College football should be two things: winning and fun.
College football is defined by crazy student sections, cheerleaders with pom-poms sporting big smiles, brokenhearted fans in the cobra surrender pose, and school traditions that make college football a one-of-a-kind sport.
Contrast that with Sunday’s NFL games. It’s a stark contrast and it certainly has not helped the NFL ratings. The NFL stadiums are sterile and subdued, with a corporate atmosphere that caters to fat cats instead of the average fan. The NFL has taken the moniker “The No Fun League” and extended that to fans as well as its players.
To a fifteen-year old in Omaha with an iPhone, Netflix account, and Snapchat, the Huskers in the Mike Riley era committed the two cardinal sins that dim interest in college football teams: Losing and boring football.
You hear the anecdotes all the time of kids at Nebraska schools who are more likely to wear Golden State Warriors or Oregon Ducks apparel than Huskers gear. You can’t blame a fifteen-year-old kid for not donning a Nebraska jersey to school like I wore a No. 30 jersey at the same age.
Time passes, and a fifteen-year old kid today was seven when Ndamukong Suh threw Colt McCoy around like a rag doll and twelve when Mike Riley took over as coach. That Big 12 Title game in 2009 was the last time I recall the Huskers being the top story in college football for what they did on the field, and they lost that game.
The 2012 Big Ten title game, a 70-31 pummeling by Wisconsin, featured two iconic Husker plays of this decade. Taylor Martinez’s 76-yard touchdown and Kenny Bell’s devastating “Intellectual Wood” block are etched in Husker lore, but their memory is severely tainted since they transpired during one of the most embarrassing big-game meltdowns in Nebraska history.
The only other time Nebraska was the biggest story in college football was Jack Hoffman’s run in the 2013 Red-White Spring game.
For all that fifteen-year old kid knows, Nebraska’s brand is giving up half a hundred to Big Ten teams. The problems of apathy surrounding the Nebraska Cornhuskers football brand pre-date the Riley era and reached a critical mass during the 2017 season.
All that has changed with Scott Frost.
Beyond uniting the school, fans, and alumni, Frost has united generations of Huskers fans. Further, Scott Frost has the ability to awaken and engage these young, dormant Nebraska fans who have witnessed an embarrassing number of soul-crushing blowouts this decade.
With a straightforward delivery that eschews coach-speak, Scott Frost is already a star in the college football world. He’s someone who will not only command attention and respect from the fifteen-year old in Omaha, but possibly a fifteen-year old in Peoria, Illinois.
The old model of getting your sports news and information from ESPN’s SportsCenter is dead. This model never favored a football program like Nebraska, since it viewed Nebraska as a ‘small market.’ In ESPN’s market-driven worldview, Nebraska is a relic of the past, a flyover state that their advertisers aren’t interested in.
The folks at ESPN simply do not understand the devoted, national following Nebraska has enjoyed for decades, nor the overwhelming desire of the new coaching staff and administration to restore Nebraska to its rightful place among college football’s elite programs. Make no mistake, Notre Dame, Texas, and Michigan will always get attention from ESPN and coastal news organizations, regardless of achievement and relevance.
But the times are a-changin’.
In 2018, fans tuning in to the 5:00 p.m. Sportscenter with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith are more likely to see a segment about an athlete’s latest Instagram post or Tweet than highlights of their most recent performance on a court, field or rink.
But they are still woefully behind the times.
“Not a popular decision in Nebraska.”😂😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/7nZZlph49k
— Huskers Gameday (@HuskersGameday) December 13, 2017
On October 17th, 2017, just as Bill Moos was being named Athletic Director and the “Frost-to-Nebraska talk” was heating up, then-UCF Director of Football Operations Gerrod Lambrecht tweeted out a video of Scott Frost playing quarterback for the Scout Team, where Frost was seen running the option in preparation for their game against Navy.
To this day, the video on Lambrecht’s tweet has been viewed over 312k times on twitter. Contrast that to Sportscenter’s “The Six”, which averaged 448k viewers in the middle of September.
Who is that under center? pic.twitter.com/ECoiHFdYCw
— Gerrod Lambrecht (@GerrodLambrecht) October 17, 2017
Keep in mind this is a Twitter account from the Director of Football Operations at UCF (which had slightly over 2,000 followers when the video was posted), generating comparable viewership numbers to the nightly edition of Disney-owned ESPN’s flagship program.
For years, I was among the chorus of Cornhusker fans who questioned ESPN’s lack of attention to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Now, it really doesn’t matter since fans have direct access to the best college football has to offer.
It’s a pure popularity contest driven by viewer demand. And that works strongly in Nebraska’s favor.