Nebraska comes into Beaver Stadium nearing the end of a forgettable season and what looks to be the end of the Mike Riley era. Should Riley get the ugly ax, it would be the fifth coaching change for the Cornhuskers since the end of the Tom Osborne dynasty. For Penn State fans, the 1994 season was an incredible one, but it was Nebraska who was named the National Champion, and many fans will never forget that slight. Since then, so much has changed for both programs, but in 2017, only one seems to be on the right path. We take a look at what has happened and what can be done to get the once proud program back on track.
POST TOM OSBORNE
Replacing a legend is never easy, Tom Osborne's was especially hard because he had won National Championships in 1994, 1995 and again in 1997. After the 1997, Osborne retired and was replaced by Frank Solich. Solich was at Nebraska for six seasons where he won a Big 12 title and played for the 2001 BCS Championship where the Huskers got rolled by Miami 37-14. After the 2003 season, Solich was fired following a 9-3 season and the athletic director at the time, Steve Pederson famously said, "I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity. We won't surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas.''
That was a noble thought, but Pederson did exactly what he was hoping to prevent when he picked Bill Callahan from the NFL over then-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Callahan was a terrible fit at Nebraska where he went 27-22 and was fired after the 2007 season.
In 2008, Peilini got his chance and was named the head coach of the Huskers. In his first three seasons, he complied a 29-12 record and won or tied for the division title in each season.
Move to the Big Ten
As the college football landscape started to change, Nebraska sent shockwaves throughout the land in 2010 when it was announced they would be joining the Big Ten the following year. In their second season, they won the Legends Division, but lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game. After a series of blowups, Pelini was fired after the 2014 season. Mike Riley was named coach and is now in his third season, but his tenure looks to be coming to a close after this season.
Where do the Huskers Go from here?
This is the million dollar question and assuming that Mike Riley is fired, Nebraska faces a critical coaching hire, but then again, aren't they all? The people's choice would be current Central Florida coach Scott Frost, who is in his second season with the Knights, and is currently 9-0 and ranked 15th by the College Football Playoff committee. Unfortunately for Nebraska, there will be plenty of other big name schools challenging for his services. If they miss out on Frost, names like Matt Campbell of Iowa State, Chip Kelly or even Bret Bielema could surface, but it's anyone's guess after that.
Nebraska is still a name program, but the current challenges they have faced since Tom Osborne retired are not going away. Nebraksa isn't exactly in the middle of a recruiting hotbed, and as a member of the Big Ten that has become more evident. Players from places like Texas and other parts of the south that used to flock to Nebraska aren't as easy to get since they are no longer in that conference that plays in those areas. It's not an impossible task to recruit there, but that area is one that will need to vastly improve under a new coach.
When Nebraska joined the Big Ten, it looked like Penn State may have a new conference rival as the misfits that ended up in the storied conference. With the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers and a division realignment, that is no longer the case. Penn State and Nebraska have rich histories, and after the NCAA sanctions it was Penn State who most thought would struggle for years.
That brings us back to the importance of the coaching hire. Bill O'Brien came to Penn State and was able to provide stability that many thought was impossible at that time. When O'Brien left for the NFL, Penn State was no longer perceived as a no-win situation and were able to hire one of the hottest coaching candidates in the country. Penn State found it's footing a season ago and are on the brink of back-to-back 10-win seasons.
Nebraska can just as quickly turn it around in the Big Ten West with the right coach and complete for division and conference championships. It's an interesting parallel to look at from a Penn State perspective, but also a good reminder of how quickly it can all go south. The Big Ten needs a blue-blood program like Nebraska to thrive. In the coming weeks and months, they will likely have a chance to take a step in the right direction and get back on course.