Frost plans to mix old with new in bid to bring back Huskers
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and Mike Riley have come and gone the last 14 years, none able to return Nebraska to its traditional place in the college football hierarchy.
Enter Scott Frost, the back-to-the-future hire hailed from border to border in a state where football is the year-round passion.
The hottest coach in America came home in December and announced he would return the program to its roots by bringing back much of the master plan Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne devised to pile up wins at a dizzying rate from the 1960s through the ’90s. It was just what the fans longed to hear after watching the finesse offenses and often poorly coached defenses fail to produce championships under the previous three staffs.
Frost, quarterback of the 1997 team that won a share of the national title, was a product of the system that emphasized toughness, player development and unity of purpose to offset inherent disadvantages of a low-population area with no natural recruiting base.
The 43-year-old Frost adds his own flair that evolved from his days working under Chip Kelly at Oregon — notably the no-huddle, spread-option offense that led the nation in scoring as his Central Florida Knights went 13-0 in 2017.
“Nebraska people are hungry for it,” Frost said. “They’re excited to have a program they can be proud of again, a winning program. There is some pressure that goes along with that. We’re carrying the hopes of a lot of people, really the whole state of Nebraska, on our shoulders. You can’t think about that.
“All we can think about is trying to use the process and formula I’ve seen work before and plug it in and be patient but be diligent in making it work. If you get wrapped up in some of the pressure that comes along with being home, it probably can overwhelm you.”
Frost and his assistants famously inherited a winless UCF team and went 6-7 in 2016 before going unbeaten with a bowl win over Auburn last season. Few expect Frost to have such rapid and dramatic success in his first Power Five head coaching job.
The Cornhuskers were 4-8 under Riley last season, and their defense gave up 54 or more points in four games. This year’s offense will be led by a quarterback who’ll go into the opener having never taken a snap in a college game. The defense returns veteran players, but its success will depend on how a number of unproven newcomers perform.
Time is on Frost’s side, Osborne said. Frost’s contract pays him $35 million over seven years.
“I do believe Scott has a longer runway here than he would most anyplace else because people know him, they trust him,” Osborne said. “He’s sort of one of ours, so to speak.”
QB QUESTION: The quarterback competition is down to freshman Adrian Martinez and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia, QBs coach Mario Verduzco said, with sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch in a backup role. Martinez, the prize of the 2018 recruiting class, is bidding to become the first true freshman to start an opener for Nebraska.
DYNAMIC DUO: Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman head one of the Big Ten’s deepest receiving corps. Morgan has at least one catch in 26 straight games and is coming off a season in which he had 61 receptions for a single-season school-record 986 yards. His 10 TD catches were second-most in the conference. Spielman set school freshman records with 55 catches for 830 yards and 1,572 all-purpose yards.
RUNNING BACKS GALORE: The top four running backs return, but newcomers Greg Bell and Maurice Washington are getting most of the attention. Bell was a first-team junior college All-American two straight years. Washington, a four-star recruit who played at Trinity Christian Academy in Texas, was the MVP in the Under Armour All-America Game. A late academic qualifier, he has wasted no time making an impression on the practice field. “I’d say to this point he’s better than what I expected,” Frost said.
CONCERNS ON DEFENSE: The Huskers had one of the worst defenses in the nation last season. They’ll remain in a 3-4 base alignment, but new coordinator Erik Chinander’s scheme demands more aggressive play up front and uses more press coverage in the secondary. There’s depth on the line and excitement about newcomers Will Honas and Breon Dixon at linebacker. The pass defense stands to improve with the arrival of freshman cornerback Cam Taylor and newcomers at safety.
WHAT LIES AHEAD: The Huskers open Sept. 1 at home against Akron in what should be their easiest game before November. The Big Ten road schedule is grueling. A 6-6 regular season plus a bowl game is a reasonable expectation.