LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Sprinkles’ embattled ice cream server smiled warmly at scribes and sycophants with equal grace Monday morning, same as it ever was. Even coming off a 21-point home loss to Wisconsin, Mike Riley is nothing if not unabashedly courteous in a public setting. Which underscores why he’s here.
Although it’s also worth noting that Vegas has installed the Cornhuskers (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) as 24-point underdogs to No. 9 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday night. Which underscores why he’s in trouble.
Oh, and this:
Rule 1: Wikipedia lies.
Rule 2: But not when it comes to fan sentiment.
The Monday after Wisconsin and the Monday before the Buckeyes roll in, the calm between two storms, got unexpectedly rocky early. Wiki trolling is one thing. But when word went down early in the afternoon that Gary Andersen, who’d replaced Riley at Oregon State, had left the program after a 1-5 record this season and a 7-23 record in Corvallis, some media and Big Red faithful couldn’t wait to connect the dots on a Riley return to orange and black:
Now Mike Riley starts preparing to head back to Corvallis. https://t.co/TCkhVN9GGs
— Pete (@ohcrapitspete) October 9, 2017
hope Oregon St. gives Mike Riley a call
— Al Stewart (@trawetsla) October 9, 2017
Feel free to take Mike Riley back https://t.co/Oa2s6uRVlJ
— Sam Maenner (@SamMaenner) October 9, 2017
Here’s a wild idea: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 9, 2017
— Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello) October 9, 2017
Andersen was a raging dumpster fire with the Beavers, which some would insist lends more credence to Riley’s 93-80 record at Oregon State (.538), a graveyard where careers went to die before the current Huskers coach had first turned up in 1997.
Although Andersen was also 19-7 (.731) in 2013 and ’14 at Wisconsin — and beat the Huskers 59-24 during his final season — after posting an 18-8 (.692) mark over his final two campaigns at Utah State.
Out of curiosity, if Riley gets a pass for Bo Pelini’s leftovers, what does that say about Riley’s remains out west?
As the plot thickens, so does the irony. Andersen walked away because he made Corvallis feel like it was 1995 again. Riley, 18-14 in his third season with the Sprinkles/Huskers, could be on the hot seat in Lincoln because he hasn’t brought 1995 back.
Since they can’t stop us running, let’s pass it. . Why do we always throw when we don’t need to!!!!!!! Aarrgghh!!!!
— Larry The Cable Guy (@GitRDoneLarry) October 8, 2017
Ugh.. never thought I’d live to see the day when a Husker game is still going on and seats are emptying. Ugh… pic.twitter.com/S7Smk5PMT3
— Larry The Cable Guy (@GitRDoneLarry) October 8, 2017
Preach, Mater. Preach.
“I know there’s a question of where our team is mentally,” Riley said during his weekly Monday presser, “but I think this group will come back and work hard.”
Actually, the question now is more about where the program is philosophically, a blueblood stuck between two minds. The coach is building a roster in the mold of Ohio State Lite: speed, speed, speed everywhere. If the signal caller can’t run on his own, fine — he’ll get it quickly into the hands of three or four guys who can.
Only the Big Red faithful last weekend watched the Badgers — power, power, power everywhere — keep the ball for almost 14 of the last 15 minutes at Memorial Stadium in way that kept the signal caller and all that speed on the sideline. All while wrestling with an internal mix of nostalgia and rage.
And if that anger means wanting the Huskers to cut ties with Riley sooner rather than later, fair enough. But also understand this: The minute you do, Calibraska goes kablooey. Keyshawn Johnson Sr. stops wearing those Nebraska caps, Keyshawn Jr. doesn’t come back, and Lord knows where the Calabasas Alumni Club scatters in the wind.
Tristan Gebbia showed in the spring game that he had the body of a teenager with Nolan Ryan’s right arm, a howitzer. Someone’s probably going to maximize that potential, and that someone might not be the next guy in line.
Any Big Red successor — Scott Frost, Les Miles, whomever — risks the possibility of taking a step back before the train rolls forward again. If there is a next hire, one of the obvious prerequisites for that hire is to bring a few pipelines of their own to the party, and ASAP.
But the counterargument is valid, too — that trying to repaint the Huskers as Ohio State Lite, or USC Lite, or Clemson Lite, or Pick-Your-CFP-Contender Lite, is a fool’s errand, and always was.
That Calibraska works better as a T-shirt and a hashtag than it does as a backbone for building a sustained winner in Eastern Nebraska. If we can’t beat Wisconsin and Iowa, what’s the shame in joining them?
Wisconsin stuck with power football and it’s served them well. Nebraska, on the other hand didn’t. The results speak for themselves.
— Rick McCafferty (@Huskers029) October 8, 2017
This much, at least, is universal: When chancellor Ronnie Green and university president Hank Bounds spoke last month about “competitiveness” and how the faithful should “expect more,” they weren’t talking about 7-5.
Shawn Eichorst’s ouster as athletic director was as much about Riley and men’s basketball coach Tim Miles as it was the former Big Red administrator. Which makes the potential ramifications of Saturday night meatier, too.
After Wisconsin, anything’s possible under the lights now, including a few scenarios that could turn really, really ugly. On the other hand, while beating Ohio State might not save Riley’s job, but it would finally give those arguing for staying the course tangible evidence to bring to the court of public opinion.
Winning in February and winning in October and November are not mutually exclusive beasts.
But if you can’t translate the former into the latter, it’s a moot point.
“[Ohio State] is where we want to go,” Riley said. “If you want to win a title, you look at a team like Ohio State. I’ve experienced that before, as one team rises like that — they’ve been there for a while now, but as one team rises like that, you take a look and you either get better or you get left in the dust.”
Two scoops of rocky road, please. Hold the sprinkles.