How many teams in the MAC do you think could beat Nebraska, in Lincoln, in 2021? Not would, just could. According to the three MAC coaches I could text in 15 minutes, the correct answer is four or five, in no order: Buffalo, Kent State, Toledo, Miami, and maybe Western Michigan.
Northern Illinois is not on this list, despite accomplishing this very feat in 2017. Yes, that was one season before the arrival of Scott Frost, revered alumnus and would-be program savior, hired fresh off UCF’s undefeated season to fix the Huskers. In 2018 Nebraska opened the season on a six-game losing streak, including Troy at home. There are 2021 MAC teams as good as 2018 Troy.
Then they went 5-7 in 2019, and raised a ridiculous amount of hell throughout 2020 just to go 3-5 in a pandemic. To date, there has been no corner turned by Frost. Nebraska is as much an afterthought in the national picture of this sport entering 2021 as they were at any point in the Bill Callahan, Mike Riley, or Bo Pelini eras.
Anyway, on Friday morning Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported that Nebraska was seeking a way out of their Sept. 18 game vs. Oklahoma, a non-conference game in Norman marking the 50th anniversary of “The Game Of The Century.”
By the end of the day, Nebraska issued a statement confirming it had explored the possibility of an eighth home game for their 2021 schedule to help offset financial losses incurred by Covid-19 –– and not because, as the Internet speculated, Oklahoma would be sure to beat them mercilessly.
The entire news cycle lasted the length of one business day, long enough for fans and media to debate everything from Nebraska’s theoretical cowardice to their actual financial woes to their legitimate “place” in college football as a former national title winner run aground in recent decades.
These are all fine and worthy candidates for discussion, but I am far more interested in which teams Nebraska reportedly contacted.
CBS’ Dennis Dodd reported that Nebraska contacted woebegone FBS independent New Mexico State to potentially fill the Oklahoma slot. Both Dodd and McMurphy reported that Nebraska also called up Old Dominion, a C-USA school that finished 1-11 in 2019, fired their coach, and didn’t play a game in 2020.
Those two schools seem like excellent candidates to play cadaver for 100,000-odd fans of the Corn on a sleepy afternoon. If you’re a Nebraska fan, that’s a way better Saturday afternoon than watching Spencer Rattler spray 60 points all over your blighted brand while the same Centrum Silver Huskers who told us the pandemic wasn’t real try to convince young people this rivalry matters in any way in 2021.
But: McMurphy also reported that Nebraska was actively communicating with “MAC schools” to swap in for the Sooners, which uh, seems like a really stupid idea there, Bill Moos. Does Nebraska, desperate to feel like what it thinks it is (a snowplow welded onto a 1987 Buick Grand National) instead of what it actually is (an overturned Kia Rio) believe it could just throw ANY MAC team into Memorial Stadium and win? They demonstrably cannot!
I get it; it’s not happening. Nebraska has assured all publicly they’re going to do the right thing and get ritually murdered by Oklahoma as previously scheduled. Plus, the Bulls are already on Nebraska’s schedule a week prior. But for a pocket of time, the program with the widest disconnect between perception and reality in the entire sport damn near ducked Oklahoma to lose to Kent State or Miami at home, just to make around $12 million in revenue.
Certainly, you can debate whether or not any of those MAC schools would beat NU – or even make it competitive – but if you’re a Husker fan, I’d ask you not wrestle too long with that hypothetical. You have to acknowledge it’s possible; you have to acknowledge it would leave a massive stain on what’s left of your program’s assumptive national-caliber brand, and you have to thank the Sooners. Losing to an extremely good Oklahoma team is now the second-most embarrassing thing that could happen to your school this Sept. 18.