Is a loss a loss, no matter the score? Is Nebraska content with nine wins each season? How long without a conference title is too long? What about the Huskers’ divisional titles? And what has Bo Pelini accomplished since the graduation of Bill Callahan’s recruits?
These questions have formed the basis of the growing debate over Bo Pelini’s job security the past two seasons. And even amid the annual, unbridled optimism that permeates spring practices are the lingering doubts concerning this coaching staff that have become all too common.
But for better or worse, these concerns and questions will come to a head this fall as Bo Pelini finds himself squarely in danger of landing a spot on the hot seat.
The reason this fall is the turning point is not because of any growing angst. And it is not due to any key matchups. If anything, it is a lack thereof.
For, during the last two seasons, the Huskers ran the gauntlet in the Big Ten. They played the best the conference had to offer on a weekly basis. So despite the absence of any trophies, Husker fans were forced to debate the value of nine-win seasons against such a demanding schedule.
After all, how much shame is there in losing to a UCLA team that reached the Pac-12 title game, an undefeated Ohio State team, Wisconsin who competed in the Rose Bowl and Georgia who came up just yards short of a BCS National Championship Game berth?
For many Nebraskans, the answer is a great deal of shame, especially when the defense is conceding points in bunches. But Pelini’s overall record as coach still leaves a glimmer of doubt that maybe style points are not as important as they may seem in the moment.
No matter on which side of the argument one falls, everyone will receive some much-needed clarity in 2013 as Pelini faces the clearest test of his career.
This season’s schedule sees Ohio State and Wisconsin replaced by Illinois and Purdue. And with games against Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State coming late in the year, a home date with UCLA and a few bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten teams stand in Nebraska’s way of an 8-0 start.
And if Pelini is honest with himself, he knows that is precisely what the Huskers must do. Losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game was bad, but at least they made it there. Falling to Ohio State in The Horseshoe was disappointing, but that is the toughest venue in the conference.
Last season’s results made fans take the good with the bad, struggling to define the entire year as a success or failure. But 2013 will be cut and dry. Nebraska’s schedule is set up too well, and the Huskers return too many stars from an already potent offense not to excel.
With the stars aligning for the Big Red, anything but an 8-0 start should land Bo Pelini firmly on the hot seat.