Different year. Different jersey. Same diss.
“Can they keep winning while they keep losing guys?”
— The Associated Press
“6-0 is 6-0 is 6-0, and while the offense might be plodding, and the defense hasn’t faced any sort of high-powered attack, everything is right there for the taking.”
More patronizing grenades launched backhandedly at the No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) as America waits for the other shoe to drop?
Except those quotes were actually pulled from the third week in October of 2015, bon mots lobbed at a group who Big Red fans know quite well: last fall’s Iowa Hawkeyes, who turned 6-0 into 12-0 en route to the Big Ten West division crown.
And welcome to déjà vu, all over again.
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Untried. Untested. A mirage. An illusion.
The pundits talk of Nebraska coach Mike Riley as if he were G.O.B. Bluth from the cult television classic “Arrested Development,” shamelessly pulling college football’s ultimate con:
How are they doing this?
How can they keep this up?
Haven’t faced anybody good.
Funny — they said the same things about Kirk Ferentz and his band of merry upstarts about this time a year ago. And the parallels don’t exactly end there:
- Nebraska’s 2016 Sagarin rating after 6-0: 82.86 (ranked No. 23 nationally)
- Iowa 2015 Sagarin rating after 6-0 (Oct. 10, 2015): 81.80 (No. 26)
- Nebraska’s 2016 Massey composite ranking after 6-0: 9
- Iowa’s 2015 Massey composite ranking after 6-0: 15
- Nebraska’s 2016 S&P+ ranking after 6-0: 21.
- Iowa’s 2015 S&P+ composite ranking after 6-0: 25.
The only major cosmetic difference between the profiles of the Hawkeyes then and the Huskers now? The dance cards.
Nebraska’s first six foes in 2016 sport a combined record of 15-22. Iowa’s first six opponents’ records once the Hawkeyes had turned 6-0 were 18-14. And while the Hawkeyes’ closing kick of 2015 was light on heavyweights, Nebraska’s back nine this fall is an absolute beast.
After a 7-0 start, the remaining five regular-season games on Iowa’s schedule last autumn included no teams that would finish with winning records. Indiana (6-7), Minnesota (6-7) and Nebraska (6-7) all reached minor bowls, the latter two despite losing marks during the regular season, while Maryland (3-9) had fired coach Randy Edsall in the middle of 2015 and Purdue (2-10) would do the same halfway through 2016. The Hawkeyes didn’t face another ranked team until Michigan State in the tussle for the conference championship.
Assuming Nebraska reaches 7-0 following Saturday’s visit from the aforementioned Boilermakers, the final rally stage on the Huskers’ road to the Big Ten title game is, comparatively, a hell of a lot windier.
The Big Red visit No. 10 Wisconsin (4-2) on Oct. 29, then treks to No. 2 Ohio State (6-0) on Nov. 5 before hosting Minnesota (4-2) and Maryland (4-2) and wrapping up on Black Friday at Iowa (5-2). And TeamRankings.com projects that every one of the Nebraska’s last five opponents will likely become bowl-eligible:
In other words, whatever Riley’s charges eventually get, they’ll have darn well earned.
And for better or for worse, three weeks from now, the Huskers will have answered whatever questions are left, assuaged or confirmed the chorus of doubts. Because the scoreboard doesn’t lie. And there’s always money in the banana stand.