It is officially the football offseason; some teams are celebrating great seasons while others are stuck licking their wounds and mending their broken pride. Regardless of how the 2021 season ended, all 14 Big Ten teams must put it in their rear-view mirror and look forward to the 2022 season. There have been coaching changes, outgoing and incoming transfers, players leaving for the draft, new schemes and new expectations. The offseason allows fans to dream of a successful 2022 campaign, and it is up to each individual program to make that a reality.
While that process has started for the teams, as fans we are beginning to ask the questions that programs need to answer to be successful. So that is exactly what we are going to do at Land-Grant Holy Land; Five Questions for each B1G team to answer this offseason.
Nebraska finished the 2021 season as the best 3-9 program in the country. To some people that may mean something. Despite losing nine games, they never lost a game by more than one score. They were in matchups with a lot of heavy hitters, playing eventual Big Ten Champ Michigan to the wire and having close games against Ohio State and Oklahoma. You could view this season as they are close and just have to get over the hump. Or you could view this as a 3-9 record and the fourth time in four season that the Cornhuskers have not made a bowl game.
For a once storied program that has fired multiple coaches for having a ceiling of 9-3, this is a huge step back. Nebraska has a lot of questions to answer this offseason. These may just be the most obvious ones.
Is Scott Frost the right coach?
Scott Frost was the home run hire. The native son returning to wake up a sleeping giant. After going undefeated and winning a “national championship” at UCF, Scott was the most sought-after coach on the market, and chose Nebraska over Florida. Since the hire, the Cornhuskers have been anything but successful. They have missed a bowl game in all of Frost’s seasons and have not been particularly close. In his four years in Lincoln, Nebraska has finished 4-8, 5-7, 3-6, and 3-9. Frost Is 15-29 at Nebraska, 10-25 in the Big Ten.
Objectively that is a terrible record. Coaches have been fired for less. Yet Frost, largely because of fan support, was retained. He was given the opportunity to take less money on his contract and revamp his staff. At this point everyone, maybe even Scott Frost, knows I think Nebraska made the wrong decision. Four years is enough time to know if something is working or not, but the administration and the fans thought differently. That leads to the most important question: Is Scott Frost the guy?
Was Nebraska a good team who just could not win the close games? Or was them losing an indictment of their coach, their culture, and their talent? Can what ail them be fixed in one offseason or will they be at the bottom of the Big Ten again. Frost came in with huge expectations and he has not met them yet. Nebraska cannot continue down this path. The first question they need to answer this offseason and into the 2022 season is simple: Is Scott Frost the right coach for the Nebraska Cornhuskers?
Who is the QB?
Just like Frost, Adrian Martinez came to Nebraska with outsized expectations. He was a four-star quarterback, ranked as the seventh-best dual threat quarterback and No. 139 overall player in the class of 2018. He committed to the Cornhuskers over offers from Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Alabama. He was supposed to lead the turnaround. He was Scott Frost’s biggest commit in his first year as coach.
Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, he never reached those expectations. He was an immensely talented but turnover prone quarterback who could lose you a game as fast as he puts you in position to win. Martinez will not be the quarterback in 2022. Whether he wanted a fresh start or Frost would not have him back, there will be a new QB for the Cornhuskers.
Scott Frost’s job security hinges, or should hinge, on the success of their quarterback. To that end, Frost and his staff have hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in two transfer quarterbacks to compete for the job. Former Texas starter Casey Thompson joined Nebraska not too long after the season ended, and he was soon followed by former Florida State quarterback Chubba Purdy. Frost and his coaching staff absolutely must get this right. They should be applauded for landing both prospects, but until one of them claims the job there is going to be a massive competition this spring and throughout the summer.
Martinez is no longer apart of the program. He can no longer be the scapegoat. Either the Cornhuskers have found the quarterback of the future who can save Frost’s job, or they have not. Thompson and Purdy are both very talented, so who will be the starter for the 2022 season?
What happens if they do not reach a bowl game?
As previously discussed, Scott Frost has been the coach for four seasons and has not reached a bowl game. The administration has shown faith in him by bringing him back, albeit on a cheaper deal. Yet, the administration owes it to its fans to have a contingency plan.
I imagine there were conversations and expectations set for Frost when he agreed to come back. At a bare minimum, those expectations should have been reaching a bowl game. So, what happens if they do not reach a bowl game? Is the Frost experiment over? Do they fire him and start over? The athletic department needs to answer this question before the season starts. They decided to give Frost another chance, but they cannot sit back and allow a fifth season without a bowl appearance.
What changes can Mark Whipple bring?
One of the biggest changes to the Cornhusker staff was the addition of Mark Whipple. Whipple was the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Panthers. He coached an offense which produced a potential first round draft pick in Kenny Pickett, as well as the Biletnikoff Award winning wide receiver Jordan Addison. Under his watch, Pickett went from a relative unknown to a Heisman trophy finalist.
In 2021, Whipple’s offense was ranked top 10 nationally in total offense and passing offense. They averaged 41.4 points per game, which was third nationally behind only Ohio State and Western Kentucky. If you look up explosive offense in the dictionary, you might see a picture of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Frost and the Cornhuskers are hoping that Whipple can bring that explosive offense to Lincoln.
Whipple will help pick between Purdy and Thompson. Whipple won’t have the luxury of having a Jordan Addison on his roster, but Nebraska did pick up a few transfer wide receivers in Trey Palmer from LSU and wide receiver Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda from New Mexico State as well as running back Deondre Jackson from Texas A&M. In 2021, Nebraska was led by their defense. It will be up to Whipple to change that. If he can do in Lincoln what he did in Pittsburgh, Nebraska may be in for a Michigan State type turnaround and contend in the Big Ten West.
Revamped staff, same Nebraska?
As a part of Frost’s new deal, he had to revamp his coaching staff. We have already talked about the hiring of Whipple as offensive coordinator, but that was one of many hires for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Frost has hired Mikey Joseph from LSU as associate head coach and passing game coordinator. Joseph will be in charge of coaching wide receivers as well. Joseph was a huge hire. He is a former Nebraska quarterback who spent five seasons at LSU. While at LSU, he coached Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrence Marshall. That alone makes it a huge hire, but he is regarded as a high-level recruiter too.
In addition to Joseph, they have added Donovan Raiola from the Chicago Bears to serve as offensive line coach, Bryan Applewhite from TCU to serve as running backs coach, and they promoted Bill Busch from analyst to special team’s coordinator. Frost was given a chance to revamp his staff. He will not be given another. Will this revamped group of coaches bring a new era of Cornhusker football, or will it be the same old Nebraska — a deeply flawed team who cannot win the close games?