The 3-2-1: Year-end thoughts on Nebraska Athletics
football Edit

The 3-2-1: Year-end thoughts on Nebraska Athletics

We put a final wrap on the Husker sports year and more in our final 3-2-1 for 2021.

Scott Frost and Trev Alberts have been on the job together now for nearly six months.
Scott Frost and Trev Alberts have been on the job together now for nearly six months. (Sean Callahan)

THREE THINGS WE LEARNED THIS YEAR 

1 - Pain and more pain

If there is one word to describe what being a Husker fan was like in 2021, "pain" is what best comes to mind.

Husker fans have been tested over the last 20 years quite a bit, but they've faced nothing like we've seen this season. NU seemingly had a chance to beat three teams playing in New Years Six Bowl games late in the fourth quarter and came up short.

If there was a new way to lose a football game, Nebraska figured it out in 2021.

This tested Nebraska fans unlike any other season and, to be honest, the most remarkable thing about 2021 was the fan base still filled Memorial Stadium.

In fact, one broker I spoke with said the final game against Iowa was the hottest ticket for an NU home game, arguably since Oregon back in 2016.

I think there has always been this narrative that we'll see "tons of empty seats" in Memorial Stadium, but it just hasn't happened. It could obviously get to that point, but the will of this fan base and how they continued to come out to support a 3-9 football team should not be taken lightly.

I had one outsider in the football world tell me you wouldn't see a crowd as we saw for the Iowa game anywhere in the world, and I truly believe that.

2 - John Cook remains the top-dog on campus

Something else we learned in 2021 is volleyball coach John Cook remains the top-dog on campus. Cook is paid $675,000 before bonuses, making him the highest-paid women's coach on campus.

Could Cook become the first million-dollar-a-year coach in volleyball? He's getting awfully close to that.

Cook has figured out a way to capture this state. He is to young girls in our state right now what Nebraska football was back in the 1990s to young boys. Every little girl in the state dreams of playing for the Huskers.

Cook's influence has helped create a club volleyball system in this state that has benefited all levels from Division I down to NAIA. Nebraska is pound-for-pound the best volleyball state in America in terms of producing Division I players and just the overall support the sport receives.

At last check, Nebraska volleyball is one of just three women's sports teams (pre-Covid) that makes a revenue.

We've seen a lot of great coaching jobs from Cook, but you could argue this year was as impressive as any. I'd also argue his first national championship team in 2000 that finished 34-0 would be up there as well. That team was only taken to five sets three times and they were not a preseason pick to win the national championship, playing without All-American Nancy Metcalf (Meendering).

3 - Trev Alberts had had more than an interesting first six months on the job

When Trev Alberts took over as Nebraska's Athletic Director in July, I'm sure he had an idea what he was walking into, but my guess is this job is even much more complex than he could've thought.

Alberts has been very present, though, since taking over. You see him at everything, as he truly has shown his support to every sports program on campus.

However, everything he'll be judged on surrounds the success of football and men's basketball.

This November Alberts was faced with a difficult situation on what to do about NU's football team that suffered their fourth-consecutive losing season in 2021 under Frost. Alberts chose to punt and renegotiate Frost's contract, vs. making a coaching move in the craziest carousel we've seen in the sport's history, instead of paying out Frost a $20 million buyout.

He now may face a difficult decision about the direction of the men's basketball program under Fred Hoiberg, as they may not be a favorite for any of their remaining Big Ten games on the schedule.

Oh, and did I mention Alberts will face another uphill battle to preserve NU's current 382-game sellout streak. He had to get creative to salvage the streak this year. Can the streak make it another year?

TWO QUESTIONS HEADING INTO 2022

1 - What difference can a new QB and coordinator make for Nebraska football?

I think the million-dollar question for the 2022 season is what difference will Mark Whipple and the addition of a new quarterback make?

How different of a coach will Frost be with a new quarterback and coach running his offense? Over the last four years, Frost more or less ran the offense. At this level of football, it's extremely difficult to be the head coach and run the offense.

Having a proven coach now in Whipple to lean on will be the story of this season. Also, how Whipple and Frost marry their offensive systems together will be interesting to watch. One thing I'm not expecting to see is very many - if any - open practice opportunities, as Frost will probably keep a tight lid on everything they are doing on offense.

2 - What will Scott Frost's coaching staff look like?

I think, right now, things are coming together nicely for Frost. With the departure of Tony Tuioti, that really makes this staff rebuild a lot easier. Mike Dawson can now become the "defensive front coach," and Bill Busch can take over special teams and assist in the secondary.

Now Frost can go out and get a strong running back coach to step in and complete this staff. With Busch and Mickey Joseph coming in, Frost has already upgraded his recruiting operation quite a bit just based on their previous track records.

Nebraska will open 20222 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin aginst Northwestern.
Nebraska will open 20222 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin aginst Northwestern. (Casey Fritton)

ONE PREDICTION: A 3-0 start to 2022

I'll make this prediction right now. Nebraska will open up the 2022 season 3-0 and, quite frankly, if they aren't 3-0 that will be a major disappointment.

NU opens against Northwestern (3-9), FCS North Dakota (5-6) and Georgia Southern (3-9). It's a similar schedule to what the Huskers opened up 2021 with, but the Wildcats are below Illinois, UND is a step up from Fordham, and Georgia Southern is a big step down from Buffalo.

I predict 3-0 will happen and, if it doesn't happen, it will obviously take this season down a rough road out of the gates. You might also snicker at this prediction, but the Huskers have not won three games in a row or started 3-0 since 2016.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:45 am and 5:05 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap-Tuesday's at 7 pm.