By Dan Frasier
Confession time. I’m a gigantic, irrational, ridiculous Nebraska Huskers homer. I refer to the team as “we.” I specifically avoid watching games that I think we will lose because seeing a blowout ruins my weekend. And I, like all the other homers I know, have spent the last few days texting my friends and predicting coach Bo Pelini’s termination.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard the profanity-laced tirade that was recorded two years ago and released shortly after Nebraska’s meltdown against UCLA. Good Coach Bo, who took the reins of Husker Nation in 2008 to much fanfare and billboard leasing, has managed to find himself on a serious hotseat.
My response was immediate, visceral and very real. The defense has sucked for four games, we (see, there I go again) aren’t nationally relevant and our coach thinks the people that have built the longest consecutive home sellout streak in college football are “f*cking fair-weather fans.” FIRE HIM. Tear it down. Run him out of town. Burn something! Isn’t Jim Tressel available!? I’m not making fun of people’s reactions here. I’m telling you what I actually thought.
When listening to the “SVP and Russillo” podcast today I ran smack into that “Nobody knows how good we are!” feeling AGAIN. Van Pelt mentioned that Ryan Russillo is always baffled by Nebraska being ranked in the top 25. While I usually love me some Russillo, I hated his guts at that moment.
With my feelings of anger and frustration at Pelini piquing and one of my favorite broadcasters calmly stating something that my mind couldn’t comprehend, I finally got a grip on myself. I realized that my emotions were driving my thinking and it was time for a little research. So I started digging.
Pelini joined the Huskers in 2008. The team was coming off a five-win season. That year, Nebraska won 10 games, including a Gator Bowl triumph over Clemson. We have won nine games in four of Pelini’s first five seasons; a feat accomplished by only 11 other coaches and four first-time coaches in college football history. Forty-eight wins in his first five season puts Pelini 15th among all coaches in college football history. In 4 of his 5 seasons, Pelini has led the Huskers to at least a share of a conference divisional title, including three conference championship game berths in four years. All of that was done while navigating a change from the Big 12 to the Big 10, and in many cases against extremely difficult competition. In 2012, the Huskers went 10-4 against the fifth-most difficult schedule in the FBS.
While all that was well and good, I remained inconsolable. Only now you could add to it confused and a little lightheaded. Was I advocating breaking up with a girl that I would look back on with regret? (I once dumped a girl because her bra was too pointy; she eventually became the head cheerleader.) Or was I more like an abuse victim? I knew it was time to leave, but then he made my head swim with kind words and apologies.
I still felt like the Huskers were underperforming. Of course, that means they are underperforming based on MY expectations. My expectations were established in the 1980s and confirmed in the 90s – so, yeah, could be a bit out of date. I thought I should dig more.
Depending on the source and the date there are 30 current Huskers in the NFL. (Practice squad and IR guys get counted differently sometimes.) That compares to Alabama with 33, Michigan with 28, Florida with 32, South Carolina with 27 and Florida State with 32. So the team is still landing and/or developing NFL talent, which is good. According the the Bleacher Report power rankings, the talent is still top-flight NFL talent, too. Nebraska is ranked 14th in terms of producing first-round picks. Here are the teams surrounding Nebraska in those power rankings plus their records and winning percentages during the Pelini era:
10th – LSU 51-15 – 77%
11th – Penn State 49-21 – 70%
12th – Florida State 47-20 – 70.1%
13th – Michigan 34-29 – 54%
14th – Nebraska 48-20 – 70.5%
15th – Michigan State 44-22 – 66.6%
16th – UCLA 30-35 – 46%
17th – Auburn 38-26 – 59%
18th – Georgia 46-21 – 68.6%
Whew. So now we have some data. What does it all add up to? Russillo is wrong on this one. Nebraska, over the last few years, has been as good as other perennially ranked teams. They’ve fielded the talent to compete with them and a winning percentage that illustrates an ability to make use of that talent.
But I’m wrong, too. Pelini shouldn’t lose his job. Sure, he had a tirade. He said things two years ago; they reportedly were addressed at the time and don’t warrant getting canned. Neither does the performance of his team. Look down that list: There are some elite coaches represented. Pelini’s first years as a head coach have gone as well as anyone could ask and Nebraska (“we”) will be hard pressed to replace him with a better coach.
The problem is that boosters don’t calmly and objectively look at stats and say, “Yeah, that’s comparatively good;” they just feel. In this situation, I can tell you from experience that acting on feelings alone may lead to making a real bad decision.
About the author: Frasier is an expert on fly fishing for carp. No lie.