On Nov. 23, 2001, Nebraska was still untouchable. The Huskers were ranked No. 1 in the country and looking to wrap up their fourth Big 12 North championship in six years with a win at No. 15 Colorado. They’d beaten defending national champion Oklahoma a few weeks prior and rolled into Boulder looking for their ninth conference championship in an 11-year span and their 47th overall conference title, with their sixth national championship on the horizon.
Instead, it was the day college football’s Big Red Berlin Wall toppled over. Colorado jumped out to a 35-3 lead 18 minutes into the game and won 62-36. Nebraska hasn’t been the same since.
Nebraska played for that season’s national title, but the program’s 32-year streak of winning at least nine games a season ended a year later. Frank Solich was pushed out a year after that, and Nebraska has spent the past 15 years wandering in a fog, unsure whether it should cling to its past or commit to the present. Bill Callahan’s 2004 hiring was an outright rejection of the option and an acceptance of modernity, but that experiment ended in a fiery crash in 2007 when Nebraska missed a bowl game and allowed 76 points to Kansas. Bo Pelini was hired to revive the Blackshirts, but he couldn’t bust his 9-4 ceiling and was a cantankerous jerk, so Mike Riley was hired because he wasn’t Bo Pelini.
Bill Moos was hired away from Washington State to find Riley’s replacement, and his choice represents more than just a football coach. Nebraska is a program at a crossroads. The Huskers traded games against Oklahoma and Colorado and Kansas State for Minnesota and Illinois and Wisconsin, and former AD Shawn Eichorst even allowed the program’s one lingering tradition — the Black Friday game — to be washed away for no good reason.
In light of that, there was one candidate Moos had to get — Central Florida head coach Scott Frost. And Frost was the only choice because he wasn’t a choice at all. He was the coach that could serve as a link between the past and the future all in one.
Frost led Nebraska to its most recent national championship, in 1997, and has spent his coaching career building the most cutting-edge offense in college football. As Oregon’s offensive coordinator from 2013-15, Frosts’s offense ran for 262 yards per game. He helped Marcus Mariota win the school’s first Heisman Trophy, and helped Oregon reach the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game.
He left Eugene to take over an 0-12 team, and within two years turned Central Florida into a 12-0 team. He was the first coach in college football history to turn a winless team into an unbeaten one within two years.
Central Florida’s offense averages 200 rushing yards per game and 5.13 yards a carry with a quarterback that ranks second nationally in passing efficiency. McKenzie Milton averages 10 yards per attempt with 30 touchdowns against six interceptions, all while serving as the centerpiece of a multi-faceted running game.
And he happens to be a Wood River, Neb., native, and a Tom Osborne player, and the last Nebraska quarterback to lead the Huskers to the national title. He’s not just a former player, a ties-to-the-program coach, a he-knows-what-it-means-coach-here cultural fit, he was the perfect scheme coach to take the Nebraska job at exactly the right time.
Past meets present meets future, all right.
“Scott is obviously a great coach and very good person,” Osborne himself told the Omaha World-Herald last week. Osborne was Frost’s college coach and one of his career-long mentors. “He has good values and he’s really steady. He’s the whole package.”
And now it’s official.
There is no place like home.
There is no place like Nebraska.
— ❄️❄️ Nebraska Football ❄️❄️ (@HuskerFBNation) December 2, 2017
The deal was consummated last week when Florida hired Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Nebraska spent the entire week sitting on its hands, watching the clock tick.
The idea of Nebraska being NEBRASKA met its end on the Folsom Field grass on Nov. 23, 2001. The program won’t ever be again what it was under Osborne — no program will, not even present day Alabama — but if there’s anyone that can maximize Nebraska’s potential in the 21st century, it’s Scott Frost.