling fan base. If the school had been willing to wait a month, it might have landed Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell. Even if it still wanted a quick-turn hire, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck and Iowa State’s Campbell could have been available for the taking.
Freeman might well become the rock-star coach many envision for him, at which point the home loss to Marshall will simply be an early bump in the road. But viewed in the here and now, it’s a very bad early development.
West Virginia (8). Neal Brown started the season with a 17-18 record at WVU, and nothing has gone right since. The Mountaineers lost a spirited Backyard Brawl against rival Pittsburgh, and even though Pitt was the deserving favorite, WVU fans don’t like losing to the Panthers. But following that with a home loss to Kansas is the kind of thing that sends Big 12 fans into apoplexy—even though, as noted above, the Jayhawks are traveling methodically back to respectability. Losing a home game to Kansas goes a long way toward ensuring a losing league record, which would be the fourth in a row for Brown.
The Mountaineers have the worst scoring defense, rushing defense and pass-efficiency defense in the Big 12 after two games. Lapses on that side of the ball are not unexpected when replacing seven starters, but this has become a code-red emergency that Brown and coordinator Jordan Lesley have to figure out.
The entire Big Ten West (9). Did you see the shambles Saturday? And not just Nebraska losing to Georgia Southern. There also was Wisconsin losing at home to Washington State, Northwestern losing at home to Duke, Iowa losing at home to Iowa State. In a mere two weeks, six of the seven teams already have lost (take a bow, 2-0 Minnesota—which has played two chumps).
The division is always in a state of flux, but this is taking it to a new level. Wisconsin is finding ways to lose instead of win (106 yards in penalties, some key turnovers, two missed field goals). Iowa’s offense is an utter horror show (one touchdown and one field goal on the season, with a long scoring drive of 16 yards). Northwestern’s opening win over fellow Big Ten West denizen Nebraska is dramatically losing current.
Once again, it appears the West winner will serve as little more than cannon fodder for the East winner in the Big Ten championship game.
And finally …
A Dash Early Smoke Detector Alert at Alabama (10). That’s right. Don’t let the brand name cover up for all the flaws on display in that rickety victory over Texas on Saturday. Some stats to know: the 15 penalties were the most for a Saban-coached Crimson Tide team; the zero takeaways through two games is not just a Saban-Era first, but the first time at Alabama since at least the 1970s; linebacker Will Anderson, a rare potential defensive Heisman Trophy candidate, has more penalties than tackles for loss.
The Crimson Tide might yet be national championship-level good, but they are light years from that standard right now, with an SEC West schedule to come. They were a shaky road team for much of 2021, and the start to ’22 showed many of the same problems.