While Huskers’ fans fete Frost, new coach to be all business
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — This is what Nebraska fans have been waiting for since December, some even longer.
Scott Frost’s first game as the Cornhuskers‘ head coach is here. That Akron is the opponent is a footnote. A Saturday night Big Red Rival is going to be held at Memorial Stadium, where the 362nd consecutive sellout crowd will celebrate the return of a homegrown Husker and quarterback of the undefeated 1997 co-national championship team.
The 43-year-old Frost carries the hopes of a fan base demanding a return to national relevance, eventually, but first respectability in the Big Ten.
A protege of Chip Kelly at Oregon, Frost orchestrated the rapid turnaround at Central Florida and was named national coach of the year after the Knights went 13-0 with a Peach Bowl win over Auburn.
On Dec. 2, Frost was announced as the Huskers’ new coach. That was three years late to a significant faction of fans who believed Frost, not Mike Riley, should have been hired in 2015.
Frost clearly understands the gravitas of his return, though he won’t be able to embrace it at kickoff.
“I wish my job allowed me to stop and smell the roses a little more,” he said, “because it’s going to be special running out on the field in front of the home fans again. If I’m doing my players a service, then I’m locked in on game planning, calling the game, and getting our guys ready to play. Hopefully there’s a moment somewhere when I can stop and take it all in. We want our players to be all business and the coaches to be all business as well.”
Akron is coming off a 7-7 season that included an appearance in the Mid-American Conference championship game and 50-3 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton Bowl.
“There are two trains of thought when you open up a season,” Akron coach Terry Bowden said. “You play someone you are maybe favored over so you can make some mistakes and you can ease into the season to get yourself a win and get ready. Or you play someone very, very good and your kids are excited all summer about playing a top team in the nation. That’s kind of what we’ve done this year opening up with Nebraska at Nebraska.”
The Zips have opened against a Power Five opponent two of the previous three years, losing 52-0 at Penn State in 2017 and 41-3 at Oklahoma in 2015. The Huskers are favored by 24 points.
“We’re going to be facing a monumental task against a team with great enthusiasm, electricity and excitement,” Bowden said, “and I’m excited for my players to be a part of that. I also know that could be a very difficult situation.”
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Frost was the Huskers’ quarterback in the teams’ only previous meeting, a 59-14 Nebraska win in the 1997 opener in Lincoln. Frost rushed for a career-high 123 yards and passed for 67 on a day the Huskers rolled up 644 total yards. Nebraska finished the season 13-0 and shared the national title with Michigan.
NEVER DONE THAT
This is the first year since 1972 the Huskers open a season without a quarterback who has taken a snap for Nebraska. Starter Adrian Martinez and third-string Matt Masker are true freshmen. Top backup Andrew Bunch played at the junior-college level.
Nebraska is 5-1 against opponents from the MAC but lost its most recent matchup 21-17 to Northern Illinois in Lincoln last September. That loss dropped the Huskers to 1-2, led to athletic director Shawn Eichorst’s firing five days later and set the tone for a season ending with Riley’s firing.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
This is the first of two “money games” for Akron this season. The Zips will earn $1.17 million for visiting Nebraska and $1.2 million for playing at Northwestern on Sept. 15. They also go against a power-five opponent in Iowa State, but no money changes hands because the Sept. 22 road game is the back end of a home-and-home series.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“I want to see a team that’s going to put out effort no matter what and fight no matter what. Up 21, we need to be playing harder. Down seven, we need to fight harder. Fourth quarters need to be on point. We need to be a physical team. I want to see passion, I want to see togetherness and I want to see a bunch of guys playing for each other.”
— Frost, who inherited a program that in 2017 allowed 50-plus points four times.