Steven M. Sipple: Entreating football gods for help understanding NU football’s predicament

Nebraska coach Scott Frost talks with his players during a first-half timeout against Iowa last November at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Sometimes Nebraska football seems like a lot to digest.

Scott Frost arrived at NU as the savior. The can’t-miss coach. The misery was over. Or so Husker fans thought. 

Frost is 12-20 after three seasons. His quarterback is calling 2021 “a make or break it year.” Adrian Martinez, a fourth-year junior, is probably talking about himself in a program-issued video released Saturday. But it feels a bit that way for Frost’s program as well.

This situation isn’t what Husker fans imagined in Year Four. Yes, a lot to digest. Maybe it makes sense to seek answers from the football gods, or a spokesman for the football gods. I imagine the spokesman to be a combination of Mike Leach and Bobby Knight. A male with a dry wit. He can be blunt, sometimes a bit inappropriate.

Let’s see what the football gods’ spokesman (FGS) thinks. 

Sipple: I like to compare Frost to a pilot of a spiraling airplane. It’s going to be immensely intriguing to see if he can pull the plane out of the spiral and set it roaring in the right direction. What do you think of the analogy?

FGS: I think you’re being a bit of a drama queen. 

Sipple: Excuse me?

FGS: To a certain extent, you have to trust Frost. You have to give him room to work. He clearly knew what he was doing at UCF. Nobody goes 13-0 by accident. You also have to trust Erik Chinander. His defenders trust him. Otherwise, all those veterans wouldn’t have returned for another season. I mean, there are literally seniors on defense — namely, safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke — who have bachelor’s degrees, young kids and are working on their master’s degrees. You have a fourth-year starter at quarterback who seems to be operating with ample urgency. But watch the special teams closely. That’ll tell you plenty about the program’s overall health, and perhaps its future.

Sipple: Wait a minute. Why do you say that?

FGS: If you’re sizing up any organization’s culture, or buy-in, you look immediately toward areas where people don’t get much credit for their work. You look to the dirty work. If an organization attacks those tasks enthusiastically and successfully, it indicates strength in culture. It’s indicative of a strong program. We’re watching that part closely from far above. 

Sipple: You’re not helping Nebraska fans’ confidence in Frost all that much. Nebraska’s been terrible on special teams almost since the moment he arrived on campus.

FGS: Relax, Mr. Dramatic. He made changes this year. The coaching staff seems to recognize the urgency in getting that part fixed. Let’s see what happens.

Sipple: OK, but this stuff is all sort of confusing to me sometimes. For instance, I read some quotes this week from a high school receiver in Orlando, Florida. He verbally committed to Nebraska in part because he said the coaches told him they wanted him to come to NU “so we could air it out.” But what about the narrative of Frost focusing on the power running game? Fans want Markese Stepp to be the real deal. Please tell me Stepp can stay healthy and be a consistent power back. 

FGS: Why do you overanalyze everything? You fixate on minutiae. A lot of you Nebraska media/fans do that. I’ve noticed that from way up here in the clouds. It’s annoying. Calm down. Don’t you remember Mario Verduzco telling you that a strength of Frost’s offense is the ability to beat defenses via both the ground and air? I remember Mario saying that. Why can’t you? C’mon, drama queen.

Sipple: Wow. Wow. You can’t help yourself, can you? Admit it. Frost’s offenses here have been largely ineffective. His play-calling is confusing at times. He’s seemingly lost his touch. Saying that isn’t being overly dramatic. It’s being real. And what about this Oklahoma matter? Was Frost/Nebraska ducking the Sooners? What about his “desire to excel, no fear of failure” mantra?

FGS: Unlike yourself, a head coach must think strategically. He must consider the so-called big picture. You keep mentioning Frost’s 12-20 record. You mention it incessantly. In every article. Well, his team needs confidence, and nothing builds confidence like winning. If Frost gave thought to replacing the Oklahoma road game with an easier home game in September, he no doubt was thinking of ways to inject confidence into the team. Three road games out of the first four is a tough draw, especially for a program trying to get some wind under its wings. Think about it this way: Bill Snyder’s in the College Football Hall of Fame and his nonconference schedules often were lousy. Nobody says anything about it now. 

Sipple: Why do you make this personal with me? Mr. Dramatic? Really? You’re supposed to be a football god, considerate and nonjudgmental.

FGS: I’m only a spokesman for the gods, not an actual god.  

Sipple: Whatever. I have a theory. When Frost was hired, Nebraska fans were overjoyed. They spoke of giving Frost a long runway. A real long runway. Do you think it’s possible Frost and his staff perhaps subconsciously basked in the glow of fans’ adulation and didn’t always coach with the sense of urgency and attention to detail? Then, the pandemic hit and made last season disjointed and weird. And now, here we are. Many NU fans are demanding discernible progress (read: bowl game at the minimum), or else.

FGS: That’s not a bad theory, especially considering NU assistant coach Sean Beckton’s assessment last week of last season’s special-teams coaching: “I don’t think as a collective staff we did a great job of assisting and doing our job,” he said. The football gods scratched their heads over that one. 

Sipple: Bo Pelini once told me that if Nebraska fired him, the program may never recover. It hasn’t really recovered. What should we think about Pelini’s comment?

FGS: Quit being so dramatic. Never recover, seriously? Frost’s roster is full of his own players now. The walk-on program has had a chance to develop. The Aug. 28 opener against Illinois feels monumental. Can’t you just enjoy it? If there’s one thing you and everyone else down there in Nebraska should understand by now, it’s this: There are no guarantees in sports. You’re not entitled to nine wins. No fan base is. No guarantees. That’s what makes sports beautiful, compelling and yes, dramatic. You above all should understand that part. 

Relax and enjoy.