COLUMBUS – How do colleges know when they’ve hired the right man as their football coach?
Obviously no one sets out to hire Mr. Wrong. Everyone is looking for Mr. Right.
Some schools find Mr. Right. Others have him fall into their lap. They won’t admit it, but a lot of schools without the resources of an Ohio State, a Michigan or a USC probably end up hiring Mr. You Might Do and hope he turns into Mr. Right.
Others think they’ve hired Mr. Right, like Maryland with D.J. Durkin, and have it turn out very badly.
And there are some situations that are just so challenging that a school can hire someone who probably is the right man and still not get it right. Chris Ash and Rutgers might be an example of this.
So, that brings us to first-year coach Scott Frost and Nebraska, who will be in Ohio Stadium Saturday to play Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ first game since being embarrassed 49-20 at Purdue two weeks ago.
Nebraska thinks it found the right man in Frost. Other people are convinced Nebraska found just the right man at just the right time, too.
He has the coaching credentials. He was at Central Florida two years and got UCF to 13-0 last season, including a Peach Bowl win over Auburn. He was Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator at Oregon.
He has the home state hero credentials. He’s a Nebraska guy who grew up in a small town there and was the quarterback of the Cornhuskers’ 1997 national champion team. He delivers a message of optimism mixed with realism and sounds like a coach who has a plan to turn around a once-proud program.
Frost’s first season has been tough. The Cornhuskers (2-6, 1-4 Big Ten) lost their first six games before beating Minnesota and Bethune-Cookman.
The expectations are high at Nebraska. From the mid-1960s to the late 1990s, it won 83 percent of its games and was regularly in the national championship discussion.
But once Tom Osborne retired as coach after the 1997 season, to put it bluntly, Nebraska lost its mind when it came to hiring and firing coaches.
It fired Frank Solich after his teams won 75 percent of their games. Then it hired former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan right after the Raiders fired him. And even though he lasted four years that experiment went sour in about the time it takes to fly from the West Coast to Lincoln, Neb.
It fired Bo Pelini after his teams never won fewer than nine games mainly because of personality conflicts and because he could be a bit of a jerk at times. It hired Mike Riley mainly because he was never caught being a jerk but that couldn’t make up for a lack of wins, including just four of them last season.
Ohio State beat the Cornhuskers 56-14 last year and scored 62 and 63 points the two times the two teams played each other before that. So it is easy to see where Nebraska’s rebuilding program needed to start.
Nebraska still is struggling defensively. It ranks No. 102 nationally in total defense, No. 101 in points allowed and No. 110 in pass defense.
But the Cornhuskers have enough talent on offense to make things interesting today if Ohio State’s defense doesn’t fix some season-long problems, most notably the disturbing regularity with which it has allowed big plays.
Players like freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez (1,656 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, 408 yards rushing), running back Devine Ozigbo (710 yards rushing) and receivers J.D. Spielman and Stanley Morgan, who have combined for 97 catches, have made Nebraska a top 20 team nationally in total offense.
OSU’s defense has allowed 42 plays of 20 yards or more and 26 plays of 30 yards or more in eight games.
The Buckeyes (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten), who rank No. 3 nationally in total offense at 555.5 yards a game, are also looking for their running game to be more productive than it has been lately. In the last four games, OSU has averaged just over three yards per carry and big plays have been an endangered species.
Nebraska thinks it has found the right man in Frost. For Ohio State, today is all about the right time – the right time to start looking like the College Football Playoff contender people expected it to be before some troubling weaknesses appeared.
The prediction: Ohio State 42, Nebraska 21