You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and you'll only get so many chances to make the same impression repeatedly. Nebraska coach Scott Frost seems to be running out of chances.
There are often overreactions to the first game of any season, but it's hard to blame Cornhuskers everywhere for the glazed looks in their eyes following a 30-22 loss to Illinois to open 2021. It was entirely too familiar to previous seasons when Nebraska was supposed to win a game but kept making costly mistakes that ultimately led to its failure. There were turnovers, missed receivers, missed extra points, penalties to extend or derail drives, and just for fun, some mind-boggling clock management late.
You can forgive teams for having a bad day, and considering Saturday was the first time Nebraska players had been in a hostile road environment in front of fans since 2019, you can understand the possible impact it might have. At least, you could if you hadn't seen them do it in empty stadiums, too.
Make no mistake, there's a lot of season left to go, and we often overreact to the first game of the season for any team, but it's hard to find reasons to be optimistic about Frost's program. Just look at what those who cover Nebraska for a living are saying following Saturday's loss.
From the Omaha World-Herald's Dirk Chatelain:
I'll admit, there were times these past 20 years when all of this felt like big-screen entertainment. When you watched a Husker loss, grabbed your favorite bat, fueled up with snark and sarcasm and whacked the piñata to maintain your (and your readers') sanity.
Nebraska is Nebraska. Someday they'll figure it out, right?
But, man, I'm 40 now. Swinging hurts my back. I wonder what Memorial Stadium will look like in mid-October. Not in the fourth quarter after a 30-point deficit, but at kickoff.
Here's the Lincoln Journal-Star's Steven Sipple:
My advice to Nebraska fans is to stay in the moment.
Wait, that's not especially appealing, either.
I've said it before: Far too much about Nebraska football has become thoroughly unappealing, which will help explain all those empty seats in Memorial Stadium this coming Saturday. The pandemic also will hold down attendance. That'll provide some cover from the obvious: Frost's program tests the patience of even the most loyal Husker fans. The sloppiness is startling at times.
Finally, The Athletic's Mitch Sherman weighs in:
The Huskers flew home Saturday as water rose within the vessel that is Frost's football program.
This season may, in fact, end up resembling a movie, as the coach suggested.
"Titanic" comes to mind.
You get the sense that this is more of an existential crisis for Nebraska than concern over a football season or coach. Nebraska seems terrified of losing its identity and place in the college football universe, and it's hard to blame it.
Frost was supposed to be the savior of the program, the former star player who knew the secret recipe that made Nebraska football a national powerhouse. Instead, we're into his fourth season at the head of the program with the Huskers 12-21. His .364 win percentage in Lincoln is the sixth-worst of any Nebraska coach on the field for at least 10 games.
If Frost isn't the coach to turn this program around, who the hell is?
Redemption Story of the Week
Understandably, much of the attention on the season-opener between Illinois and Nebraska has been about Nebraska and what it means going forward for the program. However, there's another far happier side to the same game, and while Nebraska might be suffering, Illinois had plenty to feel great about.
Not only did Bret Bielema win his first game at Illinois, keeping his new-hire honeymoon going for at least another week, but there was also the story of Illini quarterback Artur Sitkowski. Sitkowski was forced into duty when starting QB Brandon Peters left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury and performed better than most would've expected. I know he exceeded mine.
Sitkowski, you may recall, was the starting QB at Rutgers during a disastrous 2018 season. It was a freshman season from hell as Sitkowski completed fewer than 50% of his passes and threw more than four times as many interceptions (18) as he did touchdowns (four) with Rutgers finishing the season 1-11. Last year, Sitkowski lost his job to -- ironically -- Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral before deciding to leave New Jersey for greener pastures.
He chose Illinois, and early indications are it was a wise decision. Sitkowski completed 12 of his 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He was at the helm of every scoring drive the Illini completed and didn't turn the ball over once.
Bad Visual of the Week
Listen, I get it: Saturday was hotter than hell, we're still getting through a pandemic and traffic can be a nightmare in Los Angeles. But if there's a better image to show one of the biggest problems the Pac-12 and new commissioner George Kliavkoff are facing, I don't know where to find it.
This is not the kind of crowd you're hoping to see for a season opener, and while those excuses listed above have some validity, it was hot all over the country on Saturday. Temperatures were in the 90s in Champaign, Illinois, yet roughly 40,000 fans showed for the game. In Fresno, California, it was so hot that teams brought extra cleats in case the ones they wore melted. The official attendance there was over 26,000. Even if that many people didn't show up -- and certainly didn't stay for the entire 45-0 blowout -- it's a lot more than showed up at the Rose Bowl.
It's a shame, too, because UCLA not only played well in its 44-10 win over Hawaii, but it looks like a team poised to have its best season since early in the Jim Mora era. Maybe Chip Kelly is turning the Bruins around after all.
Interesting Trend of the Week
I hinted at it earlier when talking about Nebraska, but I'm not surprised to see home teams do so well in Week 0. In games involving FBS schools, home teams went 4-1 with the lone loss being New Mexico State's 30-3 defeat at home to UTEP. While it's not a large sample size, looking at European soccer leagues, there was an early edge to home teams to start their seasons with some significant upsets being pulled off.
After spending the last year playing in front of empty stadiums, I wondered how players would react to being in front of people again, especially those playing in a hostile environment. Sure, Illinois was the only underdog to win last weekend, but I can't help but believe being at home played a role. It might've played a role in how easily Fresno State, UCLA and San Jose State won -- their average MOV was 36.7 points -- as well.
It's something to keep in mind as we head into the first full weekend of the season.
Fake High School of the Week
OK, so this isn't college football, but it did happen this weekend, and it did amuse me. Apparently, another network broadcast a high school football game between Florida powerhouse IMG Academy and quite possibly a school that doesn't exist.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
- Fresno State
- San Jose State
Until the next Monday After!