Leistikow: Scott Frost-led Huskers are coming after Iowa, rest of Big Ten
CHICAGO — In his introduction to Big Ten Conference media outside of Nebraska, Scott Frost was bold and blunt — and sent a message toward Iowa and every other team that’s gotten the best of the Cornhuskers in recent years.
“People better get us now,” Frost, the first coach to speak at the league’s media days inside the Downtown Chicago Marriott on the Magnificent Mile, said Monday. “Because we’re going to keep getting better.”
Frost was a home-run hire in Lincoln. His presence and rhetoric understandably has fans of Big Red revved up.
Here’s a first-year Nebraska coach who grew up in Nebraska, starred at Nebraska and can effectively tell Husker fans to expect big things while also reminding them they’re not as relevant nationally as some would like to believe.
“We’ve fallen behind,” he said.
A once-proud program experienced 6-7 and 4-8 records in two of Mike Riley’s three seasons before he was fired in November.
By comparison, Tom Osborne’s worst record in his remarkable 25-year run (1973 to 1997) was 9-3.
From afar at previous posts as Oregon offensive coordinator (where he coached Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense and quarterback Marcus Mariota) and Central Florida head coach (where he piloted a 13-0 mark last season), Frost noticed a Nebraska program that was deteriorating … and lacking an internal realization of how to fix it.
Now he's been given the keys to the Cornhusker kingdom, with a seven-year, $35 million contract and a missive to restore the program's glory days. Frost has begun the process by expanding the walk-on program and trying to recruiting better close to home, and blending that old-school approach with his new-school, high-tempo offense that operates out of the shotgun.
“If you have an organization or company that’s the best in its sector for 25 years and then it under-performs for the next 10 or 15,” Frost said, “… you’re crazy if you don’t look back at what made that company the best in its field for as long as Nebraska was the best in college football.”
There’s no doubt Frost has generated program momentum. Until games are played, it's just talk. But that talk is clear: The Huskers plan on building things in a similar way to what they’ve seen largely work one state to the East.
Nebraska has been outscored 40-10 and 56-14 in the last two matchups against Iowa, outcomes that were emblematic of Riley’s undoing.
Frost sees a Nebraska program that didn’t have physical sustainability in the trenches. An former Riley assistant once marveled at how Iowa practices must’ve been a “bloodbath” physically compared to the Huskers'.
Frost sees a program at Nebraska that drifted — from Frank Solich to Bill Callahan to Bo Pelini to Riley — from the formula perfected by Osborne, who won 255 games and three national championships in his 25 seasons.
“We used to build it from within by developing players better than anybody else,” Frost says. “We went out and recruited good players that were hungry and had upside and got to work in the best strength and conditioning program in the country, with the best nutrition program in the country.”
Again … sound familiar, Hawkeye fans?
No doubt an early program measuring stick for Nebraska will be if (and how quickly) it can chop down Iowa ... by being a better version of Iowa.
The last three times these teams have met in Memorial Stadium, Kirk Ferentz's methodical Hawkeyes have been Black Friday winners — by a combined 122-51. Iowa has dominated the second half of those meetings, including a 42-0 advantage last season.
“That’s definitely motivation. ... That’s definitely something I want to put in the past," Nebraska defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said. "I want to see our team fighting in the second half, fighting in the fourth quarter.”
Frost didn't distribute direct bulletin-board material for the players and coaches in Iowa City, other than declaring the Huskers will be ready to play Nov. 23 at Kinnick Stadium.
“Got a lot of respect for Coach Ferentz,” Frost said. “I think he does a good job and he does it the right way. But we’re going to be getting better every day, and we’re going to be ready for that challenge.”
While Frost underplayed the importance of getting the best of Iowa (and eventually the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State), his comments came on the heels of fresh head-to-head recruiting wins against the Hawkeyes — another shortfall of the previous regime, underscored by Iowa's most hyped player entering 2018 (tight end Noah Fant) hailing from inside Nebraska's borders.
New Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was a former walk-on offensive lineman at Iowa (under both Hayden Fry and Ferentz). Upon taking the job in Lincoln, he noted that, “Since I grew up in Iowa, I’ll (recruit) the state of Iowa, and we’re going to steal some from there."
That proved true Monday, with three-star Waverly-Shell Rock defensive end Mosai Newsom announcing he would attend Nebraska — becoming the Huskers’ first commit from the state of Iowa since John Raridon in 2016.
Two days earlier, Omaha linebacker Nick Henrich — a top Hawkeye target — announced he, too, was sold on Frost's Nebraska vision.
Current players have bought in.
"I love it. I love being underdogs," wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. said. "... We're going to get after it. We're going to shock the world."
And Frost definitely made sure Monday to let everyone know that Nebraska doesn’t plan on being held down for long.
“I know if we’re getting better day by day,” Frost said, “we’re going to be really dangerous and hard to beat in the very near future.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.