Nebraska Football: Avoiding Blowout Losses Must Be Pelini's Biggest Goal

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Nebraska Football: Avoiding Blowout Losses Must Be Pelini's Biggest Goal
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of Nebraska football got a rude surprise at this year’s B1G Championship game. Nebraska was favored to beat Wisconsin, a team it had beaten already after allowing the Badgers only 56 yards on the ground. No one expected Wisconsin to rack up 539 yards of rushing, and no one expected a 70-31 humiliation on national television.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new feeling for Nebraska fans. Bo Pelini’s teams have been remarkably consistent in losing four games per year, no more, no less. But the margin of the losses is a cause for concern. Take a look at how the numbers stack up.

Year

Total Losses

Total Margin

Avg. Margin/Game

Largest Margin

2008

4

80

20

35

2009

4

25

6.25

21

2010

4

25

6.25

12

2011

4

74

18.5

28

2012

3

70

23.3

39

2008 was Pelini’s first year as Nebraska’s head coach, and was left to clean up the mess after Bill Callahan’s final year. One of the reasons Callahan was fired after the 2007 season was the extent to which Nebraska’s defense had collapsed. In addition to the lack of winning, Nebraska was suffering embarrassing blowouts far too frequently for the fanbase to tolerate.

Nebraska’s average margin of defeat in 2007? 22.5 points. Nebraska’s largest margin of defeat? 37 points.

Yes, the 10-3 record achieved by Pelini this season is far superior to the 5-7 mark that saw Callahan leave town. But it is fair to observe that Nebraska’s losses in 2012 were, statistically, worse than the losses Nebraska suffered in Callahan’s final year.

And those blowout losses matter. Those blowout losses carry more weight, create more baggage, than an “ordinary” loss would.

In many ways, the different eras of the post-championship Nebraska program can be defined by blowout losses. Many people point to Black Friday in 2001, when Colorado beat Nebraska 62-36 in Boulder as the point where Nebraska’s dominance through the 1990s truly ended.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
The Children of the Corn then relived that horrifying feeling in 2004, when Texas Tech beat Nebraska 70-10. Up until the B1G title game, all you had to do was say "70 points” to a Nebraska fan to call up the image of that night in Lubbock.

As the tide of public opinion turned against Callahan, '"70 points” became a rallying cry for why a change in leadership was needed. Nebraska had a number of other ugly losses in Callahan’s tenure, of course. But it was ''70 points” that stood out in the history books and in the fans’ minds.

And it was another blowout, with Nebraska losing 76-39 to Kansas in Lawrence, that all but sealed Callahan’s fate. Then-interim Nebraska athletic director waited until the end of the season to fire Callahan, but the writing was pretty clearly on the wall after the Jayhawks hung 76 on Nebraska. In ESPN’s recap of Callahan’s firing, it was the loss to Kansas that was cited as the worst of the bunch.

Now, let me be clear. I am not calling for Bo Pelini to be fired. Hear that, people in the comments? NOT calling for Pelini to be fired.

What I am saying, though, is that lopsided losses with cartoonish scores carry a weight that is disproportionate to their effect on a win-loss record. Yes, the loss to Wisconsin in the B1G title game had the same effect on paper as the loss to Texas four years ago in the Big 12 title game.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
But consider the ramifications of those two games. The loss to Texas was treated as everything but a win, and helped to galvanize the program and the fanbase. The loss to Wisconsin, on the other hand, seemed to obliterate all the goodwill Nebraska established on its six-game winning streak to end the season.

Rather than seeing that winning streak as the mark of a tough and resilient team finding a way to win, the streak felt more like a blip on the radar between two losses by a 63-point combined margin of defeat.

Georgia awaits Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, and according to Vegas.com is a 10-point favorite over the Cornhuskers. In some ways, that may be a blessing in disguise for Pelini. Few people are expecting Nebraska to be competitive against Georgia, much less win. A loss would not be seen as a huge shock, while a win would be a surprising boost to end the season.

But Nebraska’s trend toward lopsided losses since joining the B1G is disturbing enough that, if it continues, it could swamp all the other good work Pelini has achieved and will accomplish. There are a whole bunch of things on Pelini’s to-do list for the offseason, but ensuring Nebraska suffers no further humiliating defeats has to be near the top.

If you’d like to contact Patrick to schedule an interview, provide feedback or get advice on which type of chocolate goes best with fresh fruit (spoiler alert: dark), send an e-mail to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

Or, you could always...Follow @patrickrunge.

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