Leistikow: Nebraska football bullish about union of Scott Frost, Trev Alberts
INDIANAPOLIS — Back in 2018, in Scott Frost’s first Big Ten media days appearance, the then-first-year Nebraska football coach warned the rest of the league that, "People better get us now. Because we’re going to keep getting better."
That same year, then-Nebraska athletics director Bill Moos seemed to be caught up in the euphoria of hiring a native program son when he boasted that Ohio State and Michigan were "running a little bit scared right now" of Frost’s Cornhuskers.
Three years later under Frost, Nebraska’s program has yet to find its football footing. The Cornhuskers arrived at the 2021 Big Ten media days at Lucas Oil Stadium with an altered but still bold message on the heels of the abrupt and premature retirement of Moos — the man who in late April said he saw "eight or nine wins" on the Huskers’ daunting 2021 schedule.
This time, the Huskers think they’ve got it right. Trev Alberts, a native Iowan and proud former Husker from the 1990s glory days, has been introduced as the new athletics director. While Frost and three players flew into Indianapolis Thursday morning, Alberts got in a car and drove here — and then drove some needed words to Husker fans and perhaps folks under his new Nebraska leadership.
That it’s time to stop dwelling on the past.
Yes, all Huskers need to stop talking about the 1990s.
“We’re not going to get back there by talking about what we used to do,” Alberts said. “Because nobody cares. We’re not going to get back there talking about winning (five national) championships. We’re going to back there by executing the fundamentals administratively and in coaching that get you there. It’s just hard work."
Alberts also made sure to distinguish himself from Moos when he added, "I can promise you, you will never hear me talk about numbers of wins" when it comes to football expectations.
On that, Alberts and Frost are on the same page. They are emphasizing their close connection (both being prominent former Husker players) that it doesn’t seem Moos and Frost really had. Alberts spoke of taking non-football tasks off the plate of Frost, who noted there were “about 1,000” things he could mention (but wouldn't) that detracted from coaching football under the previous regime.
“I’m so glad we landed where we landed,” Frost said, not so subtly. " ... I’m glad we have a Nebraska guy in the building.”
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The year before he came to save Nebraska from the Mike Riley era, Frost went 13-0 at Central Florida. He has yet to win 13 games in three years at Nebraska — going 12-20 thus far, with a 1-7 record against the top three teams in the West Division in Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern.
Still, Frost — whose team was picked fifth out of seven in the preseason media poll released Wednesday — said he didn’t think the Huskers were too far behind. (True, his three losses against Iowa have been by a total of 12 points.)
"I think it’s a tight gap," Frost said. “I have a ton of respect for those teams, the job that Pat (Fitzgerald) did (at division-winning Northwestern) last year; the consistency of the Iowa program; the years that Wisconsin has had. Those coaches have been there a long time. Got their cultures established, been able to recruit the players to their culture, to their system. Started training them from the time they were freshmen. They're established. That being said, we’ve played some really close games with those guys.”
Iowa has beaten Nebraska in six straight meetings over more than 2,400 days, a stat that even the Hawkeye football Twitter account posted in a cheeky message earlier this week — an indication that opponents aren’t exactly running scared of the Huskers.
While Alberts preached patience in the process and that success was more about progress than the win column, Frost remained his usual bullish self about this year’s team. He said the offensive line is better and more physical than ever. That the wide receivers (including Iowa City native Oliver Martin, who might start) are “the most talented group we've had.” That he “couldn’t be more excited” about how senior quarterback Adrian Martinez has responded from an up-and-down junior year.
"Without a doubt, this is the most excited I've been about our team and the most confident," Frost said.
I asked Frost about what he learned the most during his first three years. Surely, he was humbled by some of the results — 56-10 to Michigan, 48-7 and 52-17 to Ohio State, 34-7 to Minnesota, even 41-23 at home to Illinois last year. The biggest realization, he said, was just how good other teams are at playing keepaway. His style is to try to get 90-plus offensive snaps. When they’re playing Iowa or Wisconsin or Northwestern, the Huskers might be lucky to get 60. The coaches in this league are elite, to steal a word from Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck.
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We’ll find out soon if Nebraska comes out punching or remains a punch line in 2021. The Huskers play a "Week Zero" game Aug. 28 at Illinois. The lllini have a veteran team and a new and accomplished Big Ten coach in Bret Bielema. Still, that might be one of Nebraska's easier games on the schedule. The Huskers have later games at Oklahoma and Wisconsin, plus home games against Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa.
Getting to six wins and bowl eligibility will require a big step forward that we still haven't seen under Frost's Nebraska leadership.
“The one thing we need is momentum right now,” Frost said. “There's so many good things that are happening in our program. The team's improved so much. The talent’s improved so much. The culture and attitudes have improved so much. These kids deserve a little wind under their wings."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.