The humiliating nature of Nebraska losses the past two seasons has sparked questions about the future of coach Bo Pelini.
Just when the subject had seemingly taken a backseat to news about incoming recruits and preseason position battles, it has reared its ugly head again in Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel’s “College Football Mailbag” column.
Mandel concludes that even a nine-win season for Nebraska and a berth in the Capital One or Outback Bowls may not be enough to secure Pelini's future with the Cornhuskers.
Despite producing another moderately successful season, Mandel argues that Pelini’s inability to break into the national elite in his first five years shows it will never happen.
But this claim is clearly refuted by Nebraska football history.
Tom Osborne was once criticized just as Bo Pelini is now. He won nine or 10 games in each of his first nine seasons before winning 12 games in the 1982 season.
Although he had to wait another decade before winning his first national championship, he would capture three as part of one of the greatest dynasties in college football history.
And it all started with humdrum nine-win seasons.
Now it is obviously not time to ordain Pelini the next great Nebraska football coach. The severity of Osborne’s early-career losses in no way compare to that of Pelini’s. And winning nine games a year is no indication of future championships.
But based on the trajectory of Osborne’s career, if Pelini continues to churn out nine- and 10-win seasons, he deserves the patience of the Nebraska athletic department and the Huskers' fans.
So what will put Pelini on the hot seat?
Unfortunately for him, any small regression.
Due to those horrendous losses at Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Ohio State, at UCLA and in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, Pelini is undoubtedly on thin ice. And given the friendly schedule the Huskers will face this fall and the wealth of returning talent on offense, the margin for error will be small in 2013.
If Nebraska manages eight or fewer regular-season wins, Pelini will be on the hot seat. Even if a bowl victory raises the Huskers’ mark to 9-4, a 1-4 record against UCLA, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State (no offense, Iowa) will not sit well in Lincoln.
A 9-3 regular-season record must then be the bare minimum for Pelini to remain in good standing. Certainly, it will not come without criticism. Nebraska stands a realistic chance of starting 8-0, and expectations are again set on capturing the Big Ten crown.
Yet despite the disappointment a 9-3 season may bring, it is still nine wins. It is still a solid season. And Nebraska fans should know Huskers history well enough to realize that Pelini would deserve more time at the helm.