Big Rich Sports Report: Nebraska football: a slippery slope


Richard Rhoden, Sports Editor

I came to the agonizing conclusion on a slippery and downright dangerous ride home from Sioux Falls last weekend.

How many opportunities does someone get to prove that they are capable, only to toss it away and crush a fan base’s hopes and dreams every single year?

I’ve been a fan of Bo Pelini since his defensive coordinator days at Nebraska. I loved the smash mouth attitude and the outlandish intensity on the sideline. It turned some people away. I embraced it.

It became ever so clear on I-29 between Sioux Falls and Vermillion. Bo Pelini is a nine-win coach that cannot and will not win the big game.

He has had two opportunities this season, Michigan State and Wisconsin. A win in either or both games puts this program back to the national level of recognition.

Instead of a win, we are left with disappointment and questions. How? Why? Who is to blame?

No, it isn’t just this season. You can find a game or two from every season under Pelini that this happens, whether the opponent is Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan State or Wisconsin.

You’ll first argue to me that the greatest Nebraskan to ever live, Tom Osborne, had the same struggles for almost 20 seasons before breaking through.

Are we really going to sit there and compare Tom Osborne’s title struggles to Bo Pelini’s big game struggles?

Tom Osborne was the head coach of the Cornhuskers for 25 years, accruing a 255-49-3 record. Lets focus on the 49 losses for a second.

Only nine of those losses were by 20 points or more. So, if we are going to consider 20 points a blowout, in 25 years, Osborne was only “blown out” nine times.

Bo Pelini has been the head coach of the Cornhuskers for seven years now. Pelini has a 66-26 record in those years. Using the same benchmark, having 20 points considered a blowout, Pelini has suffered 10 of those.

It’s not just losing the game, it is losing it in such embarrassing and disgusting fashion.

It also seems like we lose the big games in ways you would only think we would win them: on defense. I saw a graphic on Facebook that showed some of Nebraska’s worst defensive performances, ranked in yards-per-play allowed. Basically, how many yards a play that an offense gets during a game against Nebraska’s hallowed Blackshirts.

There was 26 games on this graphic. The WORST ever was 10.67 yards-per-play, happening against Wisconsin in the dreaded 2012 Big Ten Title Game when the Badgers won 70-31 in one of those big time games Pelini has failed to win. Wisconsin racked up 640 yards, including 539 on the ground.

Just for perspective, the best number on the graphic was 6.73 yards per play against Kansas State in 1998, Frank Solich’s first year.

Out of those 26 games, how many of them was Bo Pelini at the helm?

12. That’s just under half.

This is the reminder that Pelini is this supposed defensive guru that can magically spread his defensive wisdom and all those shall contain the beast inside.

I’m sure you’re going to give me the nine-win cop out, because only Nick Saban at Alabama has done the same thing since Pelini’s hire.

Are you really going to tell me with a straight face that Pelini’s nine wins are anywhere close to the same caliber as Saban’s?

Just look at this season alone: Nebraska’s wins over teams with winning records are defeating Miami (6-4) and Rutgers (6-4). The other wins were over either teams with losing records or McNeese State out of the FCS. Our two losses are to Michigan State and Wisconsin, both 8-2. We have two games left against Minnesota and Iowa, both 7-3.

Alabama, however, has wins over West Virginia (6-4), Florida (5-4), Arkansas (5-5), Texas A&M (7-4), Tennessee (5-5), LSU (7-4) and then top-ranked Mississippi State (9-1). Their only loss coming to Ole Miss, on the road, an 8-2 team. They are yet to play West Carolina (7-4 FCS) and Auburn (7-3).

Does that really stack up? Does Nebraska’s wins really seem even as close as impressive?

Alabama is 2-0 against teams with losing records, while Nebraska is 5-0. Three of those five Nebraska played have to win out just to qualify for a bowl, that requires a 6-6 record.

I came to realize that every season watching Nebraska football is like that drive home from Sioux Falls in the blizzardy conditions.

The first few games are magnificent, building your confidence that you’ll find your way home with no issue whatsoever.

Then you get off the main interstate and start finding tougher competition, and your car isn’t as successful in maneuvering the slippery streets.

Then you come around the bend on a slick spot, find the ditch, and slide across the road until you meet the destination of disappointment.

If you are satisfied with nine wins and slipping up when the pressure builds to the peak, that’s fine with me. Go for another ride with Bo.

I’m getting out and looking for a new ride. One to take me to the promised land.